How many times must civil society organisations, residents and children, pay a visit to the Environment Ministry of India until something is actually “done” about the air pollution crisis? As a country, we’ve already seen more than a million deaths as a result of outdoor air pollution and it has even cost our economy. Today, as the long term action plan for Delhi-NCR continues to be in the “discussion” phase, the rest of the country has been virtually left out in the cold.

Children visit the Environment Ministry of India

So what is the problem?

If you believe that continuous air quality monitoring stations will help people take informed decisions on polluted days, then the news as per Airpocalypse II is that, real-time monitoring stations have almost doubled across the country in the last couple of years. However, there is still a significant lack of data in 23 states and the lack of access to captured data in many cities. Such a lack of data has also reflected in regulatory decision making for sourcewise emissions. Some decisions including old and polluting power plants and vehicles that have not been shut down on time, efficiency of thermal power plants that have not been improved, and biomass burning - has still not been regulated. When comparing China's  robust network of 1500+ stations and a transparent public sharing platform, India has only 87 continuous monitoring stations across - a condition that needs to change sooner than later.

Taj Mahal smothered in smog

Comparison of facts on air pollution around the world





European Union

Change in satellite based PM2.5 levels from 2010 to 2015) -




-20% (from 2005 to 2013)

PM2.5 trend

Increasing steadily for past 10 years; 2015 was the worst year on record

Falling since 2011; 2015 was the best on record

Falling since measurements started

Falling since measurements started

PM2.5 in capital city, annual (µg/m3)





PM2.5 air quality standard, annual (µg/m3)




25 (from 2020, 20)

Deaths per day from air pollution in 2013





Online PM2.5 monitoring

39 stations in 23 cities (as of Feb 2016)

1,500 stations in 900 cities & towns

770 stations in 540 cities & towns

1,000 stations in 400 cities & towns

Share of thermal power plants with basic pollution controls (desulphurization, particle controls)





Deadline for meeting national air quality standards


2030; most key cities have an interim target for 2017

2012; violating areas are currently implementing new plans

25 by 2015


20 by 2020

Consequences for missing targets

None. Courts however, do impose penalties for non-compliance from time to time

Promotion of province governors depends on meeting targets

States must adopt emission reduction measures into law that are demonstrated to enable meeting targets; must account for pollution transport into downwind states; periodic review

Cities & countries face legal action for not meeting standards

So then, what does the available and accessible data point to?

An 80% of the 228 cities that have data for particulate matter 10 (PM10) pollutants - violate annual safe limits of 60μg/m³ (not so safe when compared to WHO standards- 20μg/m³). As of now, 18 crore Indians, including 1.7 crore children under the age of 5, live in areas where the air pollution levels are more than twice the prescribed clean air standards. Many of these critically polluted cities point to the need for strict emergency response plans for sourcewise release of pollutants - that are more immediate, short-term and time bound. 

We can beat airpocalypse only if pollution levels are assessed widely and regularly and if there are clear reduction targets for regions, along with penalties for any non-compliance by governments and corporations. Clean air in India can only be a reality if the government understands that the air pollution crisis is not just centered to Delhi-NCR, but all of India, and if we as the public - choose to move towards solar rooftops, energy efficient appliances that can reduce household energy usage, public transport, cycling and walking, and reducing waste generated at our own houses - thereby reducing burning of waste at streets and landfills.

Indians solarise

It’s time to buckle down and get cracking on the already formulated National Clean Air Programme.

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Grace Saji works in the Digital Engagement team at Greenpeace India