This paper was written for Sociology 202 (Global Issues). We were explain an environmental issue concerning a specific country.

As a developing country with a population of over one billion India faces many problems, many of which are environmental issues. India’s rapidly growing population, along with a move towards urbanization and industrialization, has placed significant pressure on India’s infrastructure and its natural resources. Deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution and land degradation continue to worsen and are hindering economic development in rural India, while the rapid industrialization and urbanization in India’s growing metropolises are straining the limits of municipal services and causing serious air pollution problems. The main issue here to be discussed is the extent of the air pollution, the problems that it has caused, and the actions that have been put in place as possible and hopefully successful solutions.

Extent of the Problem
Air pollution is one of India’s most severe environmental problems. Sources of air pollution come in several forms, including vehicle emissions and untreated industrial smoke. Industrialization and urbanization have resulted in a huge deterioration of India’s air quality. Continued urbanization has exacerbated the problem of rapid industrialization, as more and more people are affected and cities are unable to implement adequate pollution control mechanisms.

India’s urban air quality ranks among the worlds worst. One of the most affected cities is New Delhi, where airborne particulate matter has been registered at levels more than 10 times India’s legal limit. Of the 3 million premature deaths in the world that occur each year due to out-door and in-door air pollution, the highest number are assessed to occur in India. Millions of people breathe air with a high concentration of pollutants. The air is highly polluted in terms of suspended particulate matter in most cities. This has led to a greater incidence of associated health affects on the population in the form of sub-clinical effects, impaired pulmonary functions, use of medication, reduced physical performance, frequent medical consultations and hospital admissions with complicated morbidity and even death in the exposed population. (CPCB, 2000). According to a World Bank study (1993), respiratory infections contribute to 10.9% of the total burden of diseases, which may be both due to the presence of communicable diseases and well as high air pollution levels.

Causes of the Problem
India’s ongoing population explosion has placed great strain on the country’s environment. Between 1951 and 1991, the urban population has tripled, from 62.4 million to 217.6 million India has more than 20 cities with populations of at least 1 million, and some of them -including New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata- are among the world’s most polluted. The rapid increase in urban population has resulted in unplanned urban development, increase in consumption patterns and higher demands for transport, energy, and other infrastructure, therefore leading to pollution problems (India: State of the Environment, 2001).

Vehicles are the major source of this pollution, with more than three million cars, trucks, buses, taxis, and rickshaws already on the roads. The number of motor vehicles in India has increased from 0.3 million in 1951 to 37.2 million in 1997 with 23% being concentrated in the metropolitan cities (MoST, 2000). With vehicle ownership rising along with population and income, India’s efforts to improve urban air quality have focused in this area.

Another key factor contributing to the poor air quality has been the increase in industrial activity. India has made rapid strides in industrialization, and is one of the top ten most industrialized nations of the world. This status has brought about unplanned and unwanted consequences to the environment. According to the Central Pollution Control Board they have identified seventeen categories of industries in India that significantly pollute the air. Small-scale industries play a role in the air pollution as well. They have over three million small-scale units that account for 40% of the total industrial output in the country (Kuntz, Garner, 2006).

Since 1950 India’s electricity generation capacity has increased rapidly. The generation capacity comprises a mix of hydro, thermal, and nuclear plants. Thermal power makes up about 74% of the total installed power generation capacity. However, increasing reliance on this source of energy has led to the environmental problems. The increased dependence of the power sector on an inferior quality coal has been associated with emissions from power plants in the form of particulate matter, toxic elements, fly ash, oxides of nitrogen, sulphur and carbon besides ash, which required vast stretches of land for disposal. During 1998-99, the power stations consumed 208 million tons of ash posing a major disposal problem (CPCB, 2000).

Possible Solutions to the Problem
India has made significant efforts in the area of environmental protection, developing environmental standards for both products and processes, requiring environmental impact statements in certain areas, and introducing environmental audits.

Following the 1984 Bhopal disaster (a toxic leak from the city’s Union Carbide chemical plant that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 people) environmental awareness increased significantly. The Environment Protection Act was passed in 1986, creating the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which strengthened India’s commitment to the environment. The MoEF is tasked with the overall responsibility for administering and enforcing environmental laws and policies. The MoEF established the importance of integrating environmental strategies into any development plan for the country.

In New Delhi, emissions limits for gasoline and diesel powered vehicles came into effect in 1991 and 1992, and the city has prohibited the use of vehicles more than 15 years old. Emissions standards for passenger cars and commercial vehicles were tightened in 2000 at levels equivalent to the Euro-1 standards of the European Union, while the even more stringent Euro-2 standards have been in place for the metropolitan areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata since 2001. Also the sulfur content of motor fuels sold in the four cities has been restricted to 500 parts per million since 2001 in order to be compatible with tighter vehicle emissions standards. Motor fuel sulfur content in all other regions of India has been limited to 2,500 PPM since January 2000.

India still faces significant challenges in balancing its increased demand for energy with the need to protect its environment from further damage. Sheer population growth and urbanization make the task all the more difficult for the Indian government, as increased vehicle ownership is contributing to the existing air pollution problems while urbanization raises the health risks from that pollution.

India’s strong support of air quality and alternative fuel initiatives has brought progress as well as growing pains to the country. However, in the absence of coordinated government efforts, including stricter enforcement, air pollution is likely to continue to worsen in the coming years as urbanization picks up pace and vehicle ownership increases. The Indian government’s ability to safeguard the country’s environment will depend on its success in promoting policies that keep the economy growing while providing adequate energy needs to satisfy the populace’s growing energy consumption requirements in a sustainable manner.


Kuntz, G., Garner, M. (2007) Going Global. Fairchild Publications, Inc. New York

Sernau, S. (2006) Global Problems. Pearson Education, Inc. Boston, MA

Denslow, L. (2006) The Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. World Wise. Fairchild Publications, Inc. New York. Pp 169-183.

CNN. Invisible Enemy Spurs Health Worries. 2006.

CPCB (2000)‘’Clean coal initiatives’. Parivesh Newsletter, June 2000, Delhi: Central Pollution Control Board.

MoEF (2000a) Annual report (1999-2000), http://, June 2000. New Delhi: Ministry of Environment and Forests

Robinson, S. (2006) India takes on the World, Time Magazine, Asia Edition. November 27, 2006 issue.

The Associated Press (2006) Air pollution a concern as diesel cars increase in India: Environmental group. International Herald Tribune. November 15, 2006.

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