Air Pollution

Explore about PM 2.5 and the problem it has created in Delhi.

Air Pollution

WHO tightens Global Air Quality norms


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) 2021

Mains level : Air pollution

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its first-ever update since 2005 has tightened global air pollution standards.

Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) 2021

  • WHO announces limits for six pollutant categories —particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and 10, ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Air quality standards in India

  • India aligns with the WHO guidelines only in the case of ozone and carbon monoxide, as these have not changed. But both NO2 and SO2 guidelines are tighter than the current Indian standard.
  • The move doesn’t immediately impact India as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) don’t meet the WHO’s existing standards.
  • The government has a dedicated National Clean Air Programme that aims for a 20% to 30% reduction in particulate matter concentrations by 2024 in 122 cities, keeping 2017 as the base year.

Significance of WHO’s AQG

Ans. It sets the stage for eventual shifts in policy

  • WHO move sets the stage for eventual shifts in policy in the government towards evolving newer stricter standards.
  • This will soon become part of policy discussions — much like climate targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions keep getting stricter over time.
  • Once cities and States are set targets for meeting pollution emission standards, it could lead to overall changes in national standards.

Challenges for India

  • The current challenge in India is to meet its national ambient air quality standards in all the regions.
  • The hard lockdown phases during the pandemic have demonstrated the dramatic reduction that is possible when local pollution and regional influences can be minimised.
  • This has shown that if local action is strengthened and scaled up at speed across the region, significant reduction to meet a much tighter target is possible.
  • The influence of geo-climatic attributes is quite pronounced in all regions of India, which further aggravates the local build-up of pollution.
  • This is further worsened due to the rapid proliferation of pollution sources and weak air quality management systems.
  • India may require a more nuanced regional approach to maximise benefits and sustain air quality gains.


  • Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low- and middle-income countries the hardest.
  • WHO’s new Air Quality Guidelines are an evidence-based and practical tool for improving the quality of the air on which all life depends.

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Air Pollution

[pib] Transport Initiative for Asia (TIA) Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Transport Initiative for Asia

Mains level : Not Much

NITI Aayog and World Resources Institute (WRI), India, jointly launched the ‘Forum for Decarbonizing Transport’ in India as part of the NDC-Transport Initiative for Asia (NDC-TIA).

Transport Initiative for Asia

  • The NDC Transport Initiative for Asia (TIA 2020-2023) is a joint programme that will engage China, India, and Vietnam in promoting a comprehensive approach to decarbonizing transport in their respective countries.
  • The project is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI).
  • NITI Aayog is the implementing partner for the India component of the project.
  • The project aims at bringing down the peak level of GHG emissions (transport sector) in Asia (in line with a well below 2-degree pathway), resulting in problems like congestion and air pollution.

Why need such initiative?

  • India has a massive and diverse transport sector, which is also the third most CO2 emitting sector.
  • Data suggests that within the transport sector, road transport contributes to more than 90% of the total CO2 emissions.
  • The NDC-TIA India component focuses on developing a coherent strategy of effective policies and the formation of a multi-stakeholder platform for decarbonizing transport in the country.

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Air Pollution

Delhi’s new Smog Tower


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Smog Tower

Mains level : Air quality issue in New Delhi

Ahead of its infamous smog season, Delhi has got a ‘smog tower’, a technological aid to help combat air pollution.

What are Smog Towers?

  • Smog towers are structures designed to work as large-scale air purifiers. They are fitted with multiple layers of air filters and fans at the base to suck the air.
  • After the polluted air enters the smog tower, it is purified by the multiple layers before being re-circulated into the atmosphere.

Structure of the Delhi smog tower

  • The structure is 24 m high, about as much as an 8-storey building — an 18-metre concrete tower, topped by a 6-metre-high canopy. At its base are 40 fans, 10 on each side.
  • Each fan can discharge 25 cubic metres per second of air, adding up to 1,000 cubic metres per second for the tower as a whole. Inside the tower in two layers are 5,000 filters.
  • The filters and fans have been imported from the United States.

How does it work?

  • The tower uses a ‘downdraft air cleaning system’ developed by the University of Minnesota.
  • Polluted air is sucked in at a height of 24 m, and filtered air is released at the bottom of the tower, at a height of about 10 m from the ground.
  • When the fans at the bottom of the tower operate, the negative pressure created sucks in air from the top.
  • The ‘macro’ layer in the filter traps particles of 10 microns and larger, while the ‘micro’ layer filters smaller particles of around 0.3 microns.
  • The downdraft method is different from the system used in China, where a tower uses an ‘updraft’ system — air is sucked in from near the ground, and is propelled upwards by heating and convection.
  • Filtered air is released at the top of the tower.

Likely impact

  • Computational fluid dynamics modelling suggests the tower could have an impact on the air quality up to 1 km from the tower.
  • The actual impact will also determine how the tower functions under different weather conditions, and how levels of PM2.5 vary with the flow of air.

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Air Pollution

Air Quality Commission Bill, 2021


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AQC and its jurisdiction

Mains level : Air pollution

The Lok Sabha has passed the Bill to formalize the Commission for Air Quality Management For National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas.

Highlights of the AQC Bill

  • The AQC would be a ‘permanent’ body to address pollution in the National Capital Region Delhi and address sources of pollution in Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
  • The all-powerful body assumed several powers to coordinate action among States, levy fines — ranging up to ₹1 crore or five years of prison — to address air pollution.

Key features

  • Over-riding powers: While the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and its state branches have the powers to implement provisions of the Environment Protection Act for air, water and land pollution.
  • In case of dispute or a clash of jurisdictions, the AQC’s writ would prevail specific to matters concerning air pollution.
  • Chair: The body has a full-time chairperson and a range of members consisting of both representatives from several Ministries as well as independent experts and will have the final say on evolving policy and issuing directions.
  • Curb on stubble burning: the Commission may impose and collect environment compensation causing pollution by stubble burning.
  • No penalties to farmers: The Centre, facing flak earlier this year from farmers protesting the farm laws, had committed to removing a clause in the Air Commission Bill that would penalize farmers for burning stubble, an important contributor to noxious air quality.

Air Pollution

[pib] Centre launches Secured Logistics Document Exchange (SLDE) and GHG Calculator


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SLDE, GHG Calculator

Mains level : NA

With an aim to further improve ease of doing business, Centre today launched the “Secured Logistics Document Exchange” along with a Calculator for Green House Gas Emissions.

Secured Logistics Document Exchange (SLDE)

  • The SLDE platform is a solution to replace the present manual process of generation, exchange and compliance of logistics documents with a digitized, secure and seamless document exchange system.
  • It is set to improve logistics efficiency, reduce logistics cost, and promote multi-modality and sustainability in a big way.
  • This will enable generation, storage and interchange of logistics-related documents digitally using Aadhaar and blockchain-based security protocols for data security and authentication.
  • It will also provide a complete audit trail of document transfer, faster execution of transaction, lower cost of shipping and overall carbon footprint, easy verification of authenticity of documents, lowered risk of fraud, etc.
  • The proof of concept of the platform has been developed and executed with banks (ICICI, Axis Bank, State Bank of India and HDFC Bank) and stakeholders including freight forwarders, exporters, importers and vessel operators.

Green House Gas (GHG) Emission Calculator

  • The GHG Calculator is an efficient, user-friendly tool and provides for calculating and comparing GHG emissions across different modes.
  • It allows for a commodity-wise comparison of GHG emissions and total cost of transportation, including their environmental cost, between movement by road and rail.
  • The tool is intended to facilitate appropriate modal choice for all concerned.

Back2Basics: Green House Gases (GHGs)

  • A greenhouse gas (GHG) is a gas that absorbs and emits radiant energy within the thermal infrared range, causing the greenhouse effect.
  • The primary greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor (H 2O), carbon dioxide (CO 2), methane (CH 4), nitrous oxide (N 2O), and ozone (O3).
  • Without greenhouse gases, the average temperature of Earth’s surface would be about −18 °C (0 °F), rather than the present average of 15 °C (59 °F).
  • The atmospheres of Venus, Mars, and Titan also contain greenhouse gases.

Air Pollution

[pib] Aerosol Nucleation


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Aerosol Nucleation

Mains level : Air pollution

Scientists tracing the concentration, size and evolution of aerosol particles smaller than 3 nanometers at an urban location in India have found the frequent formation of sub-3nm aerosol particles in the atmosphere.

What is Aerosol Nucleation?

  • The formation of small molecular clusters of sub-3nm size is technically called aerosol nucleation, and subsequent growth of these newly formed clusters to the large sizes is called atmospheric new particle formation (NPF).
  • NPF occurs everywhere in the terrestrial troposphere, and therefore it is a large source of aerosol numbers to the atmosphere.
  • Though extensively studied globally using field observations, laboratory experiments and modelling approach, it is largely unexplored in India.

What has the new research found?

  • The research showed that a pool of sub-3nm particles is often present in the atmosphere, but how fast these clusters grow depends on various factors.
  • The scientists observed that only half of these events showed newly formed molecular clusters growing past 10 nm size.
  • Thus particle size distributions display a conventional banana-shaped aerosol growth, which is indicative of regional NPF event.

Role of Sulphur

  • The team found a strong positive correlation between sub-3nm particle concentrations and sulphuric acid concentrations, confirming the potential role of sulfuric acid in the formation of sub-3nm particles.
  • While NPF often starts with sulphuric acid in the atmosphere, sulphuric acid alone fails to explain observed particle formation and growth rates in the atmosphere.
  • Other vapours such as ammonia, amines and organics play a crucial role in the growth of newly formed particles.
  • This has critical importance as a major fraction of these newly formed particles can reach to sizes of cloud condensation nuclei where they have climatic impacts.

Air Pollution

International Nitrogen Initiative (INI)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nitrogen pollution

Mains level : NA

The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the main focus of the eighth triennial conference of the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) being held virtually this week.

International Nitrogen Initiative

  • INI is an international program, set up in 2003 under the sponsorship of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) and from the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP).
  • The key aims of the INI are to:
  1. optimize nitrogen’s beneficial role in sustainable food production, and
  2. minimize nitrogen’s negative effects on human health and the environment resulting from food and energy production.

Answer this PYQ in the comment box:

Q.Which of the following adds/add nitrogen to the soil?

  1. Excretion of Urea by animals
  2. Burning of coal by man
  3. Death of vegetation

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2, and 3

Why nitrogen?

  • Reactive nitrogen compounds like NOx, ammonia and the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide impact air, water and soil quality, health, biodiversity and climate change, among others.
  • These compounds are lost from fertilizers, manures, and sewage as well as from fuel burning in transport and industry.
  • Assessing and managing them sustainably will be crucial to achieving the 17 UN SDGs targeted for 2030.

Also read:

[Burning Issue] Nitrogen Pollution in India

Back2Basics: Nitrogen Pollution

  • While nitrogen is the dominant gas in the atmosphere, it is inert and doesn’t react.
  • However, when it is released as part of compounds from agriculture, sewage and biological waste, nitrogen is considered reactive.
  • It may be polluting and even exert a potent greenhouse gas effect.
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O) is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide but isn’t as prevalent in the atmosphere.
  • Other than air pollution, nitrogen is also linked to the loss of biodiversity, the pollution of rivers and seas, ozone depletion, health, economy, and livelihoods.
  • Nitrogen pollution is caused, for example, by emissions from chemical fertilizers, livestock manure and burning fossil fuels.
  • Gases such as ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) contribute to poor air quality and can aggravate respiratory and heart conditions, leading to millions of premature deaths across the world.
  • Nitrate from chemical fertilizers, manure, and industry pollute the rivers and seas, posing a health risk for humans, fish, coral, and plant life.

Air Pollution

[pib] Recycling Carbon Technology


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Components of CCUS

Mains level : Carbon sequestration

A Bangalore-based startup has received the National Award 2021 for developing efficient catalysts and methodologies for the conversion of CO2 to methanol and other chemicals.

Carbon Recycling

  • It has led to the improvisation of process engineering to enhance the production of chemicals and fuels from anthropogenic CO2.
  • It has integrated multiple components involved in the CCUS (Carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration) to develop a complete solution for the environmental issues due to global warming.
  • The current capacity of CO2 conversion is 300 kg per day, which can be scaled up to several 100 tons on an industrial scale.

What is CCUS?

  • Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) encompass methods and technologies to remove CO2 from the flue gas and from the atmosphere.
  • CCUS involves multiple aspects that need to be in sync for the successful removal or capture of CO2 from the flue gas or the atmosphere, followed by utilization and storage.
  • Carbon capture involves the development of sorbents that can effectively bind to the CO2 present in flue gas or the atmosphere, which is expensive.
  • In addition, there has been a considerable debate about the fate of captured and compressed CO2.

Air Pollution

Delhi’s air quality deteriorates, again


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AQI

Mains level : Paper 3- Air pollution in Delhi

Air quality to oscillate between poor to very poor

  • Delhi’s air quality deteriorated from ‘moderate’ to ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’ on April 29.
  • It will be oscillating between ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’ for the next three days, according to the SAFAR-System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research.
  • Delhi’s air typically worsens in October-November and improves by March-April.

What is the cause

  • Current weather conditions are not unfavourable, unlike in winter.
  • Hence, apart from local emissions, the deterioration in air quality is being attributed to an increase in fire counts, mostly due to burning of wheat crop stubble in northern India.
  • Deteriorating air quality is worrying amid an increasing number of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and deaths.

Quality classification

  • An AQI between 0-50 is considered ‘good.
  • An AQI between 51-100 is considered satisfactory.
  • An AQI between 101-200 is considered moderate.
  • An AQI between 201-300 is considered poor.
  • An AQI between 301-400 is considered very poor.
  • An AQI between 401-500 is considered severe.
  • Above 500 is the ‘severe-plus’ or ‘emergency’ category.

Air Pollution

Limited sops make scrappage policy for vehicles unattractive


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- What makes vehicle policy unattractive

Why the Vehicle Scrappage Policy is unattractive

  • The policy proposes to de-register vehicles that fail fitness tests or are unable to renew registrations after 15-20 years of use.
  • Limited incentives and poor cost economics for trucks in the Vehicle Scrappage Policy, coupled with lack of addressable volumes for other segments is unlikely to drive freight transporters to replace their old vehicles with new ones, said a Crisil report.
  • Though the scrappage volume of buses, PVs and two-wheelers is expected to be limited as well, the policy’s impact on new commercial vehicle (CV) sales could be sizeable, based on addressable volume, ratings agency Crisil Research said in its report.
  • The potential benefit from scrapping a 15-year-old, entry-level small car will be ₹70,000, whereas its resale value is around ₹95,000. That makes scrapping unattractive, Crisil said in the report.

Air Pollution

World Air Quality Report, 2020


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : World Air Quality Report

Mains level : Air pollution in Delhi

Delhi remained the most polluted capital city in the world but India, on the whole, had improved its average annual PM 2.5 (particulate matter) levels higher in 2020 than in 2019, according to a report from World Air Quality Report Air.

Try this question from CS Mains 2015:

Q.Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are the three megacities of the country but air pollution is a much more serious problem in Delhi as compared to the other two. Why is this so?

World Air Quality Report

  • It is released by a Swiss air quality technology company IQAir.
  • IQAir is an air quality technology company that since 1963 seeks to empower individuals, organizations and communities to breathe cleaner air through information, collaboration and technology solutions.
  • The 2020 Report is based on PM2.5 data from 106 countries that have been measured by ground-based monitoring stations.

Highlights of the report

  • Of the 14 most polluted cities, 13 were in India.
  • When ranked by cities, Hotan in China was the most polluted, with an average concentration of 110.2 µg/m³, followed by Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh at 106.
  • Delhi’s concentration level, based primarily on data from the Central Pollution Control Board, was 84.1 µg/m³ in 2020, a 15% improvement from the 98.6 µg/m³ recorded in 2019 — a consequence of the lockdown.
  • Bangladesh and Pakistan were the countries in 2020 with worse average PM 2.5 levels than India, says the report.
  • China ranked 11th in the latest report, a deterioration from the 14th in the previous edition of the report. In the 2020 report, 106 countries were evaluated.

Air Pollution

Curbing Benzene Emission


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Benzene pollution

Mains level : Not Much

A joint committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to study air pollution in Kerala has pointed out that petrol refuelling stations were a major source of benzene emissions and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Why such a move?

  • Benzene is a major constituent of evaporative emission due to its high volatility.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following:

  1. Carbon monoxide
  2. Methane
  3. Ozone
  4. Sulphur dioxide

Which of the above are released into atmosphere due to the burning of crop/biomass residue?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2, 3 and 4 only

(c) 1 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

What is Benzene?

  • Benzene is a chemical that is a colourless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. It has a sweet odour and is highly flammable.
  • It evaporates into the air very quickly. Its vapour is heavier than air and may sink into low-lying areas.
  • It dissolves only slightly in water and will float on top of the water.

Its formation and uses

Benzene is formed from both natural processes and human activities.

  • Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke.
  • Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibres.
  • It is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.

Benzene emission

  • The major sources of benzene exposure are tobacco smoke, automobile service stations, exhaust from motor vehicles, and industrial emissions.
  • Benzene is present in both exhaust and evaporative emissions. Motor vehicles account for approximately 85% of the total benzene emissions.
  • However, ingestion and dermal absorption of benzene can also occur through contact with contaminated water.

Air Pollution

54,000 lives lost in Delhi due to air pollution


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Willingness to pay mechanism

Mains level : Air pollution in Delhi

Air pollution claimed approximately 54,000 lives in Delhi in 2020, according to a Greenpeace Southeast Asia analysis of the cost to the economy due to air pollution.

Try this question from CS Mains 2015:

Q.Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are the three megacities of the country but the air pollution is a much more serious problem in Delhi as compared to the other two. Why is this so?

Deaths due to Air Pollution

  • Globally, approximately 1,60,000 deaths have been attributed to PM 2.5 air pollution in the five most populous cities — Delhi, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo.
  • Six Indian cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Lucknow — feature in the global analysis.
  • An estimated 25,000 avoidable deaths in Mumbai in 2020 have been attributed to air pollution.
  • Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad estimated an approximate 12,000, 11,000, and 11,000 avoidable deaths respectively due to polluted air.

The ‘Cost Estimator’

  • The ‘Cost Estimator’, an online tool that estimates the real-time health impact and economic cost from fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) air pollution in major world cities.
  • It was deployed in collaboration between Greenpeace Southeast Asia, IQAir and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
  • Using real-time ground-level PM 2.5 measurements collated in IQAir’s database, the algorithm applies scientific risk models in combination with population and public health data.

Computing the “Lost Years”

  • To show the impact of air pollution-related deaths on the economy, the approach used by Greenpeace is called ‘willingness-to-pay.
  • It refers to a lost life year or a year lived with a disability is converted to money by the amount that people are willing to pay in order to avoid this negative outcome.
  • The cost estimator also sustained the estimated air pollution-related economic losses of ₹1,23,65,15,40,000.

Greenpeace recommends-

  • Despite a temporary reprieve in air quality owing to the lockdown, the latest figures from the report underscore the need to act immediately.
  • The need of the hour is to rapidly scale up renewable energy, bring an end to fossil fuel emissions and boost sustainable and accessible transport systems.

Air Pollution

[pib] Scheme for Management of Crop Residues


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Air pollution

Mains level : Alternatives solutions for stubble burning

The Scheme on ‘Promotion of Agricultural Mechanization for In-Situ Management of Crop Residue in the States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi’ has been extended for the year 2021-22.

We can cite the example of this scheme for crop residue management as an effective solution against stubble burning.

Management of Crop Residues

  • In pursuance this, a central sector scheme (100% funded by centre) was launched in 2018 Budget to support the efforts of the governments of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and the NCT of Delhi to address air pollution.
  • It aimed to subsidize the machinery required for in-situ management of crop residue.

Various objectives of the scheme:

  • Protecting the environment from air pollution and preventing loss of nutrients and soil micro-organisms caused by burning of crop residue;
  • Promoting in-situ management of crop residue by retention and incorporation into the soil through the use of appropriate mechanization inputs and
  • Creating awareness among stakeholders for effective utilization and management of crop residue

Outcomes of the scheme

  • The residue burning events in 2020 in Punjab, Haryana and UP together have reduced by -30% as compared to 2016.
  • In Punjab the reduction is -22.7%, Haryana – 63.8% and UP – 52.01%.

Air Pollution

What is Nitrogen-Use Efficiency (NUE)?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NUE, Nitrogen's GHG potential

Mains level : Nitrogen pollution

A group of Indian scientists have found a way to improve crops by reducing wastage of nitrogen fertilizers applied to them.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Which of the following adds/add nitrogen to the soil?

  1. Excretion of Urea by animals
  2. Burning of coal by man
  3. Death of vegetation

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2, and 3

Nitrogen-Use Efficiency

  • NUE is calculated as a ratio between nitrogen used and harvest: A higher number denotes low wastage.
  • With the efficiency on the decline, farmers use more fertiliser in the hope of raising yield. This in turn worsens NUE.
  • Crops generally use up 30 per cent of nitrogen fertilizer applied; the rest seeps into the environment, harming health and adding to climate change.
  • Researchers were able to identify phenotypes or visibly identifiable features that determine the efficiency with which cultivated rice varieties (cultivars) use nitrogen.
  • This efficiency is known as nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE).
  • Cereals consume over 69 per cent of nitrogen fertilizers in India; rice tops the list with 37 per cent, followed by wheat (24 per cent).

Nitrogen Pollution: the reason behind

  • Agriculture leads to 70 per cent of nitrous oxide emissions in India.
  • Of this, 77 per cent is contributed by fertilizers, mostly urea, according to the Indian Nitrogen Assessment published in 2017.
  • This greenhouse gas (GHG) is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
  • It has replaced methane as the second-largest component of GHG emissions from Indian agriculture in the past 15 years.

Must read:

[Burning Issue] Nitrogen Pollution in India

Air Pollution

Air pollution in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Dealing with the air pollution through regulations

Despite efforts from several levels, air pollution is getting worse day by day. The article suggests the strategy to deal with the issue of air pollution.

Solvable problem

  • Pollution is very much a solvable problem but it cannot be solved on an emergency basis.
  • It has to be dealt with firmly and gradually.
  • Why gradually? Because there are many sources of pollution and it would be prohibitively costly to stop them or even significantly reduce them all at once.

Replacing existing technologies with existing technology

  • The biggest sources air polltion nationally are cooking fires, coal-fired power plants, various industries, crop residue burning, and construction and road dust. Vehicles are further down on the list.
  • Dealing with all these sources will require a gradual replacement of existing technologies with new technologies.
  • Cooking fires must be replaced with LPG, induction stoves, and other electric cooking appliances.
  • Old coal power plants must be closed and replaced with wind and solar power and batteries while newer plants must install new pollution control equipment.
  • No new coal-fired power plants should be built — with renewables being cheaper, coal is obsolete for power generation.
  • Other industries that use coal will have to gradually switch over to cleaner fuel sources such as gas or hydrogen while becoming more energy-efficient at the same time.
  • Farmers will have to switch crops or adopt alternative methods of residue management.
  • Diesel and petrol vehicles must gradually be replaced by electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles running on power generated from renewables.

Legal measures and issues

  • Governments can make clean investments more profitable and dirty investments less profitable by taxing polluting activities and subsidising clean investments.
  • The judiciary is more powerful but has far less scientific and technical competence.
  • It tends to act only during crises and focus on past mistakes rather than planning to prevent new ones.

Reforms in regulatory agency

  • Our existing laws do not allow the central and state pollution boards to levy pollution fee or cess based on pollution emissions.
  • Since closing down an industry is a drastic step, it almost never happens.
  • We need a regulatory agency that can levy pollution fee or cess, is that the regulatory decision need not be an all-or-nothing decision.
  • Pollution fees can start small, and the EPA can announce that they will rise by a certain percentage every year.
  • The regulatory agency should be given some independence,like
  • 1) a head appointed for a five-year term removable only by impeachment.
  • 2) a guaranteed budget funded by a small percentage tax on all industries.
  • 3) autonomy to hire staff and to set pollution fees after justification through scientific studies.
  • Three advantages of the regulator with such powers would be-
  • 1) Politicians in power can pass on the blame for decisions on pollution fees to the EPA.
  • 2) Pollution fees raise revenue for the government.
  • 3) If the law establishing an independent EPA is written to require that changes to pollution fees and regulations must be published in advance, and cannot involve abrupt changes, then surprises are avoided.
  • Industry opposition will be muted, especially if industry gets a piece of the revenue to invest in new technologies.


Our pollution problem has taken decades to grow into the monster that it is. It can’t be killed in a day. We need the scientific and technical capacity that only a securely funded independent EPA can bring to shrink pollution down to nothing.

Air Pollution

State Pollution Control Boards


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Role of CPCB and SPCBs

Mains level : Paper 3- Issues faced by SPCBs

The article deals with the issues faced by the State Pollution Control Boards.

Role of CPCB and State Pollution Control Boards

  • The pollution crisis is a highly complex, multi-disciplinary issue with several contributory factors.
  • To address this crisis, India has a plethora of rules, laws and specialised agencies which, at least on paper, seem very impressive.
  • The footsoldiers of India’s battle against polluters are its officials at the state pollution control boards.
  • The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) based in Delhi is generally well funded and resourced, unlike the state pollution control boards (SPCBs) that are in charge of implementation of the rules that CPCB writes.

5 issues faced by SPCBs

1) Shortage of Staff

  • As an illustration, the Haryana State Pollution Control Board has been operating with a 70 per cent staff shortage.
  • What this means practically is that a single officer is tasked to handle the demands of pollution control for an entire district without any subordinate technical staff.
  • This comes at the cost of not being able to do inspections and other core pollution control work.

2) Lack of specialisation

  • The officers at the SPCBs do not get to develop any specialisation.
  • The CPCB has a decent workforce and robust laboratories, where scientists once recruited get to work and excel in a particular area.
  • On the other hand, SPCBs don’t have such a stratified system, and the same officer is in charge of all these pollution categories, making it impossible to gain expertise and excel in any one area.

3) Lack of legal skills to take on pollutors

  •  SPCBs lack the necessary legal skills to take on polluters.
  • While a legal cell may exist at the head office of a SPCB, they have few full-time public prosecutors there.
  • As a result, engineering graduates in district SPCB offices —  have to play the role of lawyers and develop legal paperwork that often falls short of holding polluters to account.
  • Clerks and superintendents at courts often refuse to file cases, pointing at flaws that someone not trained in law would naturally make.

4) Lack of funds

  • SPCBs are chronically underfunded.
  • For instance, the funds of several SPCBs such as Haryana’s largely come from “No Objection Certificates” and “Consent to Operate” that the boards grant to industries and projects, rather than budgetary allocations by the government.
  • Owing to this, SPCB officials are unable to spend on critical functions.

5) Additional duties

  • SPCB officials are at times given additional responsibilities that are unrelated to pollution control.
  • Haryana’s SPCB, for instance, has poultry farms under its ambit.

Consider the question “Dealing with the crisis of air pollution need coordination at various levels and the State Pollution Control Boards play an important role in it. In light of this, examine the challenges and suggest the steps needed to empower them.”


India must empower SPCBs to act by giving them the necessary funds, human resources, tools and technologies.

Air Pollution

The cost of cleaning air


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Funds allocated for containing air pollution and issue of its inadequacy

The article deals with the issue of allocation of funds to tackle air pollution and issues with it.

Allocation in the budget

  • A ₹4,400 crore package was announced in last budget for 2020-21 to tackle air pollution in 102 of India’s most polluted cities.
  • The funds would be used to reduce particulate matter by 20%-30% from 2017 levels by 2024 under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).

Issues with estimating the scale of the problem

  • It is unclear if this amount is adequate because the scale of the problem is unknown.
  • Delhi government spent money on the measurement of pollution for in Delhi that far exceeds s allocations that find mention in the Centre and State government’s budgeting books.
  • The funds allocated don’t account for the trained manpower and the support system necessary to effectively maintain the systems and these costs are likely to be significant.
  • Historically, cites have used manual machines to measure specified pollutants and their use has been inadequate.
  • An analysis by research agencies Carbon Copy and Respirer Living Sciences recently found that only 59 out of 122 cities had PM 2.5 data available.
  • Only three States, had all their installed monitors providing readings from 2016 to 2018.
  • Prior to 2016, making comparisons of reduction strictly incomparable.
  • Now manual machines are being replaced by automatic ones and India is still largely reliant on imported machines.
  • In the case of the National Capital Region, at least ₹600 crore was spent by the Ministry of Agriculture over two years to provide subsidised equipment to farmers in Punjab and Haryana and dissuade them from burning paddy straw.
  • Yet this year, there have been more farm fires than the previous year and their contribution to Delhi’s winter air woes remain unchanged.
  • This indicates that money alone doesn’t work.


A clear day continues to remain largely at the mercy of favourable meteorology. While funds are critical, proper enforcement, adequate staff and stemming the sources of pollution on the ground are vital to the NCAP meeting its target.

Air Pollution

Brown Carbon ‘Tarballs’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : brown , black carbon

Mains level : Glacial melting of himalayas

A study has highlighted that brown carbon ‘tarballs’ that fasten the glacial melting has been found in the Himalayan atmosphere.

We are still to find a solution for the ill-fated Delhi air,  and here comes another blow from the stubble burnings.

What are Brown Carbon ‘Tarballs’?

  • Tarballs are small light-absorbing, carbonaceous particles formed due to burning of biomass or fossil fuels that deposit on snow and ice.
  • They are formed from brown carbon, emitted during the burning of fossil fuels.
  • The median sizes of externally mixed tarballs and internally mixed tarballs were 213 and 348 nanometre respectively.
  • Primary brown carbon (BrC) co-emitted with black carbon (BC) from biomass burning is an important light-absorbing carbonaceous aerosol.
  • The black carbon from the Indo-Gangetic Plain can reach the Himalaya region and influence glacial melting and climatic change.

Highlights of the study

  • Until now, black carbon was found to be transported long distances by the wind to the Himalayan atmosphere.
  • The study revealed that a dense array of active fire spots — corresponding to large-scale wheat-residue burning on the Indo-Gangetic Plain — occurred along the pathways of Himalaya.
  • The percentage of the tarballs increased on days of higher levels of pollution and could contribute to the hastening of glacial melt and global warming.
  • The researchers concluded that tarballs from long-range transport can be an important factor in the climatic effect and would correspond to a substantial influence on glacial melting in the Himalaya region.

Air Pollution

Pusa Bio-Decomposer


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pusa Biodecomposer

Mains level : Alternatives solutions for stubble burning

Delhi CM has said that the “Pusa bio-decomposer” is a success in Delhi and he will inform the Supreme Court that it is an effective way to prevent stubble burning.

Pusa Bio-decomposer provides a unique alternative against the stubble burning practices.

Pusa Bio-decomposer

  • It is a solution developed by the scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa, which can turn crop residue into manure in 15 to 20 days and therefore, can prevent stubble burning.
  • It involves making a liquid formulation using Pusa decomposer capsules and readily available inputs, fermenting it over 8-10 days, and then spraying the mixture on fields.
  • It is a mix of seven fungi that produce enzymes to digest cellulose, lignin and pectin in paddy straw.
  • The fungi thrive at 30-32 degree Celsius, which is the temperature prevailing when paddy is harvested and wheat is sown.

Back2Basics: Decomposition

  • Decomposition refers to a biological process of breaking down organic material into smaller constituent parts.
  • The decomposition of organic substances is ecologically significant. It plays a part in the nutrient cycle. It is an essential process of recycling matter in the biosphere.
  • A decomposer is an organism whose ecological function involves the recycling of nutrients by performing the natural process of decomposition as it feeds on decaying organisms.
  • Examples of decomposers are fungi and bacteria that obtain their nutrients from a dead plant or animal material.
  • They break down cells of dead plants and animals into simpler substances, which become organic nutrients available to the ecosystem.

Air Pollution

Private: Stubble Burning


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pollutants released due to stubble burning

Mains level : Paper 3- Stubble burning issue

The stubble burning issue grabs the headlines every winter. And this year is no different. 

Background of stubble burning

  • Stubble burning refers to the practice of farmers setting fire to plant debris that remain in farms after harvest.
  • The origin of stubble burning can be traced to the advent of the Green Revolution and mechanised harvesting.
  • The Green Revolution increased greatly rice and wheat production, which simultaneously increased stubble post harvest.
  • Combined harvesting technique was not efficacious, as machines left behind one-foot-tall stalks.
  • This prompted stubble burning as a low-cost and speedy solution.
  • Other factor was the limited time period of 20-25 days between harvesting one crop and sowing another.

Environmental Impact:

  • Air Pollution: A study estimates that crop residue burning released 149.24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), over 9 million tonnes of carbon monoxide (CO), 0.25 million tonnes of oxides of sulphur (SOX), 1.28 million tonnes of particulate matter and 0.07 million tonnes of black carbon.
  • Responsible for the haze in Delhi: Crop burning contributed nearly 40% of the near-surface PM 2.5 in Delhi in 2016, which saw one of Delhi’s severest pollution episode
  • Soil Fertility: The heat from burning paddy straw penetrates 1 centimetre into the soil, elevating the temperature to 33.8 to 42.2 degree Celsius. This kills the bacterial and fungal populations critical for a fertile soil. The solubility capacity of the upper layers of soil has also been reduced.
  • Pests in atmosphere: Burning of crop residue causes damage to other micro-organisms present in the upper layer of the soil as well as its organic quality. Due to the loss of ‘friendly’ pests, the wrath of ‘enemy’ pests has increased and as a result, crops are more prone to disease.

Legislative measures

  • In 2013, stubble burning was banned by the Punjab government.
  • In 2015, the National Green Tribunal imposed a ban on stubble burning in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.
  • NGT also directed government to assist farmers by obtaining equipment like happy seeders and rotavator.
  • Stubble burning is an offence under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981.

Supreme Court on Stubble Burning

  • The Supreme Court, in November 2019, had directed the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to pay farmers a financial incentive to curb the practice
  • In 2019, the Punjab government paid Rs 28.51 crore to 31,231 farmers, while Haryana’s paid Rs 1.63 crore to 4,000. This year, the Haryana government expects to pay as much as Rs 301 crore.
  • However, Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, or EPCA, is right in saying that an incentive of Rs 100 per quintal of grain—paid on top of the MSP during procurement by the Centre—is “not viable”.

Recent measures

  • Recently, in Aditya Dubey v. Union of India, the Supreme Court appointed a one-man committee (headed by Justice Madan B. Lokur) to monitor and provide steps to prevent stubble burning activities in Punjab, Haryana and U.P. Haryana.
  • The committee submitted that numerous steps are taken to curb stubble burning, including the development of an app to detect and notify authorities about stubble burning committed in a particular field.
  • Now the Union government has brought out an ordinance to set up a permanent commission for air quality management, which will replace the Justice Madan B. Lokur Commission.

Way Ahead

  • Short term Solution: Giving farmers easy and affordable access to the machines which allow them to do smart straw management is the short term solution to the problem
  • Dual Strategy: Both in-situ (in the field) and ex-situ (elsewhere) solutions need to be considered, apart from tackling the fundamental factors prompting the practice.
  • Affordability of Government Measures: A key factor will be ensuring affordability of service for those hiring the machines; Haryana has reserved 70% of the machines at panchayat-run CHCs for small and marginal farmers, while Punjab has prioritised service to them.
  • Utilizing Crop Stubble: Instead of burning of the stubble, it can be used in different ways like cattle feed, compost manure, roofing in rural areas, biomass energy, mushroom cultivation, packing materials, fuel, paper, bio-ethanol and industrial production, etc.
  • The long-term solution has to be crop diversification, away from paddy
  • The action plan of Punjab and Haryana focus on setting up Custom Hiring Centres which will facilitate farmers removing stubble by providing them with machinery such as the happy seeder, rotavator, paddy straw chopper, etc. on rent along with the supply of more balers.
  • As per a study by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, the application of happy seeders and super SMS machines can improve agricultural productivity by 10% to 15% while reducing labour costs and allowing the soil to become more fertile.


The practice of stubble burning, is harmful to environment and health of millions. But the solution to the issue must address the concerns of the farmers. So, solutions based on technology and PUSA Decomposer could be the step in the right directions.


Air Pollution

Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mandate of the commission

Mains level : Air pollution in Delhi

The President of India has signed the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020.

Try this question from CS Mains 2015:

Q.Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are the three megacities of the country but the air pollution is a much more serious problem in Delhi as compared to the other two. Why is this so?

About the Ordinance

  • The Ordinance seeks to create an overarching body to consolidate all monitoring bodies and to bring them on one platform so air quality management can be carried out in a more comprehensive, efficient, and time-bound manner.
  • It came within days of the hearing in ‘Aditya Dubey vs Union of India’ in the court of the CJI, where Solicitor General had indicated the setting up of such a Commission.

Why has the central government set up this Commission?

  • The monitoring and management of air quality in the Delhi NCR region have been done piecemeal by multiple bodies including the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the adjacent state PCBs and state governments.
  • They, in turn, are monitored by the Environment Ministry, and the Supreme Court itself, which monitors air pollution as per the judgment in ‘M C Mehta vs Union of India’, 1988.

Consolidating the efforts

  • The Centre seeks to relieve the Supreme Court from having to constantly monitor pollution levels through various pollution-related cases.
  • The body indicates the central government’s push to bring all stakeholders on one platform.
  • This is important because the management of air pollution in Delhi NCR will involve controlling stubble-burning (Agriculture Ministry and state governments), and the control of industrial emissions (Commerce and Industries Ministry), etc.

About the Commission

  • The Commission, which will be a permanent body, will have over 20 members and will be chaired by a retired official of the level of Secretary to the GoI or Chief Secretary of a state.
  • It will include a representative of the Secretary of the MoEFCC, five Secretary level officers who will be ex officio members and two joint secretary-level officers who will be full-time members.
  • The Commission will also have representation from the CPCB, ISRO, air pollution experts, and three representatives of non-government organisations (NGOs).
  • As associate members, the Commission will have representatives from various other Ministries including the Ministries of Agriculture, Petroleum, Power, Transport, Housing etc.

Power and functions

  • In matters of air pollution and air quality management, the Commission will supersede all existing bodies.
  • It will have the powers to issue directions to the states.
  • The Commission will also coordinate efforts of state governments to curb air pollution, and will lay down the parameters of air quality for the region.
  • It will have powers to restrict the setting up of industries in vulnerable areas and will be able to conduct site inspections of industrial units.

Penal powers

  • The Commission will have some penal powers.
  • If its directions are contravened, through say, the setting up of an industrial unit in a restricted area, the Commission will have the power to impose a fine of up to Rs 1 crore and imprisonment of up to 5 years.

Wasn’t EPCA effective?

  • The one body with powers similar to the new Commission’s was the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA).
  • It was not a statutory body but drew legitimacy from the Supreme Court, which has been looking at cases of air pollution as part of the judgment in M C Mehta vs Union of India (1988).
  • The EPCA was not, however, supported by a legal framework in the form of a law. It did have the authority to issue fines or directions and guidelines to the governments in other states.

How is the new commission expected to alter the situation?

  • By forming a new commission, the government has taken the issue of air pollution out of the purview of the judiciary.
  • As per the Ordinance, only NGT, and not civil courts, is authorised to hear cases where the commission is involved.
  • The central government has got itself out of the clutch of Supreme Court and closed down SC-appointed EPCA.

Challenges ahead

  • The Commission has a large number of members from the central government, which has not gone down well with the states.
  • It is full of officials from the central government. Taking away any say from the state government is not the way to go further.
  • Also, political differences will also now play a part in the functioning of the Commission because states are not happy with the overarching powers being vested in it.

Air Pollution

What is Yellow Dust?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Yellow dust

Mains level : Air pollution

North Korean authorities have urged citizens to remain indoors to avoid contact with a mysterious cloud of ‘yellow dust’ blowing in from China, which they have warned could bring Covid-19 with it.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following

  1. Birds
  2. Dustblowing
  3. Rain
  4. Windblowing

Which of the above spread plant diseases?

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 3 and 4 only

(c) 1, 2 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

What is yellow dust?

  • Yellow dust is actually sand from deserts in China and Mongolia that high-speed surface winds carry into both North and South Korea during specific periods every year.
  • The sand particles tend to mix with other toxic substances such as industrial pollutants, as a result of which the ‘yellow dust’ is known to cause a number of respiratory ailments.
  • Usually, when the dust reaches unhealthy levels in the atmosphere, authorities urge people to remain indoors and limit physical activity, particularly heavy exercise and sport.
  • Sometimes, when the concentration of yellow dust in the atmosphere crosses around 800 micrograms/cubic meter, schools are shut and outdoor events cancelled in the affected areas.

Air Pollution

State of Global Air Report, 2020


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Particulate Matter

Mains level : Pollution induced mortality in India

Air pollution now biggest health risk in India, says the State of Global Air 2020 Report.

State of Global Air Report

  • The State of Global Air report brings into one place the latest information on air quality and health for countries around the globe.
  • It is produced annually by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease project.

India’s exposure to pollution

  • Long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases and neonatal diseases in India in 2019.
  • Overall, air pollution was now the largest risk factor for death among all health risks, the report noted.
  • Outdoor and household particulate matter pollution also contributed to the deaths of more than 1,16,000 Indian infants in their first month of life last year.
  • For the youngest infants, most deaths were related to complications from low birth weight and preterm birth.

A comparison with peers

  • India faced the highest per capita pollution exposure — or 83.2 μg/cubic metre — in the world.
  • It is followed by Nepal at 83.1 μg/cubic metre and Niger at 80.1.
  • Countries with the least population exposure are below 8 micrograms (μg) per cubic metre.

Back2Basics: Particulate Matter

  • PM is the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye.
  • Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope.
  • Particle pollution includes:
  1. PM10 : inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 10 micrometres and smaller; and
  2. PM2.5: fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometres and smaller.

Sources of PM

  • These particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals.
  • Some are emitted directly from a source, such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires.
  • Most particles form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles.

Harmful effects of PM

  • Particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems.
  • Some particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream.
  • Of these, particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to health.

Air Pollution

Towards cleaner air in Delhi


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Delhi air-pollution issue

The article suggests the three-pronged strategy to deal with the emission from transportation and highlights the importance of coordination at various level to deal with the issue of pollution.

Anti-pollution campaign in Delhi

  • With air pollution returning to pre-COVID levels, the Delhi administration has launched a major anti-pollution campaign this month.
  • The campaign is focused on cutting the deadly smoke from thermal plants and brick kilns in the National Capital Region as well as on chemical treatment of stubble burning from nearby States.

Abating emission from transportation

  • Delhi’s long-term solution will depend importantly also on abating emissions from transportation.
  • Delhi needs a 65% reduction to meet the national standards for PM2.5.
  • Vehicles, including trucks and two-wheelers, contribute 20%-40% of the PM2.5 concentrations.
  • Tackling vehicle emissions would be one part of the agenda, as in comparable situations in Bangkok, Beijing, and Mexico City.

Three-part action to combat emissions from transportation

  • A three-part action comprises emissions standards, public transport, and electric vehicles.

1) Stricter enforcement of emission controls

  • Two-wheelers and three-wheelers were as important as cars and lorries in Beijing’s experience.
  • Bangkok ramped up inspection and maintenance to cut emissions.
  • The first order of business is to implement the national standards.

2) Strengthening public transport

  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)  around the world show how the sizeable investment cost is more than offset by the benefits, and that financing pays off.
  • Delhi has lessons from its BRT experience in designating better BRT lanes, improving the ticketing system and synchronising with the Metro.
  • The Supreme Court’s ruling to increase Delhi’s bus fleet and align it with the Metro network must be carried out.
  • The ‘odd-even’ number plate policy can help, but the system should reduce exemptions, allow a longer implementation period, and complement it with other measures.

3) Adoption of electric vehicle: A long term solution

  •  Subsidies and investment will be needed to ensure that EVs are used to a meaningful scale.
  • The Delhi government’s three-year policy aims to make EVs account for a quarter of the new vehicles registered in the capital by 2024.
  • EVs will gain from purchase incentives, scrappage benefits on older vehicles, loans at favourable interest and a waiver of road taxes.

Need for coordination at various level

  • Transport solutions need to be one part of pollution abatement that includes industry and agriculture.
  • Delhi’s own actions will not work if the pollution from neighbouring States is not addressed head on.
  • Technical solutions need to be underpinned by coordination and transparency across Central, State, and local governments.
  • Public opinion matters.
  • Citizen participation and the media are vital for sharing the message on pollution and health, using data such as those from the Central Pollution Control Board.


  • It is a matter of prioritising people’s health and a brighter future. Once the pandemic is over, Delhi must not stumble into yet another public health emergency. The time to act is now.

Air Pollution

Global Nitrous Oxide Pollution


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various GHGs

Mains level : Hazards of N2O pollution

Human emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) — a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) — increased by 30 per cent between 1980 and 2016.

Observe the above image carefully and try to find out the major contributor of nitrous oxide emission in the Global N2O Budget.

What is Nitrous oxide?

  • Nitrous oxide is a dangerous gas for the sustainable existence of humans on Earth.
  • It has the third-highest concentration — after CO2 and methane — in our atmosphere among greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
  • N2O can live in the atmosphere for up to 125 years.
  • Most N2O emissions have come from emerging countries like India, China and Brazil.

About the research

  • Nitrous oxide global concentration levels have increased from 270 parts per billion (ppb) in 1750 to 331 ppb in 2018 — a jump of 20 per cent.
  • The growth has been the quickest in the past five decades because of human emissions.
  • The research was conducted through an international collaboration between the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) and the Global Carbon Project of Future Earth, a partner of the World Climate Research Programme.

Why N2O matters?

  • N2O is also the only remaining threat to the ozone layer, for it accumulates in the atmosphere over a long period of time, just like CO2.
  • The increase in its emissions means that the climatic burden on the atmosphere is increasing from non-carbon sources as well, while the major focus of global climate change negotiations is currently centred on carbon.
  • A major proportion of the N2O emissions in the last four decades came from the agricultural sector, mainly because of the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers.
  • The growing demand for food and feed for animals will further increase global nitrous oxide emissions.

Air Pollution

What is Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP)?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GRAP

Mains level : Not Much

The Supreme Court has directed Delhi and neighbouring States to implement air pollution control measures under “very poor” and “severe” category air quality of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).

Note the various measures under the GRAP under various grades of Air Quality.

Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP)

  • In 2014, when a study by the WHO found that Delhi was the most polluted city in the world, panic spread in the Centre and the state government.
  • Approved by the Supreme Court in 2016, the plan was formulated after several meetings that the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) held with state government and experts.
  • The result was a plan that institutionalized measures to be taken when air quality deteriorates.
  • GRAP works only as an emergency measure.

How does it work?

  • As such, the plan does not include action by various state governments to be taken throughout the year to tackle industrial, vehicular and combustion emissions.
  • When the air quality shifts from poor to very poor, the measures listed under both sections have to be followed since the plan is incremental in nature.
  • If air quality reaches the severe+ stage, GRAP talks about shutting down schools and implementing the odd-even road-space rationing scheme.

Measures taken under GRAP

1)Severe+ or Emergency

(PM 2.5 over 300 µg/cubic metre or PM10 over 500 µg/cu. m. for 48+ hours)

  • Stop entry of trucks into Delhi (except essential commodities)
  • Stop construction work
  • Introduce odd/even scheme for private vehicles and minimise exemptions
  • Task Force to decide any additional steps including shutting of schools

2) Severe

(PM 2.5 over 250 µg/cu. m. or PM10 over 430 µg/cu. m.)

  • Close brick kilns, hot mix plants, stone crushers
  • Maximise power generation from natural gas to reduce generation from coal
  • Encourage public transport, with differential rates
  • More frequent mechanized cleaning of road and sprinkling of water

3) Very Poor

(PM2.5 121-250 µg/cu. m. or PM10 351-430 µg/cu. m.)

  • Stop use of diesel generator sets
  • Enhance parking fee by 3-4 times
  • Increase bus and Metro services
  • Apartment owners to discourage burning fires in winter by providing electric heaters during winter
  • Advisories to people with respiratory and cardiac conditions to restrict outdoor movement

4) Moderate to poor

(PM2.5 61-120 µg/cu. m. or PM10 101-350 µg/cu. m.)

  • Heavy fines for garbage burning
  • Close/enforce pollution control regulations in brick kilns and industries
  • Mechanized sweeping on roads with heavy traffic and water sprinkling
  • Strictly enforce a ban on firecrackers

Has GRAP helped?

  • The biggest success of GRAP has been in fixing accountability and deadlines.
  • For each action to be taken under a particular air quality category, executing agencies are clearly marked.
  • In a territory like Delhi, where a multiplicity of authorities has been a long-standing impediment to effective governance, this step made a crucial difference.

Air Pollution

[pib] Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) Transport Initiative for Asia (TIA)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NDC, TIA

Mains level : India's NDC

NITI Aayog will virtually launch the India Component of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC)–Transport Initiative for Asia (TIA).

Try this PYQ:

Q.The term Intended Nationally Determined Contribution is sometimes seen in the news in the context of:

(a) Pledge made by the European countries to rehabilitate refuges from the war-affected Middle East.

(b) Plan of nation outlined by the countries of the world to combat climate changes.

(c) Capital contributed by the member countries in the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

(d) Plain of action outlined by the countries of the regarding SDGs.

What is NDC-TIA?

  • It is a joint programme, supported by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).
  • On behalf of the GoI, NITI Aayog will be the implementing partner.
  • It aims to promote a comprehensive approach to decarbonize transport in India, Vietnam, and China.
  • It is implemented by a consortium of seven other organisations.


  • The programme has a duration of 4 years.
  • The India Component will focus on establishing a multi-stakeholder dialogue platform for decarbonizing transport in India, strengthening GHG and transport modelling capacities.
  • It would help in financing climate actions in transport, offering policy recommendations on electric vehicle (EV) demand and supply policies.

Why need TIA?

  • India has a massive and diverse transport sector that caters to the needs of billion people.
  • It has the world’s second-largest road network, which contributes to maximum GHG emissions through all means of transportation.
  • With increasing urbanisation, the fleet size i.e. the number of sales of vehicles is increasing rapidly.
  • It is projected that the total number of vehicles will be doubled by 2030.

Air Pollution

[pib] Himalayan Geothermal Springs release huge amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Geothermal springs

Mains level : Not Much

The Himalayas, which hosts about 600 geothermal springs needs to be considered while estimating emissions to the carbon cycle and thereby to global warming says, Indian researchers.

Note the following hot springs in India:

1) Panamik in Nubra valley

2) Kheer Ganga in Kullu, Himachal

3) Manikaran Sahib, Himachal

4) Tattapani, Chhattisgarh

5) Gaurikund, Uttarakhand

6) Yumthang, Sikkim

7) Reshi, Sikkim

Geothermal springs

  • Geothermal or Hot springs are heated by shallow intrusions of magma (molten rock) in volcanic areas. Some thermal springs, however, are not related to volcanic activity.
  • The water is heated by convective circulation: groundwater percolates downward & reaches depths of a kilometre or more where the temperature of rocks is high because of the normal temperature gradient of the Earth’s crust.

Why consider the Himalayas?

  • The Himalayan geothermal springs which cover about 10,000 square km in the Garhwal region of Himalaya show a significant discharge of CO2 rich water.
  • The estimated carbon dioxide degassing (removal of dissolved gases from liquids, especially water or aqueous solutions) flux is nearly 7.2 ×106 mol/year to the atmosphere.
  • Such CO2 degassing should be taken into account to assess global carbon outflux in the earth’s atmosphere.

Where does this CO2 come from?

  • Carbon outflux from Earth’s interior to the exosphere through volcanic eruptions, fault zones, and geothermal systems contribute to the global carbon cycle that effects short and long term climate of the Earth.
  • The CO2 in the thermal springs are sourced from metamorphic decarbonation of carbonate rocks present deep in the Himalayan core along with magmatism and oxidation of graphite.
  • Most of the geothermal water is dominated by evaporation followed by weathering of silicate rocks.
  • Isotopic analyses further point towards a meteoric source for geothermal water.

Air Pollution

What is a ‘Smog Tower’?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Smog towers

Mains level : Air pollution in Delhi

In January this year, the Supreme Court has directed that two smog towers should be installed in the capital by April on a pilot project basis considering a proposal by the IIT-Bombay.

Try this question from CS Mains 2015:

Q.Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are the three mega cities of the country but the air pollution is much more serious problem in Delhi as compared to the other two. Why is this so?

What is a ‘Smog Tower’?

  • A smog tower is a structure designed to work as a large-scale air purifier, fitted with multiple layers of filters which trap fine dust particles suspended in the air as it passes through them.
  • Air is drawn through fans installed at the top of the tower, passed through filters, and then released near the ground.
  • The large-scale filters expected to be installed in the towers in Delhi would use carbon nanofibres as a major component.
  • It would be fitted along the peripheries of the towers and the height would be 20 metres.

How does it work?

  • The 20-metre (65 feet) high tower will trap particulate matter of all sizes suspended in the air.
  • Large-scale air filters shall draw in the air through fans installed at the top before passing it through the filters and releasing it near the ground.
  • The filters installed in the tower will use carbon nanofibres as a major component and will be fitted along its peripheries. The tower will focus on reducing particulate matter load.

Has anyone else experimented with a smog tower?

  • Yes, smog towers have been experimented with in recent years in cities in the Netherlands, China, South Korea and Poland.
  • The first such tower was erected in 2015, in Rotterdam, Netherlands, created by Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde.
  • The towers to be installed in Delhi are to be the result of a collaboration between the IITs at Mumbai and Delhi, and the University of Minnesota.

Why New Delhi?

  • Air pollution in the national capital has been an issue of concern for quite some time as Delhi and its suburbs have ranked among the most polluted cities in the world frequently.
  • In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared Delhi the most polluted city in the world.
  • Pollution levels in Delhi increase dramatically during winter — on some days to nearly 10 times above the limits prescribed by WHO, posing a serious risk to vulnerable and also healthy populations.
  • This is large because sources of emissions — construction work, industrial and vehicular pollution — in and around the city remain more or less consistent.
  • The situation is aggravated at the start of winter by smoke from stubble-burning in northwestern states, coupled with unfavourable meteorological conditions, such as calm winds, low temperatures, and fewer sunny days.

How effective are smog towers?

  • An estimate on air quality shows that a tower would reduce 50% of the particulate matter load in an area of 1 kilometre in the direction of the wind, as well as 200 metres each along the sides of the tower and against the direction of the wind.
  • In an open field in calm weather, it can reduce the particulate matter of 10 micrometres (PM10) up to 45%, and PM2.5 levels up to 25% in an area of 20 metres around the tower, as per details on the ENS Clean Air website.

Air Pollution

‘Decarbonizing Transport in India (DTI)’ Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ITF, OECD

Mains level : Policy measures for cleaner transportation

NITI Aayog in collaboration with International Transport Forum (ITF) is set to launch the “Decarbonising Transport in India” project with the intention to develop a pathway towards a low-carbon transport system for India.

Note the following things about ‘Decarbonising Transport in India (DTI)’ Project:

  1. Associated international institution

  2. Whether the institution is a UN body or not

  3. If India is a member of that body

The DTI Project

  • The India project is carried out in the wider context of the International Transport Forum’s “Decarbonising Transport” initiative.
  • It is part of the “Decarbonising Transport in Emerging Economies” (DTEE) family of projects, which supports transport decarbonisation across different world regions.
  • India, Argentina, Azerbaijan, and Morocco are current participants.
  • The DTEE is a collaboration between the ITF and the Wuppertal Institute, supported by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment.

Objectives of the project

  • The project will design a tailor-made transport emissions assessment framework for India.
  • It will provide the government with a detailed understanding of current and future transport activity and the related CO2 emissions as a basis for their decision-making.

About International Transport Forum (ITF)

  • The ITF is an inter-governmental organisation within the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) system.
  • It is the only global body with a mandate for all modes of transport.
  • It acts as a think tank for transport policy issues and organises the annual global summit of transport ministers.
  • The ITF’s motto is “Global dialogue for better transport”.
  • India has been a member of ITF since 2008.

Back2Basics: OCED

  • The OECD is an international, intergovernmental economic organization of 36 countries.
  • OECD was founded in the year 1961 to stimulate world trade and economic progress.
  • OECD originated in 1948, as the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC).
  • The Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) was founded to govern the predominantly US-funded Marshall Plan for post-war reconstruction on the continent.
  • The OEEC was instrumental in helping the European Economic Community (EEC). The EEC has evolved into the European Union (EU) to establish a European Free Trade Area.
  • India is NOT a member of OECD.

Air Pollution

Aerosols Radiative Effects in the Himalayas


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Aerosols

Mains level : Assessing the potential of aerosols in global warming

Indian researchers have found that the effect of anthropogenic aerosols is much higher over the high altitudes of western trans-Himalayas.

Try this question from CSP 2019:

Q. In the context of which of the following do some scientists suggest the use of cirrus cloud thinning technique and the injection of sulphate aerosol into the stratosphere?

(a) Creating the artificial rains in some regions

(b) Reducing the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones

(c) Reducing the adverse effects of solar wind on the Earth

(d) Reducing the global warming

What are Aerosols?

  • An aerosol is a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in air or another gas.
  • They can be natural or anthropogenic.
  • Examples of natural aerosols are fog, mist, dust, forest exudates and geyser steam. Examples of anthropogenic aerosols are particulate air pollutants and smoke.
  • The liquid or solid particles have diameters typically less than 1 μm; larger particles with a significant settling speed make the mixture a suspension, but the distinction is not clear-cut.
  • Technological applications of aerosols include dispersal of pesticides, medical treatment of respiratory illnesses, and combustion technology.

Heat pump over the Himalayas

  • The transport of light-absorbing carbonaceous aerosols and dust from the polluted Indo-Gangetic Plain and desert areas over the Himalayas constitutes a major climatic issue due to severe impacts on atmospheric warming and glacier retreat.
  • This heating over the Himalayas facilitates the “elevated-hat pump” that strengthens the temperature gradient between land and ocean and modifies the atmospheric circulation and the monsoon rainfall.

Findings of the research

  • The monthly-mean atmospheric radiative forcing of aerosols leads to heating rates of 0.04 to 0.13 C per day.
  • Further, the temperature over the Ladakh region is increasing 0.3 to 0.4 degrees Celsius per decades from the last 3 decades.

How are aerosols fuelling the heat?

  • The atmospheric aerosols play a key role in the regional/global climate system through scattering and absorption of incoming solar radiation and by modifying the cloud microphysics.

Assessing the Aerosol potential

  • Despite the large progress in quantifying the impact of different aerosols on radiative forcing, it still remains one of the major uncertainties in the climate change assessment.
  • Precise measurements of aerosol properties are required to reduce the uncertainties, especially over the oceans and high altitude remote location in the Himalayas where they are scarce.
  • Researchers have analysed the variability of aerosol optical, physical and radiative properties and the role of fine and coarse particles in aerosol radiative forcing (ARF) assessment.
  • ARF is the effect of anthropogenic aerosols on the radiative fluxes at the top of the atmosphere and at the surface and on the absorption of radiation within the atmosphere.

Significance of ARF study

  • A scientific study of aerosol generation, transport, and its properties has important implications in our understanding and mitigation of climate change via atmospheric warming.
  • Aerosols impact the snow and glacier dynamics over the trans-Himalayan region.
  • The results from the study can help better understanding of aerosol effects in view of aerosol-climate implications.

Air Pollution

What is Urban Ozone?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Urban Ozone

Mains level : Good and Bad Ozone

A Manchester (UK) based research has found that the nationwide lockdown may be leading to the generation of a dangerous pollutant, urban ozone.

The Ozone is formed due to different factors in the Troposphere and the Stratosphere (where the ozone acts as a protective layer). Note these differences from prelims perspective.

Urban Ozone

  • The photochemical production of ozone may become more important in urban areas during summertime in these low conditions of oxides of nitrogen.
  • As nitrogen oxides reduce, photochemical production may become more efficient and can lead to higher ozone concentrations in the summertime.
  • The higher summer temperatures increase emissions of biogenic hydrocarbon from natural sources such as trees. These biogenic hydrocarbons significantly affect urban ozone levels.
  • While ozone is important for screening harmful solar UV radiation when present higher up in the atmosphere, it can be a danger at the Earth’s surface and can react to destroy or alter many biological molecules.

Back2Basics: Ozone Gas

  • It is a gas that occurs both in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and at ground level.
  • Ozone occurs in two layers of the atmosphere. The layer closest to the Earth’s surface is the troposphere.
  • Here, ground-level or “bad” ozone is an air pollutant that is harmful to breathe and it damages crops, trees and other vegetation. It is the main ingredient of urban smog.
  • The stratospheric or “good” ozone protects life on Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Formation of Ozone

  • Ozone is produced naturally in the stratosphere when highly energetic solar radiation strikes molecules of oxygen, and cause the two oxygen atoms to split apart in a process called photolysis. If a freed atom collides with another O2, it joins up, forming ozone.
  • The majority of tropospheric ozone formation occurs when nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight, specifically the UV spectrum.

Air Pollution

Environmental regulations: go or no go?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NDMA, NDMA-2005 and its provisions.

Mains level : Paper 3- Lowering of environment standard is not a good strategy to revive the economy in the wake of corona pandemic.

As the world struggles to restart the economic activities amid the pandemic, various strategies are being advised to salvage the damaged economies. One amongst them is to cut down on the environmental standards to spur the economic activities. This article explains why India should not be short-sighted to lower the environmental standards.

What is this fuss about environment and lockdown?

  • The lockdown exit strategies are focused on saving livelihoods.

  • But the lockdown is causing fiscal pressures on governments which further motivates it to lower the environmental standards, suspend environmental monitoring requirements and reduce environmental enforcement. (Well to save some bucks.)

  • And also in the belief that this is necessary to secure economic growth.

  • But it would be a mistake to assume that there is a trade-off between saving livelihoods and protecting the environment.

  • The crisis of COVID-19 has highlighted that improving the quality of air in our country is not a matter of choice but an emergency.

How countries around the world are reacting?

  • The US announced a significant reduction in fuel efficiency standards for new cars.

  • This move could result in increased gasoline consumption by 80 billion tonnes, pumping increased carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will not be enforcing compliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations of environmental protection, for an indefinite period.

  • 13 European ministers have been outspoken about resisting the temptations of short-term solutions in response to the present crisis- need to maintain and strengthen EU’s effective regulatory tools to stick to its 2030 climate goals.

5 Arguments that Indian authorities that look into viz a viz environmental standards

1. Pollution increases risk to COVID-19

  • People living in areas with higher levels of air pollution face increased risk of premature death from COVID-19.

  • New Delhi was the world’s most polluted capital city for the second straight year in 2019.

  • And India was also home to 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, Swiss-based group IQ AirVisual said in a recent study.

  • The State of Global Air 2019 Report finds air pollution responsible for over 1.2 million deaths in China and India each, based on 2017 data.

2. The poor are the most affected by air pollution

  • There is enormous inequality in the impact of the COVID-19 fallout.

  • Those who suffer the most from air pollution are the millions who live and toil in the open, who cannot afford air-purifiers or other mitigating measures, as also the elderly and children.

3. Risk of future pandemics

  • There is good evidence that three-quarters of the emerging infectious diseases migrate from wild or domesticated animals into humans.

  • This includes Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID-19.

  • Deforestation, industrial agriculture, illegal wildlife trade, climate change and other types of environmental degradation increase the risk of future pandemics.

4. Public support for environment protection

  • From Delhi to Sao Paulo, Bangkok to Bogota, the dramatic improvement in the quality of air and water in the most polluted cities around the world has been transmitted by social media.

  • This may well result in a groundswell of public support for measures to protect the environment.

5. The environment will get the value it deserves

  • The corona pandemic will jolt the markets into giving a clean, healthy and sustainable environment the economic value it deserves.

  • There’s a possibility that the gulf between what markets value, and what people value, will close.

Environment conservation as a silver lining in this Pandemic

  • We have never treated air pollution as a national emergency, failing to coordinate between the Centre and state governments.

  • The COVID pandemic has been declared a national disaster in India, under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.

  • This legislation mandates the disaster authorities coordinate among themselves and take measures for the prevention and mitigation of the pandemic.

  • Preventing and mitigating the risks of COVID-19, therefore, means the mandate for the disaster authorities is also to tackle air and other forms of pollution head-on.

Questions based on disasters have been a recurring theme in the UPSC. In 2014, a question was asked with respect to drought, the same could be asked about air pollution. In 2017 again a question based on role of NDMA and tsunami was aksed. In 2018, a question based on Sendai Framework was asked.



The NDMA is a platform which should be used to combat air pollution as an emergency, similar coordination will be required at an international level to continue to work towards reduced emissions under the Paris Agreement. It is a great pity that it takes a pandemic to bring the realisation that economic growth versus clean air is a false dichotomy.

Back2Basics: NDMA

  • On 23 December 2005, the Government of India enacted the Disaster Management Act, which envisaged the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
  • It is headed by the Prime Minister, and State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) headed by respective Chief Ministers.
  • It aims to spearhead and implement a holistic and integrated approach to Disaster Management in India.

Air Pollution

Private: Cleaner air: Can we go back to ‘normal’?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Unexpected outcomes of the lockdown due to covid outbreak


As India remains in lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), has informed of a massive drop in air pollution, showing varied trends across Delhi, the National Capital Region (NCR) and other cities.

Why reduction in Pollution?

  • Complete restrictions on non-essential vehicular movement and commercial activities and closure of industry and construction.
  • Without traffic, re-suspension of road dust is also under control.

How much is the reduction?

  • There has been an overall drop of 35-40 per cent in particulate matter (PM) 10 and PM2.5 levels in Delhi;
  • NOx levels have halved; industrial areas like Mundka and Narela and traffic areas of Dwarka and Pusa are substantially cleaner.
  • Air quality improvement in NCR towns, however, is comparatively less pronounced.
  • But Gurugram, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Noida have recorded ‘Good’ Air Quality Index (AQI) levels around March 26-29, 2020.
  • The weather has also favoured partially.
  • The Indo-Gangetic plain is significantly cleaner.
  • Seventeen cities have moved to the ‘Satisfactory’ AQI category and seven cities to the ‘Good’ category. Change is not that dramatic in coastal cities.
  • Chennai even experienced a slight increase in local reasons.

Ecological insights from this lockdown

This ‘aberrant’ situation that the CPCB analysis has captured, has helped to understand several critical dimensions

i. Local trends affected by local pollution:

  • The CPCB has stated that the regional influence on air quality is minimal at this moment.
  • Local trends are more affected by the local pollution situation. Though background pollution remains a complex issue, cities can assess persistent local problems better to refine action plans.

ii. Relative contribution of different sources: 

  • This time, it has also been possible to scientifically estimate the relative contribution of different sources to the overall decline in pollution concentration.
  • Based on the 2018 source apportionment study of The Energy and Resources Institute and Automotive Research Association of India, CPCB has estimated this change for Delhi.
  • Given the fact that in summers, dust and construction activities cause about 35 per cent of PM2.5 concentration, and transport and industry sectors 20 per cent each, their proportionate role is evident.
  • Industry’s contribution to the overall drop is about 10 per cent; transport’s share is about 15 per cent, and the dust contribution is about 10-15 per cent.
  • Lower refuse burning, minimum activities in airports, etc have also contributed.
  • This science can be strengthened further to inform action.

Challenges in achieving a similar outcome in future

  • Forced shutdown: This reduction has been possible because of the forced shutdown and this is not expected to last.
  • Political will: Will this translate into strong public and political support for hard and inconvenient solutions?
  • We have seen how the perception of immediate health risks has led to massive lifestyle adjustment and the virtual workplace has reduced travel. How is deep restructuring possible for effective emissions reduction and near-zero-emissions strategies without sliding back?
  • Economy vs Environment debate: This will not be easy given our unique vulnerability — livelihood distress in our informal economy, with the weakest environmental safeguards.
  • This sector will need state support for technology and clean fuel transition while delivering on welfare objectives.
  • The poor face a double burden — livelihood insecurity because of air pollution control and increased health burden due to toxic exposure. How will distributive welfare and justice be delivered?


  • Yet, valuable lessons from these extraordinary times are with us;
  • when the ongoing national clean air programme has entered the phase of implementation, quarterly tracking of progress in city action plans has started, committed funding for air pollution control to the urban local bodies in cities with million population by the Finance Commission has come through, air pollution and health science is getting stronger, and courts are asking for accountability and fixing responsibility.
  • India cannot continue to face extended health emergencies with even weaker lungs. The blue skies today are ephemeral and transient. But we cannot also return to what we know as normal and regular.

Air Pollution

[pib] Methanotrophs: the methane-oxidizing bacteria


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Methanotrophs

Mains level : Methane emission


Scientists at Agharkar Research Institute (ARI), Pune have isolated 45 different strains of methanotrophic bacteria which have been found to be capable of reducing methane emissions from rice plants.

What are Methanotrophs?

  • They are bacteria that metabolize and convert methane into carbon-di-oxide.
  • They can effectively reduce the emission of methane, which is the second most important greenhouse gas (GHG) and 26 times more potent as compared to carbon-di-oxide.
  • In rice fields, Methanotrophs are active near the roots or soil-water interfaces.
  • Besides methane mitigation studies, Methanotrophs can also be used in methane value addition (valorization) studies.
  • Bio-methane generated from waste can be used by the Methanotrophs and can be converted to value-added products such as single-cell proteins, carotenoids, biodiesel, and so on.

Why rice fields?

  • Rice fields are human-made wetlands and are waterlogged for a considerable period. Anaerobic degradation of organic matter results in the generation of methane.
  • Rice fields contribute to nearly 10% of global methane emissions.
  • Very few studies in the world have focused on Methanotrophs from tropical wetlands or tropical rice fields.
  • Practically no cultures of indigenously isolated Methanotrophs from India were available.
  • Native and relevant Methanotrophs isolated from rice fields can be excellent models to understand the effect of various factors on methane mitigation.

Must read:

Greenhouse gas emissions from Indian paddy fields Very High: NY based Study


Air Pollution

[pib] Biomethanation Process


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Biomethanation Process

Mains level : Biomethanation as an alternative for stubble burning



In an all India coordinated project, efforts are on to produce bio-gas for kitchen use and quality manure for fields using bio-methanation of rice straw by anaerobic digestion method. Six domestic level paddy straw-based bio-gas plants have been installed in Punjab for field trials and further study is in progress.

What is Biomethanation?

  • It is a process by which organic material is microbiologically converted under anaerobic conditions to biogas.
  • Three main physiological groups of microorganisms are involved: fermenting bacteria, organic acid oxidizing bacteria, and methanogenic archaea.
  • Biomethanation has strong potential for the production of energy from organic residues and wastes. It will help to reduce the use of fossil fuels and thus reduce CO(2) emission.

How it works?

  • Microorganisms degrade organic matter via cascades of biochemical conversions to methane and carbon dioxide.
  • Syntrophic relationships between hydrogen producers (acetogens) and hydrogen scavengers (homoacetogens, hydrogenotrophic methanogens, etc.) are critical to the process.
  • A wide variety of process applications for biomethanation of wastewaters, slurries, and solid waste have been developed.
  • They utilize different reactor types and process conditions (retention times, loading rates, temperatures, etc.) in order to maximize the energy output from the waste and also to decrease retention time and enhance process stability.

Air Pollution

World Air Quality Report, 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM 2.5

Mains level : World Air Quality Report, 2019


The 2019 World Air Quality Report was recently released

World Air Quality Report

  • The World Air Quality Report is released by the pollution tracker IQAir and Greenpeace.
  • The report focuses on PM2.5 as a representative measure of air pollution.

Highlights of the report

  • India accounts for two-thirds of the world’s most polluted cities — 21 of the most polluted 30 cities; 14 of the highest 20; and 6 of the highest 10 — in the report.
  • Among countries, when population is taken into account, average PM2.5 pollution is highest in Bangladesh, followed by Pakistan, while India is at number 5.
  • China is at number 11 in the list of countries affected by population, with population factored in. Chinese cities achieved a 9% average decrease in PM2.5 levels in 2019.
  • While cities in India, on average, exceed the WHO target for annual PM2.5 exposure by 500%, national air pollution decreased by 20% from 2018 to 2019, with 98% of cities experiencing improvements.
  • It said 90% of the global population breathing unsafe air.

Top polluted Indian Cities


PM 2.5

  • PM 2.5 refers to particulate matter (ambient airborne particles) which measure up to 2.5 microns in size and has a range of chemical makeups and sources.
  • It is widely regarded as the pollutant with the most health impact of all commonly measured air pollutants.
  • Due to its small size PM2.5 is able to penetrate deep into the human respiratory system and from there to the entire body, causing a wide range of short- and long-term health effects.
  • Particulate matter is also the pollutant group which affects the most people globally. It can come from a range of natural as well as man-made sources.
  • Common sources of PM include combustion (from vehicle engines, industry, wood and coal burning), as well as through other pollutants reacting in the atmosphere.

Air Pollution

Global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels









A new Greenpeace report has estimated the global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels at around $2.9 trillion per year, or $8 billion per day — 3.3% of the world’s GDP.

Cost of air pollution

India is estimated to bear a cost of $150 billion, or 5.4% of the country’s GDP, which is the third-highest absolute cost from fossil fuel air pollution worldwide.

China and the US are estimated to bear the highest absolute costs from fossil fuel air pollution, respectively at $900 billion and $600 billion.

Loss of lives

  • Globally, air pollution is estimated to cause 4.5 million premature deaths each year.
  • This includes 3 million deaths attributable globally to PM2.5, which is one of the principal pollutants in northern Indian cities including Delhi.
  • Globally, PM2.5 is also estimated to cause the loss of 62.7 million years of life, 2.7 million emergency room visits due to asthma, 2 million preterm births and 1.75 billion work absences.
  • The 2 million preterm births include 981,000 in India and over 350,000 in China.

Economic cost

In India, exposure to fossil fuels also leads to a loss of around 490 million workdays, the report said.

Air Pollution

IMO Sulphur regulations for Shipping


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IMO, VLSFO

Mains level : SOx pollution control measures

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the shipping agency of the United Nations issued new rules aiming to reduce sulphur emissions, due to which ships are opting for newer blends of fuels.

What do the new IMO rules say?

  • The IMO has banned ships from using fuels with sulphur content above 0.5 per cent, compared with 3.5 per cent previously.
  • Sulphur oxides (SOx), which are formed after combustion in engines, are known to cause respiratory symptoms and lung disease, while also leading to acid rain.
  • The new regulations, called IMO 2020, have been regarded as the biggest shake up for the oil and shipping industries in decades. It affects more than 50,000 merchant ships worldwide.
  • The new limits are monitored and enforced by national authorities of countries that are members of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI.

Cleaner options

  • Under the new policy, only ships fitted with sulphur-cleaning devices, known as scrubbers, are allowed to continue burning high-sulphur fuel.
  • Alternatively, Ships can opt for cleaner fuels, such as marine gasoil (MGO) and very low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO).
  • Of the two cleaner fuels, ship-owners were expected to opt for MGO, which is made exclusively from distillates, and has low sulphur content.
  • However, many are reportedly choosing VLSFO, which has better calorific properties and other technical advantages.

Issues with the rule

  • There are complaints against VLSFO as well, as testing companies have claimed that high sediment formation due to the fuel’s use could damage vessel engines.
  • VLSFO, with 0.5 per cent sulphur content, can contain a large percentage of aromatic compounds, thus having a direct impact on black carbon emissions.
  • Black carbon, which is produced due to the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels, contributes to climate change.

Air Pollution

Carbon Disclosure Project Report 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Carbon Disclosure Project

Mains level : India's various moves for curbing carbon emissions

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) 2019 report was recently published.

Carbon Disclosure Project

  • CDP is published by the Global Reporting Initiative.
  • It is aimed at measuring the carbon reduction activities undertaken by different companies and firms operating in various countries across the globe.
  • The report surveys corporate commitments to science-based targets (SBT) and evaluates the climate change risk that they are exposed to.

India’s performance

  • India secured the 5th spot on the project report.
  • The CDP Report 2019 said that a total of 58 companies shared details about the environment-related activities undertaken by them in this year.
  • The report also claims that over 98 percent of top Indian companies have formed some type or committee or group within its organization to drive and address climate-related issues.
  • The report also showcased the changing mind-set of India Inc with nearly all major companies setting up some form of oversight to evaluate climate risk.

Global scenario

  • The US topped the annual CDP report with 135 companies disclosing their climate-related activities, followed by Japan in the second position with 83 companies and the UK in the third position with 78 countries.
  • While France was placed fourth with 51 companies disclosing their details, India was placed fifth with 38 companies committing to the science-based targets.
  • In 2018, India had only 25 companies committing to the SBTs.
  • India is followed by Germany and Sweden with 30 and 27 companies respectively, while Switzerland and Spain had 23 and 22 companies respectively.
  • Netherlands was listed 10th on the list with 18 companies committing to SBT initiatives.


  • India was ranked 5th, ahead of Germany and Sweden.
  • India is the first developing economy with a maximum number of companies committing to the science-based targets.

Air Pollution

Smog Tower


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Smog Tower, PM 2.5

Mains level : Curbing air pollution in Delhi

Recently New Delhi got its first smog tower (a prototype air purifier). In November, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre and the Delhi government to prepare a plan to install ‘smog towers’ across the capital to deal with air pollution.

What is a ‘Smog Tower’?

  • Smog towers are structures designed to work as large-scale air purifiers.
  • They are usually fitted with multiple layers of air filters, which clean the air of pollutants as it passes through them.
  • The smog tower installed at Lajpat Nagar is capable of treating 6,00,000 cubic metres of air per day and can collect more than 75 per cent of particulate matters (PM) 2.5 and 10.
  • After the cleaning, the tower releases clean air.
  • The project is collaboration between the IIT Bombay, IIT-Delhi and the University of Minnesota, the latter having helped design a similar tower of over 100 metres in China’s Xi’an city.
  • The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) will also be involved with the project.

How it works?

  • The 20-metre (65 feet) high tower will trap particulate matter of all sizes suspended in the air.
  • Large-scale air filters shall draw in the air through fans installed at the top before passing it through the filters and releasing it near the ground.
  • The filters installed in the tower will use carbon nanofibres as a major component and will be fitted along its peripheries. The tower will focus on reducing particulate matter load.

Other examples in the world

  • China, which has been battling air pollution for years, has two smog towers — in its capital Beijing and in the northern city of Xi’an.
  • The Xi’an tower is dubbed the world’s largest, and has reportedly brought down PM 2.5 by 19% in an area of around 6 sq km in its vicinity.
  • The 100-metre (328 feet) high tower has produced 10 million cubic metres of clean air every day since its launch.
  • On severely polluted days the tower is able to bring down smog close to moderate levels.

Air Pollution

Torrefaction Technology


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bioendev project, Torrefaction

Mains level : Alternatives to stubble burning

To find a solution to stubble burning issue, India is testing a Swedish technology — torrefaction that can convert rice stubble into ‘bio-coal’.

Bioendev project

  • The Bioendev project was discussed at a gathering chaired by King Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden and PM Modi.
  • The Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to GoI has funded a pilot project in Punjab to evaluate the feasibility of the technology.
  • Bioendev is a Swedish company and it has set up a pilot plant at the National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute in Mohali.

What is Torrefaction?

  • Torrefaction is a thermal process to convert biomass into a coal-like material, which has better fuel characteristics than the original biomass.
  • It involves heating up straw, grass, saw mill residue and wood biomass to 250 degrees Celsius – 350 degrees Celsius.
  • This changes the elements of the biomass into ‘coal-like’ pellets.
  • These pellets can be used for combustion along with coal for industrial applications like steel and cement production
  • If scaled up, about 65% of the biomass could be converted to energy.

Air Pollution

Methane breeding value


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Carbon Equivalents

Mains level : GHG emission control

New Zealand has started the world’s first genetic programme to address the challenge of climate change by breeding sheep that emit lower amounts of methane.

Methane breeding value

  • Emissions, or put less politely, farts and burps, from ruminants such as sheep and cows, are a major contributor to methane in the atmosphere.
  • This has long been recognised as a problem, but addressing it has been difficult because no one really knows how much the average cow or sheep emits.
  • Scientists have been working on ways to modify animals’ food so they emit a little less, including feeding them things like garlic that intervene in the microbiomes in their guts to reduce the formation of methane.
  • This, however, works only in farms where the animals’ feed can be regulated, and not with free-ranging animals such as sheep in New Zealand.

Why is methane such a problem?

  • Methane, which is produced by cattle and sheep, as also by decaying organic matter, fires, coal mines, and factories producing natural gas, is a major greenhouse gas.
  • It is much more potent contributor to atmospheric warming than carbon dioxide, even though methane does break down more easily than carbon dioxide.
  • A report by the World Meteorological Organisation last month pointed out those atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases reached new records in 2018.
  • The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 407.8 parts per million in 2018, compared to 405.5 ppm the previous year. This was 147% of the pre-industrial level of 1750.
  • And the concentration of methane was 259% of the 1750 level, while nitrous oxide was at 123% above.


CO2 equivalents

  • Each greenhouse gas (GHG) has a different global warming potential (GWP) and persists for a different length of time in the atmosphere.
  • The three main greenhouse gases (along with water vapour) and their 100-year global warming potential (GWP) compared to carbon dioxide are:

1 x – carbon dioxide (CO2)

25 x – methane (CH4) – I.e. Releasing 1 kg of CH4into the atmosphere is about equivalent to releasing 25 kg of CO2

298 x – nitrous oxide (N2O)

  • Water vapour is not considered to be a cause of man-made global warming because it does not persist in the atmosphere for more than a few days.
  • There are other greenhouse gases which have far greater global warming potential (GWP) but are much less prevalent. These are sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
  • There are a wide variety of uses for SF6, HFCs, and PFCs but they have been most commonly used as refrigerants and for fire suppression.
  • Many of these compounds also have a depleting effect on ozone in the upper atmosphere.

Air Pollution

[oped of the day] Stubble burning is not the only culprit


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Delhi air pollution


The problem of air pollution in Delhi is safely pushed onto just one issue — stubble burning by farmers in Punjab.

An oversimplification

  • The simplification of the narrative to stubble burning may not stand scientific scrutiny.
  • Satellite observations on stubble burning from 2002-17 reported that there has been an increase of 3% in aerosol loading attributable to crop residue burning during October and November every year. 
  • No data were presented on the impact of the burning of biomass in urban Delhi, coal-fired ovens and coal-based industries, coal-based power plants in the outskirts of Delhi, the increase in SUVs in the NCR and so forth.

Stubble burning

  • Farmers do it out of economic compulsion. 
  • An argument puts that Punjab now produces 25% more rice than what it did 15 years ago. 
  • Many others argue that the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act 2009 is the main culprit. 
  • Many believe that a generous distribution of direct seeders should make a difference.

Proposed three ways out

  • Reduce paddy area/production
  • Allow farmers to plant/transplant paddy before June
  • Distribute “happy seeders”

Reduction in production of paddy

  • Punjab was never a traditional rice cultivator.
  • It took up rice cultivation in response to the national policy of food self-sufficiency. 
  • They achieved the highest productivity in the country and contributed maximum among all States to the central pool of rice procurement. 
  • The area went up from 2.6 million hectares in 2001 to 3 million hectares in 2017. Production went up from 9 million tonnes to 12.5 million tonnes. 
  • Punjab dug deeper to get groundwater and caused long-term damage to itself.
  • Attempts at diversification did not take off because of the difference in net farm returns and market risks. 
  • A rice farmer earns about ₹57,000 per hectare whereas maize in a maize-wheat combination would set them back by about ₹15,000-17,000. 
  • An estimate by agricultural economist Ashok Gulati suggests ₹12,000 per hectare as an acceptable compensation. 
  • To reduce the area of common paddy by half a million hectares, and achieve a reduction of output of 2 million tonnes, the government has to support this change for the next five years. 
  • This half-a-million hectare should be in water-stressed blocks and can be encouraged to shift to maize or any other crop. Another one lakh hectare can shift to basmati production.

Falling water levels

  • Punjab Preservation of Sub-soil Water Act 2009 -there exist strong arguments to prevent over-exploitation of groundwater, especially if farmers cultivate rice in April/May. 
  • Strong evidence is necessary to establish improvement in groundwater levels.
  • If farmers are allowed to go back to the pre-2009 regime, it may deplete groundwater resources. 
  • The problem is one of free power to tube wells. This amount of about ₹6,000 crores can be shifted to a direct benefit transfer as has been suggested by policy experts.

Happy Seeder

  • Direct seeders do help but have limitations. 
  • The seeder has to operate within about 4-5 days of the harvest.
  • The effectiveness depends on the moisture present in the soil at the time of seeding. This requires a good understanding of soil conditions. 
  • Agronomic practices need to change with regard to the application of fertilizer and irrigation. 
  • These machines may be used only during the 15-day window in a whole year. They will remain idle for the remaining 350 days. 
  • Punjab may need about 20,000 of these machines if basmati areas and rice-potato areas are excluded from the calculation.


The problem is complex and needs a solution. But the solution should take into consideration the economic condition of farmers, the scientific options available and the willingness of the Central government to change policy and fund a major part of the expenditure. Blaming the farmers alone will not do.

Air Pollution

[pib] Satellites to Assess Pollution Status


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD)

Mains level : Combating urban air pollution in India

ISRO’s INSAT-3D & 3DR satellites are being used for assessment of air pollution.

Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD)

  • Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) is a quantitative estimate of the amount of aerosol present in the atmosphere, and it can be used as a proxy for surface Particulate Matter PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 µm median diameter).
  • AOD measures the extinction of a ray of light as it passes through the atmosphere.

How is AOD calculated?

  • Using medium resolution Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite data, stubble burned area maps are generated at the end of stubble burning activity in Kharif season.
  • ISRO has been carrying out monitoring of stubble burning since 2015. The products generated are comparable to the NASA products.
  • The Imager payload on-board ISRO’s INSAT-3D & 3DR satellites are used to monitor Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD).

Significance of AOD

  • It is found that AOD, PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations are higher over Indo-Gangetic Plain covering parts of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar during October and November.
  • High concentration of these pollutants is seen originating from parts of Punjab and Haryana during stubble burning.
  • Climatological study of satellite based fire occurrences and associated pollutant parameters reveal that fire occurrences increased by 4% over Punjab and Haryana region during Oct-Nov between 2003 and 2017.
  • The model based analysis suggests that there is a high probability of transportation of smoke aerosols from Punjab & Haryana, towards down-wind regions of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] From Plate to Plough: A crop for clean air


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Changing cropping patterns to address pollution


Last week, the Air Quality Index (AQI) touched emergency levels in the National Capital Region. The Supreme Court came down heavily on the chief secretaries of four states — Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. 

Stubble burning

  • Paddy stubble burning in states neighbouring Delhi, especially Punjab, is being seen as one of the reasons for the smog in the national capital. 
  • Supreme court has asked the Punjab government to pay Rs 100 per quintal to farmers as an incentive for desisting from burning stubble. 
  • Solutions such as subsidising Happy Seeders are also being talked about. 

These solutions are not enough

  • The problem is much deeper than stubble burning. 
  • The solution to the problem rests with the political class — both in the Centre as well as in these states. 

Roots of the problem in Punjab

  • Green Revolution – The Punjab-Haryana region was not India’s rice belt before the Green Revolution. Punjab was known for “makki ki roti and sarson ka saag”. 
  • Much of the kharif area in the region is under rice — about 3.1 million hectares in Punjab and 1.4 million hectares in Haryana. 
  • Groundwater – This has caused havoc with the groundwater table that has been depleting at about 33 cms each year. Groundwater in more than three-fourths of blocks in Punjab is over-exploited.
  • Punjab regulation – In order to save water during the peak summer season, the Punjab government passed a law in 2009 outlawing paddy sowing before June 15. This pushes the rice harvesting to the late October-mid-November period, leaving very little time for sowing the rabi crop, mainly wheat. 
  • Harvesters – Farmers rely on paddy harvesters that leave stubbles. These are then burnt to make the field ready for sowing wheat. Farm labour has become more expensive during the peak season.

Why paddy?

  • Not aligned to Geography – Their water resource endowment does not align with the crop’s requirement. 
  • More water needed – One kilogram of rice requires about 5,000 litres of irrigation water in this belt. And, the natural rainfall is too less for the purpose. 
  • Profits – Farmers cultivate paddy as it gives them higher profits, compared to competing crops like corn. 
  • Subsidies – The key reasons for-profits are the massive subsidies on power provided by the state government and fertiliser subsidy given to them by the Centre. They are assured procurement of paddy by state government agencies on behalf of the Food Corporation of India.

Way ahead


  • Paddy in Eastern India –In the eastern parts of the country, water is available much more abundantly. 
  • About two million hectares of rice-growing area in the northern belt needs to shift to this part of the country. 
  • Basmati – The basmati-growing area in the Northern belt is about 1.2 million hectares; it produces 4.6 million tonnes of basmati. Its value basmati is almost three times higher than that of common rice and much of that is exported. So Punjab and Haryana should focus on cultivating basmati
  • They should get away from common paddy, which is largely meant for the Public Distribution System – sold at Rs 3/kg under the National Food Security Act.

Steps to encourage the shift

  • Policy at the Centre and state level. 
  • Chances for abolishing subsidies are remote, given the place of free power and cheap fertilisers in the country’s political discourse. 
  • Subsidy basis – A move towards giving these subsidies in cash on per hectare basis to farmers can lead to some improvement. 
  • Cropping pattern – Farmers could be encouraged to change their crop preference if the Centre and the Punjab and Haryana governments announce a cash incentive of Rs 12,000 per hectare for growing corn in place of paddy. It will not cost the state or central exchequer anything extra. 
  • Ancillary benefits of corn – corn cultivation will have to be absorbed by feed mills for poultry, starch mills and ethanol. 
  • Incentives for corn – tax incentives for the corn-based industry in this belt could create a more market-aligned demand for corn.


  • This is just the right time to make this switch from paddy to corn as rice stocks with government are way above the buffer stock norms. 
  • Centre should announce that it will not procure more than 50% of the production of common paddy from the blocks that are over-exploited.
  • It will not give to the state procurement agencies more than 4% as commission, mandi fee, or any cess for procuring on behalf of FCI.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Stubble resistance


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Stubble Burning - way ahead


Last week, Delhi recorded its worst reading in three years on the Air Quality Index. The Supreme Court pulled up governments of Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi for their lack of concerted action against stubble burning. 

Supreme court

  • It questioned the chief secretaries of Punjab and Haryana for not being sensitive enough to the issue. 
  • It has asked the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to pay, within seven days, Rs 100 per quintal of paddy as an incentive to farmers who have not burnt stubble on their fields. 
  • The directive meets a longstanding demand of farmers’ organisations.

Questions it rises

  • Do the states have the financial resources to bear the burden of the cash incentive? 
  • Are such incentives enough to wean farmers away from stubble burning?

Response to judgement

  • Punjab agreed to the judgement. More than 90% of the non-Basmati paddy crop has been harvested. 
  • Punjab CM has given indications of the state’s limitations in providing cash incentives in the future. 
  • States demand that the Centre will have to help the states, which are facing serious fiscal constraints. 
  • GST regime has stifled financial resources of all states. 


  • The Supreme court said that it will take a final call on the “aspect of finance” after considering the detailed report to be submitted by the state governments. 
  • It will have to chart a plan that takes into account the interests of the farmers as well as recognises the constraints of the states.

State actions

  • The Punjab and Haryana governments subsidise the Happy Seeder sowing machines, which obviate straw burning. 
  • Still, the technology has not got the necessary traction because farmers do not want to invest in a machine that lies idle for most of the year.
  •  As in the case of most farm technologies in the country, the adoption of Happy Seeders will require changing mindsets. 
  • To persuade farmers to not set their fields on fires, state governments will need to reach out to them with educational programmes — not just financial incentives.

Air Pollution

Indian Air quality Interactive Repository (IndAIR)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IndAir

Mains level : Combating urban air pollution in India

  • The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) along with the CSIR has launched India’s first web repository documenting air quality studies done in the last 60 years.


  • The IndAIR has archived approximately 700 scanned materials from pre-Internet era (1950-1999), 1,215 research articles, 170 reports and case studies and 100 cases.
  • It aims to provide the history of air pollution research and legislation.
  • Such a repository on air pollution is one of the first in the world.

Why need such a repository?

  • Though air pollution is one of the most widely deliberated issues, little is known about it in India as far as the statistics or the history is concerned.
  • The general belief has been that not much is being done to tackle the problem.
  • IndAIR will help the academicians understand the issue better and also enable policymakers to frame legislation that encourages development.

Air Pollution

[oped of the day] To mitigate air pollution, look beyond tokenism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Odd-Even scheme; Delhi’s air pollution - reasons


The odd-even scheme for automobiles plying in Delhi will kick in. Due to a steep deterioration in the air quality index or AQI in the city, the Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) had to declare a public health emergency as a desperate measure to contain the silent killer.

Odd-Even scheme

  • Innovative idea – The odd-even scheme was first introduced three years ago. It is an out-of-the-box idea with unproven claims on containing AQI levels. 
  • Limited to 4 wheelers – It is terrific to focus attention on air pollution caused by automobiles. It exempts two-wheelers and does not allow privately-owned hybrids and CNG vehicles. 
  • Need for rains – Unless the rains turn up, and the cross winds regain momentum, Odd-Even is unlikely to bring down AQI below the prevailing hazardous levels.

It’s high time

  • Annual event – For three years now, NCR has seen the pollution saga every winter.
  • Beyond one cause – There is a need to take the debate beyond the single causes like stubble burning.

Understanding the problem

  • Topography – NCR pollution problem is partly because of the nature of its topography. 
    • It is shaped like a saucer and hence is hugely dependent on a cross breeze.
    • This breeze serves it for most of the year, except in winter—to keep its AQI under control.
    • This is the reason why the stubble burning that happens in the early part of the year does not harm Delhi as much.
  • Growing vehicles
    • Vehicular pollution has been growing very sharply. 
    • The emissions of PM by automobiles have surged by 40% in the eight years that ended 2018.
    • According to the Economic Survey put out by the Delhi government, there were 10.9 million vehicles in NCR at the end of 2018.
    • In the absence of winds, stubble burning and bursting of crackers send the pollution problem over the tipping point.

Need for a comprehensive solution

  • Public transport – Metro Rail has been critical in addressing transport woes of NCR’s working population. This has to be dovetailed with a robust public bus network.
  • Road design – government should focus on building and maintaining good roads and implementing laws to ensure only road-worthy vehicles ply.
  • Need for a public movement – the residents of Delhi have to force a public debate.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Amending and updating the 1981 Air Act will help in the battle against pollution


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Curbing air pollution in Delhi


Health emergency in Delhi

  • As New Delhi’s AQI crosses 500, the national capital has officially entered the public health emergency category.
  • Schools have been shut, children are complaining of breathing problems, but the state and Central governments are simply indulging in blame-games.

And blame game thus begins

  • When something as fundamental as the health of our children is at risk, we should devise a more robust, permanent solution to the problem of pollution.
  • This forms the basis of the need for amending the 1981 Air Act and making it more compatible with contemporary India.

Public Health at stake

  • Air pollution in India is not simply an environmental problem, but a major public health concern.
  • It impacts all those breathing in the polluted air — children, the elderly, women and men alike.
  • Recently, the Centre for Science and Environment reported that air pollution kills an average of 8.5 out of every 10,000 children in India before they turn five.
  • Similarly, the WHO in 2016 reported that pollution has led to the deaths of over 1 lakh children in India.
  • Overall, several internationally acclaimed studies have affirmed that life expectancy in India has declined anywhere between two to three years.

Impacting India’s image

  • Statistics show that India is in a worse situation compared to its global counterparts.
  • According to Greenpeace, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India and Delhi has yet again bagged the position of the world’s most polluted capital.
  • These are grim figures, especially when compared to India’s neighbours: Five in China, two in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh.
  • In 2018, India was placed in the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index, ranking 177th out of 180 countries, along with Bangladesh, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nepal.

Learning from US

  • The Indian government needs to identify the tangible benefits that concrete legislation on air pollution has brought across the world.
  • In the United States, the Clean Air Act has proven that public health and economic progress can go together.
  • For instance, the aggregate national emissions of the six common pollutants in the USA dropped an average of 73 per cent from 1970 to 2017.
  • Through one piece of legislation, the US has challenged multiple sources of pollution, airborne or motor vehicle-led.
  • Similarly, after declaring a war on pollution, Chinese cities reduced PM concentration by 32 per cent in 2018.

Goal isn’t too unrealistic

  • In a country with a human power and technical know-how like India, achieving a better feat is not impossible.
  • However, in India, we are ignoring the change that progressive legislation can bring.
  • In recent times, the government has worked on a much hyped “mission-mode” — drafting policies and programmes to alleviate pollution.
  • But with little to no legal mandate or a budgetary allocation of as little as Rs 300 crore under programmes such as the National Clean Air Programme, no true enforcement of targets and goals is guaranteed.
  • In such dire circumstances with high stakes, higher targets need to be set, penalties need to be stricter, and the mandate needs to be stronger.

Going back to Air Act of 1981

  • It is essential to retrace our steps back to the Air Act of 1981 that governs our pollution control system.
  • Under the 1981 Air Act, the Pollution Control Boards are presently unable to fulfil their mandate as watchdogs against polluting industries.
  • A new bill will plug many loopholes in the 1981 Act and would align the functions and priorities of the Pollution Boards towards reducing the adverse impact of pollution on human health in India.

Need for reforms in the Act

  • India’s pollution liability regime has never prioritized the adverse impact of pollution on health.
  • In its present form, India’s Air Act does not mention or prioritise the importance of reducing the health impact of rising pollution.
  • This is the first change that a new law on air pollution should bring protecting health needs to become the central mission that the boards work towards.
  • For instance, at any point that the State Boards find evidence of excess air pollution, they should take all measures possible to actively disseminate this information to the masses.
  • When the air quality goes from normal to toxic and hazardous, the boards must be empowered to declare public health emergencies, with the power to temporarily shut down all polluting activities.

Making industries comply

  • Accountability and deterrence are essential in making sure industries comply with emission standards.
  • While the boards cannot levy penalties, in the new law they should be empowered to encash environmental compensations from polluting industries to make up for the cost of mitigating the damage.
  • This possibility of paying compensation would be a strong reinforcement for industries to adopt cleaner technologies and comply with standards.

Working hand-in-hands

  • In a federal set-up the Centre and states must work in synergy to ensure that targets set for the country and states are fulfilled.
  • Therefore, the new law must push Central and state boards to convene joint sittings with a multi-sectoral participation from ministries such as housing, urban development, agriculture and road transport.
  • Air pollution is not, and has never been, a problem with a single solution.
  • It is caused by emissions from vehicles, industries and agriculture, construction dust, and other factors related to household consumption and municipal planning.

Bringing in Accountability

  • Because multiple ministries and government departments are involved, without appropriate political leadership, public commitment will remain on paper only.
  • Therefore, the new law on air pollution must give an additional mandate to either a senior minister, such as the minister of environment, forest and climate or the PMO needs to be involved directly.
  • Greater public transparency is essential to the success of winning the war on air pollution.
  • There is no better watchdog than active citizens, which is why the pollution targets must be made public every year for their perusal and to be evaluated at the end of the year.

Way Forward

  • Breathing clean air is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen. Human health must become a priority when it comes to legislating on air pollution.
  • As 2019 nears its end, and the season of smog begins, there is an urgent need for India to be a pollution-free nation.
  • Pollution control boards must be empowered sufficiently to ensure that pollution does not take more lives or hinders the overall progress of India.

Air Pollution

Carbon emission from tropical forests


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Forgone carbon removal

Mains level : Carbon emission from tropical forests

  • A new study says that carbon impacts from the loss of intact tropical forests have been grossly underreported.

About the study

  • The study has calculated new figures relating to intact forest lost between 2000-2013.
  • It has found that the long-term net carbon impacts, through 2050, are six times the current estimates.
  • Conventionally, only carbon emissions from readily observed forest clearance are considered.
  • This study accounted for less readily observed degradation processes that follow forest clearance – selective logging, edge effects, and defaunation.

Forgone carbon removal

  • Another metric used in the new study is “forgone carbon removal”.
  • Forgone removals are an estimate of the amount of carbon that cleared or degraded forests could have sequestered had they remained intact beyond 2000.
  • Full accounting of these additional factors led to a 626% increase in cumulative net carbon impact from intact forest loss, the study says.

Air Pollution

Graded Response Action Plan


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GRAP

Mains level : Combating urban air pollution

  • Starting October 15, some stricter measures to fight air pollution will come into force in Delhi’s neighbourhood, as part of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP).
  • As pollution rises, and it is expected to as winter approaches, more measures will come into play depending on the air quality.

Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP)

  • In 2014, when a study by the WHO found that Delhi was the most polluted city in the world, panic spread in the Centre and the state government.
  • Approved by the Supreme Court in 2016, the plan was formulated after several meetings that the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) held with state government and experts.
  • The result was a plan that institutionalized measures to be taken when air quality deteriorates.
  • GRAP works only as an emergency measure.
  • Three major policy decisions that can be credited to EPCA and GRAP are the closure of the thermal power plant at Badarpur, bringing BS-VI fuel to Delhi before the deadline set initially, and the ban on Pet coke as a fuel in Delhi NCR.

How it works?

  • As such, the plan does not include action by various state governments to be taken throughout the year to tackle industrial, vehicular and combustion emissions.
  • When the air quality shifts from poor to very poor, the measures listed under both sections have to be followed since the plan is incremental in nature.
  • If air quality reaches the severe+ stage, GRAP talks about shutting down schools and implementing the odd-even road-space rationing scheme.

Severe+ or Emergency

(PM 2.5 over 300 µg/cubic metre or PM10 over 500 µg/cu. m. for 48+ hours)

  • Stop entry of trucks into Delhi (except essential commodities)
  • Stop construction work
  • Introduce odd/even scheme for private vehicles and minimise exemptions
  • Task Force to decide any additional steps including shutting of schools


(PM 2.5 over 250 µg/cu. m. or PM10 over 430 µg/cu. m.)

  • Close brick kilns, hot mix plants, stone crushers
  • Maximise power generation from natural gas to reduce generation from coal
  • Encourage public transport, with differential rates
  • More frequent mechanized cleaning of road and sprinkling of water

Very Poor

(PM2.5 121-250 µg/cu. m. or PM10 351-430 µg/cu. m.)

  • Stop use of diesel generator sets
  • Enhance parking fee by 3-4 times
  • Increase bus and Metro services
  • Apartment owners to discourage burning fires in winter by providing electric heaters during winter
  • Advisories to people with respiratory and cardiac conditions to restrict outdoor movement

Moderate to poor

(PM2.5 61-120 µg/cu. m. or PM10 101-350 µg/cu. m.)

  • Heavy fines for garbage burning
  • Close/enforce pollution control regulations in brick kilns and industries
  • Mechanised sweeping on roads with heavy traffic and water sprinkling
  • Strictly enforce ban on firecrackers

Has GRAP helped?

  • The biggest success of GRAP has been in fixing accountability and deadlines.
  • For each action to be taken under a particular air quality category, executing agencies are clearly marked.
  • In a territory like Delhi, where a multiplicity of authorities has been a long-standing impediment to effective governance, this step made a crucial difference.

What measures have been taken in other states?

  • One criticism of the EPCA as well as GRAP has been the focus on Delhi.
  • While other states have managed to delay several measures, citing lack of resources, Delhi has always been the first one to have stringent measures enforced.
  • In a recent meeting that discussed the ban on diesel generator sets, the point about Delhi doing all the heavy lifting was also raised.

Air Pollution

[pib] Green Crackers


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Green crackers

Mains level : Combating urban air pollution

  • In a bid to resolve the crisis of air pollution, the CSIR has launched green firecrackers.

About the Crackers

  • The new CSIR-NEERI formulation for green crackers has NO barium nitrate — one of the key ingredients of traditional firecrackers.
  • These crackers have been named “safe water releaser (SWAS)”, “safe minimal aluminium (SAFAL)” and “safe thermite cracker (STAR)”.
  • The three crackers release water vapour or air as a dust suppressant and diluent for gaseous emissions.
  • These products can only be manufactured by those who have signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with CSIR-NEERI.
  • The green crackers will be sold with a unique logo on the box, and will also have a QR code with production and emission details.


  • They eliminate the use of potassium nitrate and sulphur, and reduce particulate matter like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by at least 30 per cent.
  • The two types have matching sound intensity with commercial crackers, that is, in the range of 105-110 dBA.


  • It minimally uses aluminium, which results in at least 35 per cent reduction in particulate matter compared to commercial crackers.
  • Its sound intensity matches with commercial crackers in the 110-115 dBA range.
  • The product categories include Chinese crackers, maroons, atom bombs, flowerpots, pencils and sparklers.

Air Pollution

Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) of Gujarat


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ETS, Carbon trading

Mains level : About the Scheme


Emission trading in Gujarat

  • Last week, the Gujarat government launched what is being described as the world’s first market for trading in particulate matter emissions.
  • While trading mechanisms for pollution control do exist in many parts of the world, none of them is for particulate matter emissions.
  • For example, the CDM (clean development mechanism) under the Kyoto Protocol allows trade in ‘carbon credits’; the EU’s Emission Trading System is for greenhouse gas emission; and India has a scheme run by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency that enables trading in energy units.

Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)

  • Launched in Surat, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is a regulatory tool that is aimed at reducing the pollution load in an area and at the same time minimising the cost of compliance for the industry.
  • ETS is a market in which the traded commodity is particulate matter emissions.
  • The Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) sets a cap on the total emission load from all industries.
  • Various industries can buy and sell the ability to emit particulate matter, by trading permits (in kilograms) under this cap.
  • For this reason, ETS is also called a cap-and-trade market.

Why was Surat chosen for the scheme?

  • In the last five years, the quality of air in Surat has deteriorated.
  • In 2013, when the project was conceptualised, the PM10 level at Air India Building in Surat was 86 micrograms per cubic metre.
  • According to GPCB annual reports, pollution levels have increased between 120-220 per cent, with PM10 in 2018 reaching upto 261 µg/cu. M.
  • Surat was chosen because its industrial associations agreed to run the pilot scheme.
  • Also, industries in Surat had already installed Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems, which makes it possible to estimate the mass of particulate matter being released.

Trading process

  • At the beginning of every one-month compliance period (during which one emission permit is valid), 80 per cent of the total cap of 280 tonnes for that period is distributed free to all participant units.
  • These permits are allocated based on an industry’s emission sources (boilers, heaters, generators) as this determines the amount of particulate matter emitted.
  • GPCB will offer the remaining 20 per cent of the permits during the first auction of the compliance period, at a floor price of Rs 5 per kilogram.
  • Participating units may buy and sell permits among each other during the period.
  • The price is not allowed to cross a ceiling of Rs 100 per kilogram or fall below Rs 5 per kg, both of which may be adjusted after a review.


  • These take place on the ETS-PM trading platform hosted by the National Commodities and Derivatives Exchange e-Markets Limited (NeML).
  • All participants must register a trading account with NeML. Transactions are linked to the bank accounts of the users, who can view updates through these accounts.
  • There are two types of auctions. In the Uniform Price Auction, the week’s permit price is discovered by participating members through bidding.
  • Second, there is a continuous market between Wednesday where members will buy and sell permits whose prices were fixed on Tuesday.
  • For a true-up period of 2-7 days before the completion of the compliance period, units may continue to buy and sell any remaining permits at the final auction price to meet their compliance obligations.

Punitive actions for non-compliance

  • Based on permits held by units at the close of the compliance and true-up periods, units will be declared compliant or non-compliant.
  • Environmental damage compensation at Rs 200/kg will be imposed for emissions in excess of a unit’s permit holdings at the end of the compliance period.
  • This amount will be deducted from an environmental damage compensation deposit that each unit has to submit before the start of the scheme — Rs 2 lakh for small units, Rs 3 lakh for medium ones and Rs 10 lakh for large units.
  • After any deduction, a unit will have to deposit extra money to meet that shortfall.
  • To prevent any participant from hoarding permits, an upper limit has been set — 1.5 times the initial allocation for the compliance period, or 3 per cent of the market cap for the compliance period.
  • Also, no unit may sell more than 90 per cent of its initial allocation.

Significance of ETS

  • These permits are not a way to allow industries to keep polluting.
  • Purchasing permits is only an interim measure for many of these units who find it financially difficult to install air pollution control measures.
  • In other words it helps buy some time and make investments later.
  • So the idea of this scheme is also to make sure that some units realise that it is cheaper to install APCM and reduce emissions rather than buy permits at a higher cost that will vary due to the bidding process.

Air Pollution

Clean Air Coalition and Clean Air Fund


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Clean Air Coalition, Clean Air Fund

Mains level : Curbing air pollution

  • WHO is launching a “Clean Air Coalition” led by the Governments of Spain and Peru, while a group of philanthropic organizations and foundations were poised to launch a new “Clean Air Fund”.
  • Both aim to spur investment in reducing sources of air pollution, which also contribute to climate change.

Clean Air Coalition

  • The Clean Air Coalition is being supported by the UN Secretary General’s Office and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition of UN Environment.
  • The fund brings together “a group of like-minded philanthropic foundations” which have recognized that tackling air pollution will have “huge benefits for health as well as for climate.”

Why such move?

  • A report has found that philanthropic investment in air quality initiatives is disproportionately low in comparison to the burden disease caused by air pollution – which is estimated to kill some 7 million people around the world every year.
  • Most money is spent only in a few countries – even though WHO estimates that over 90% of people around the world breathe unhealthy air.

Clean Air Fund

  • The new Clean Air Fund aims to support projects that “democratize” air quality data, making knowledge about air quality more widely accessible to large numbers of people in cities.
  • The Fund works with a coalition of philanthropic foundation partners who have interests in health, children, mobility, climate change, and equity, bringing them together to strengthen their collective investment, voice and impact.

Air Pollution

Happy Seeder (HS) Technique


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : HS technology

Mains level : Alternatives to stubble burning

  • Punjab CM recently said that using Happy Seeders for direct wheat sowing leads to increased productivity.

Happy Seeder (HS)

  • Happy Seeder (HS) or Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) is a tractor-operated machine developed by the Punjab Agri University (PAU) in collaboration with Australian Centre for International Agri Research (ACIAR).
  • HS is used for in-situ management of paddy stubble (straw).
  • While it was developed in 2002, the PAU officially recommended it to farmers in 2005-06 and it made to the markets in 2006.
  • Currently, it costs around Rs 1.50 to 1.60 lakh and is manufactured by different companies.
  • The agriculture department gives 80 per cent subsidy to farmer groups and 50 per cent subsidy to individual farmers.

Using HS

  • After harvesting the paddy field using a combined harvester fitted with Super-SMS (Straw Management System) equipment.
  • This chops and evenly spreads the stubble in the field, farmers can directly sow wheat seeds using Happy Seeder with the stubble’s organic value adding to the soil.

Why use HS?

  • The average wheat yield a farmer gets using traditional sowing method (after burning stubble) is 19-22 quintal/acre (q/acre).
  • It has been found that using Happy Seeder for four years, in the first year the yield was 17 q/acre but now it’s 19-22 q/acre.

Issues with HS

  • Many farmers had to burn the stubble because Happy Seeder doesn’t work on thick bunches of straw left behind.
  • It is wrong to say that yield magically increases or decreases using Happy Seeder.
  • It mostly remains at par, with normal average yield.
  • Initially, farmers will face problems because after sowing with HS, fields require proper management
  • According to the experts, wheat yield will start increasing after the initial 2-3 years, as the stubble will add to the organic quality of the soil.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Clearing the air


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Delhi Air pollution


The odd-even scheme will make a comeback in Delhi four years after it was first implemented. 

Fighting pollution

  • Delhi Chief Minister announced that the road rationing scheme will be a part of a seven-point programme to combat pollution.
  • The scheme will be implemented when Delhi’s air is at its worst
    • post-festival pollution combines with
    • smog from stubble burning in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh
    • particulate matter from tailpipes of vehicles
  • In the last three years, the government resorted to knee-jerk reactions which did very little to improve the city’s air quality. 

Odd-Even scheme

  • The road rationing scheme allows vehicles to ply on alternate days, depending on odd and even number plates. 
  • It was introduced in 2016 as a desperate measure after the Delhi High Court asked the state government to submit a time-bound plan. 
  • A fight between the Delhi government and NGT came in the way of its implementation in 2017. 
    • The NGT said that any relaxation would come in the way of improving the city’s air quality.
    • But the government wanted exemptions for two-wheelers. 
  • The government argued that Delhi’s public transport wasn’t equipped to handle the fallout of extending road-rationing to two-wheelers. 

Way ahead

  • The government has nearly two months to iron out glitches and sort out differences that could come in the way of smooth implementation of the plan. 
  • It needs to ensure that the city’s public transport system is able to meet the needs of commuters on days when their vehicles will be off the roads.


The odd-even scheme is not a magic bullet to clean up Delhi’s bad air. But the scheme is a part of a bouquet of pollution-control measures.

Air Pollution

Air pollution in Delhi drops 25% in four years


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM 2.5, PM 10

Mains level : Curbing air pollution in Delhi

  • Pollution levels in Delhi, primarily the concentration of particulate matter has reduced by 25% over a period of four years.
  • Five years ago, in 2014, a global study on air quality trends by the WHO had declared Delhi the most polluted city in the world.
  • Since then, the Centre, states and courts have taken several steps to arrest pollution in the city.

Delhi air pollution

  • Delhi, through its pollution control committee, started monitoring air quality in real time only in 2010.
  • It was in 2012 that Delhi saw its worst air quality due to full force of crop-residue burning that year, especially in October and November.
  • It was the first time that this burning was seriously flagged.
  • But since 2012, the average annual concentration of particulate matter — the primary cause of pollution in the city — has been falling.
  • In Delhi’s air, the primary pollutants are PM2.5 (inhalable particles of diameter 2.5 micrometres and smaller) and PM10 (10 micrometers and smaller).
  • Particulate matter, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in air.
  • Some particles can be seen with the naked eye; others can only be detected under a microscope.

What data show?


  • DPCC data from 2012 to 2019 show 2018 saw the lowest average concentration of PM2.5.
  • In 2012, the annual average was 160 micrograms per cubic metre; it came down 20% to 128 micrograms/cubic m in 2018.
  • The most polluted months of the year are November, December and January, with pollution peaking in November, monthly averages between 2012 and 2018 show.
  • It is in November that the highest volume of crop residue is burnt in Haryana, Punjab and UP.
  • It is also when temperatures fall and humidity rises, aiding the increase in concentration of pollutants in the air. Locally, the burning of leaves picks up in November.
  • However, as the chart shows, PM2.5 concentrations have fallen over the years — in November as well as in the ‘cleaner’ months of July, August and September.


  • Between 2012 and 2018, the concentration of PM10 reduced by 21% from an average 351 micrograms/cubic m to 277 micrograms/cubic m.
  • PM10 is more prominent in the air in winter, primarily because of open burning and road and construction dust.
  • Until August this year, Delhi’s performance in terms of PM10 concentration has been encouraging.
  • In August, the average concentration fell to double digits for the first time since 2012; in 2013, this figure was as high as 288 micrograms/cubic m.

Seasonal variation, weather

  • Over the past five years, several studies have pointed to the fact that weather and seasons are among the biggest determinants of Delhi’s air quality.
  • No matter how much authorities try, air quality in winter will be worse than in summer.
  • Localised weather conditions also have a major role in determining air quality.
  • On a sunny and windy winter day, air quality can improve several notches within hours.
  • Weather conditions are also the reason why winters are more polluted than summers. Cold, foggy, windless days help in the accumulation of pollutants.

What has worked in Delhi

  • Between 2014 and 2017, the Delhi government has implemented orders passed by NGT to curb air pollution, including the implementation of the odd-even road rationing scheme.
  • The biggest push came in 2017, when the Centre notified the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), which provided state governments in Delhi and the NCR with a roadmap for action.
  • If the air was severely polluted for more than 48 hours, for example, the entry of trucks would be stopped, and all construction work halted. The GRAP also set roles for each agency, fixing accountability.
  • Shutting of the two thermal power plants in Delhi, completion of the eastern and western peripheral expressways for vehicles not destined for Delhi, a ban on PET Coke as industrial fuel, and the introduction of BS VI fuel have, experts believe, made a big difference.

Air Pollution

Pollution Under Control (PUC) Test


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PUC Test

Mains level : Combating urban air pollution

  • Since the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 came into force, long queues of vehicles are commonly being seen at pollution control centres in Delhi.
  • After undergoing pollution under control (PUC) test, a vehicle is certified for a certain period of time.

What is a PUC certificate?

  • The PUC certificate is a document that any person driving a motor vehicle can be asked to produce by a police officer in uniform authorised by the state government.
  • These issue certificates if a vehicle is found complying with the prescribed emission norms.
  • The fine for PUC violations has now gone up to Rs 10,000; it used to be Rs 1,000 for the first offence and Rs 2,000 for subsequent violations before the amendments came into force.
  • The test costs between Rs 60 and Rs 100.
  • The validity of the test is one year for BS IV vehicles and three months for others.
  • A PUC certificate contains information such as the vehicle’s license plate number, PUC test reading, date on which the PUC test was conducted and the expiry date.

How is a pollution control check carried out?

  • The computerised model for pollution check was developed by the Society of Indian Automobile manufacturers.
  • A gas analyser is connected to a computer, to which a camera and a printer are attached.
  • The gas analyser records the emission value and sends it to the computer directly, while the camera captures the license plate of the vehicle.
  • Subsequently, a certificate may be issued if the emission values are within the limits.

Why PUC?

  • According to the Transport Department, Delhi, 217.7 tonnes of carbon monoxide is emitted every day by vehicles in the city.
  • Vehicular pollution estimates include 84.1 tonnes of nitrogen oxides and 66.7 tonnes of hydrocarbons per day.

Air Pollution

Global Liveability Ranking 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the index

Mains level : Factors affecting liveability in India


  • New Delhi has dropped by six places to rank 118th on a list of the world’s most liveable cities due to increase in cases of petty crimes and poor air quality.
  • While New Delhi registered the biggest decline in Asia, Mumbai also fell two places since last year to rank 119th on the list topped by Vienna (Austria) for the second consecutive year.

About the ranking

  • The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) publishes an annual Global Liveability Ranking.
  • The EIU ranking of 140 cities is based on their scores in five broad categories — stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.
  • Each factor in a city is rated as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable.

Global scenario

  • Among the BRIC countries, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) was positioned at the 89th place, Moscow (Russia) at 68th, St Petersburg (Russia) 71st.
  • The Chinese cities in the list include Suzhou at 75th rank, Beijing 76th, Tianjin 79th, Shanghai 80th, Shenzhen 84th, Dalian 90th, Guangzhou 96th and Qingdao 97th.
  • Several major global cities received mixed scores. London and New York ranked 48th and 58th out of the 140 cities in the survey.

Why decline in liveabilty in India?

Abuses against journalists

  • The EIU also flagged “an escalation in abuses against journalists in recent years” in India.
  • It cited a decline in the country’s ranking in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index where India now sits in the bottom quartile of countries.
  • The study said that Asian cities overall have scored slightly below the global average while three Asian cities — Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (135th), Pakistan’s Karachi (136th) and Bangladesh’s Dhaka (138th) — are among the ten least liveable globally.

Rise in Crime rates

  • The EIU said decline in Mumbai’s rank was mainly due to a downgrade in its culture score, while New Delhi has fallen in the index because of downgrades to its culture and environment score as well as fall in the stability score owing to rising crime rates.

Climatic changes

  • Several cities, such as New Delhi in India and Cairo in Egypt received substantial downgrades on their scores owing to problems linked to climate change, such as poor air quality, undesirable average temperatures and inadequate water provision,” the report said.

Constrained liveability conditions

  • A score between 50-60 points, which is the case for India, indicates constrained liveability conditions.
  • The 2018 update to the WHO Global Ambient Air Quality Database shows that New Delhi has the sixth highest annual mean concentration of fine particulate matter among cities around the world.
  • Companies pay a premium to employees who move to cities where living conditions are particularly difficult and there is excessive physical hardship or a notably unhealthy environment.
  • The suggested allowance for Indian cities is 15%.

Air Pollution

India biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide: report using NASA data


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sulphur Pollution

Mains level : Curbing air pollution

India largest emitter of sulfur

  • A new report by Greenpeace India shows the country is the largest emitter of sulphur dioxide in the world, with more than 15% of all the anthropogenic sulphur dioxide hotspots.
  • This was detected by the NASA OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument) satellite.
  • Almost all of these emissions in India are because of coal-burning, the report says.
  • The Singrauli, Neyveli, Talcher, Jharsuguda, Korba, Kutch, Chennai, Ramagundam, Chandrapur and Koradi thermal power plants or clusters are the major emission hotspots in India.

Why India?

  • The vast majority of coal-based power plants in India lack flue-gas desulphurization technology to reduce air pollution.
  • In a first step to combat pollution levels, the MoEFCC introduced, for the first time, sulphur dioxide emission limits for coal-fired power plants in December 2015.
  • But the deadline for the installation of flue-gas desulphurization (FGD) in power plants has been extended from 2017 to 2022.

NASA data

  • The report also includes NASA data on the largest point sources of sulphur dioxide.
  • The largest sulphur dioxide emission hotspots have been found in Russia, South Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Serbia.
  • Air pollutant emissions from power plants and other industries continue to increase in India, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the report says.
  • In Russia, South Africa, Mexico and Turkey, emissions are currently not increasing — however, there is not a lot of progress in tackling them either.

India is the loser

  • Of the world’s major emitters, China and the United States have been able to reduce emissions rapidly.
  • They have achieved this feat by switching to clean energy sources.
  • China, in particular, has achieved success by dramatically improving emission standards and enforcement for sulphur dioxide control.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Whether we will survive ought to be our foremost concern


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : The extent of water and air crisis in India


The lack of safe water and clean air will either make or break India.


  1. Statistics
    1. A report by NITI Aayog warned that India is facing its worst water crisis in history.
    2. Nearly 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress, 75% of households do not have drinking water on the premises, 84% of households do not have piped water access, and 70% of our water is contaminated.
    3. Nearly 200,000 people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.
    4. 21 cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater by 2020. 
    5. India is currently ranked 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index.

Air pollution


  1. A report by the Centre for Science and Environment released last year, indicated that severe air pollution crisis in India caused lifespans to shrink by 2.6 years on average
  2. Air pollution is now the third-highest cause of death among all health risks ranking just above smoking in India. 
  3. As many as 14 of the 20 most polluted cities of the world are in India.
  4. The World Health Organization calls toxic air the “new tobacco”

The need of the hour is a nationwide strategy on conservation, checks on development, salination projects across our long coastlines, and urgent steps to check pollution.

Air Pollution

Gujarat launches India’s first Emission Trading Scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Emission trading

Mains level : Curbing air pollution

  • Gujarat has launched India’s first trading programme to combat particulate air pollution on World Environment Day 2019, which has air pollution as its theme.

Gujarat Emission Trading Scheme (ETS)

  • The programme is a market-based system where the government sets a cap on emissions and allows industries to buy and sell permits to stay below the cap.
  • It is initiated by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB).
  • It was designed with the help of a team of researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), the Economic Growth Center at Yale University and others.

Using Cap and Trade system

  • The government has set a cap on concentration of emissions for each industrial unit at 150 microgramme per cubic metre (ug/m3), which is the 24-hour average for emission standard set by the Central government for industrial units.
  • Globally, cap-and-trade systems have been used to reduce other forms of pollution, such as programmes that have successfully reduced sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the USA.
  • But the Gujarat programme is the first in the world to regulate particulate air pollution.

How actual trading happens?

  • Under the cap and trade system, the regulator first defines the total mass of pollution that can be put into the air over a defined period by all factories put together.
  • Then, a set of permits is created, each of which allows a certain amount of pollution, and the total is equal to the cap.
  • These permits are the quantity that is bought and sold.
  • Each factory is allocated a share of these permits (this could be equal or based on size or some other rule).
  • After this, plants can trade permits with each other, just like any other commodity on the National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange Limited (NCDEX).

Benefits of ETS

  • The reason for trading is that in a cap and trade market, the regulator will measure pollution over a period of time and industries must own enough permits to cover their total emissions.
  • Factories who find it very expensive to reduce pollution, will seek to buy more permits.
  • Those who can easily reduce pollution are encouraged to do so because then they have excess permits to sell.
  • Eventually, after buying and selling by plants that find it cheap to cut pollution and those for whom it is expensive, most pollution is taken care of.
  • Whatever the final allocation, the total number of permits does not change so the total pollution is still equal to the predefined cap. And yet the costs to industry are decreased.

Existing regulations

  • Under existing regulations, every industry has to meet a certain maximum concentration of pollutants when it is operating.
  • They are tested occasionally and manually (one or two times a year). However, there is widespread non-compliance across India.
  • This is partly because penalties are rarely applied, in large part because they involve punishments such as closing down the entire plant which is not necessarily appropriate for small violations.

Air Pollution

Committee constituted to oversee clean air programme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Clean Air Plan (NCAP)

Mains level : Combating urban air pollution

  • The MoEFCC has constituted a committee to implement the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which aims to reduce particulate matter (PM) pollution by 20%-30% in at least 102 cities by 2024.

National Clean Air Programme (NCAP)

  • The NCAP unveiled in January is envisaged as a scheme to provide the States and the Centre with a framework to combat air pollution.
  • The NCAP is envisioned as a five-year action plan with 2019 as the first year. There would be a review every five years.
  • For achieving the NCAP targets, the cities would be expected to calculate the reduction in pollution, keeping 2017’s average annual PM levels as the base year.
  • The NCAP requires cities to implement specific measures such as:
  1. Ensuring roads are pothole-free to improve traffic flow and thereby reduce dust” (within 60 days) or
  2. Ensuring strict action against unauthorized brick kilns (within 30 days)
  • It doesn’t specify an exact date for when these obligations kick in.
  • Experts have criticised the lack of mandatory targets and the challenge of inadequate enforcement by cities.

Committee to implement NCAP

  • The committee will be chaired by the Secretary, Union Environment Ministry and has among its members the Joint Secretary (Thermal), Ministry of Power; Director-General, The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) etc.
  • The committee would be headquartered in New Delhi and its remit includes ensuring “inter-ministerial organisation and cooperation, sharing information and resolving issues that could arise between ministries.
  • The committee would also give overall guidance and directions to effectively implement the programmes.

Why such move?

  • The World Health Organization’s (WHO) database on air pollution over the years has listed Tier I and Tier II Indian cities as some of the most polluted places in the world.
  • In 2018, 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities were in India.

Air Pollution

Explained: The problem with diesel


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BS norms

Mains level : Reality check on preparedness for BS VI and major hurdles


  • The announcement by Maruti Suzuki —the country’s largest vehicle manufacturer — will stop manufacturing diesel vehicles.
  • This along with many other giants, pretty much marks the end of the road for the diesel mill in India.

Bone of content- BS VI Norms

  • The main reason is not the fuel price differential, but the new emission norms that will come into effect on April 1, 2020 — less than a year from now.
  • The prohibitively high cost of upgrading diesel engines to meet the new BS-VI emission norms is why leading carmakers have pulled the plug on their diesel options.
  • The economics of the conversion does not make it worthwhile to continue with the diesel option after the transition to BS-VI.
  • Also, the sentiment for diesel is not good in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, making it extra uncertain if customers would want to pay the big premium.

Bharat Stage Norms

  • The BS — Bharat Stage — emission standards are norms instituted by the government to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engine equipment, including motor vehicles.
  • India has been following European (Euro) emission norms, although with a time lag of five years.
  • India introduced emission norms first in 1991, and tightened them in 1996, when most vehicle manufacturers had to incorporate technology upgrades such as catalytic converters to cut exhaust emissions.
  • Fuel specifications based on environmental considerations were notified first in April 1996, to be implemented by 2000, and incorporated in BIS 2000 standards.

Implementation history

  • Following the landmark Supreme Court order of April 1999, the Centre notified BS-I (BIS 2000) and Bharat Stage-II norms, broadly equivalent to Euro I and Euro II respectively.
  • BS-II was for the National Capital Region and other metros; BS-I for the rest of India.
  • From April 2005, in line with the Auto Fuel Policy of 2003, BS-III and BS-II fuel quality norms came into existence for 13 major cities, and for the rest of the country respectively.
  • From April 2010, BS-IV and BS-III norms were put in place in 13 major cities and the rest of India respectively.

What changes do the recent BS norms entail?

  • As per the Policy roadmap, BS-V and BS-VI norms were to be implemented from April 1, 2022, and April 1, 2024 respectively.
  • But in November 2015, the Road Transport Ministry issued a draft notification advancing the implementation of BS-V norms for new four-wheel vehicle models to April 1, 2019, and for existing models to April 1, 2020.
  • Soon afterward, however, Road Transport Ministry announced that the government had decided to leapfrog to BS-VI from April 1, 2020, skipping BS-V all together.

Minutes of BS VI

  • Carmakers would have to put three pieces of equipment — a DPF (diesel particulate filter), an SCR (selective catalytic reduction) system, and an LNT (Lean NOx trap) — to meet stringent BS-VI norms, all at the same time.
  • This is vital to curb both PM (particulate matter) and NOx (nitrogen oxides) emissions as mandated under the BS-VI norms.
  • Ideally, the technologies should be introduced in series, and then synergized.

Why the transition is problematic?

  • A practical problem is that while it took as many as seven years for the entire country to shift from BS-III to BS-IV, the attempt this time is to entirely bypass one stage — BS-V — in less than half that time.
  • This makes the switch to BS-VI that much more difficult for both oil companies and automobile makers.
  • The decision to leapfrog directly from BS-IV to BS-VI is what carmakers cite as the reason for the unviability of diesel.
  • While petrol vehicles would also need upgrades to transition, these are limited to catalysts and electronic control upgrades.
  • For diesel vehicles, the upgrades are more complicated and entail higher costs, apart from the technical difficulties in managing the changes.
  • A step-by-step transition would have been easier; now, the entire cost will have to be borne in one go, alongside the operational difficulties of managing the transition.

Various complications

I. Early adaptation of components

  • Carmakers say there are technical constraints in carrying out design changes that will include adapting the three critical components — DPF, SCR and LNT — to conditions specific to Indian driving, where running speeds are much lower than in Europe or the United States.
  • The auto industry argues that the huge improvements in vehicular technology since 2000 have had little impact in India due to driving, road and ambient conditions.
  • So, technically, if the BS-V and BS-VI stages were to be implemented one after the other, diesel cars would have to be fitted with a DPF in the BS-V stage, and with the SCR in the BS-VI state.
  • Now both of these have to be incorporated simultaneously, alongside the LNT.

II. Fuel price gaps

  • Even if these were to be managed, a heavy cost would be involved, which would push up the price of diesel vehicles, and widen the price gap with the petrols.
  • So, for carmakers, skipping the diesel value chain at this point makes more sense.
  • Alongside these constraints, there are also question marks regarding the ability of the oil companies to manage the transition, because refiners were unable to produce the superior fuel in required quantities.

Air Pollution

Indoor emissions affect air-quality standards


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Role of indoor pollution in PM2.5

  • Household emissions remained one of the major culprits behind PM 2.5 air pollution in India.

Household emission in India

  • A recent study has pointed out that the use of firewood, kerosene and coal in the households contributed to about 40% of the PM 2.5 pollution in the Gangetic basin districts.
  • The results showed that by eliminating household emissions the average outdoor air pollution levels could be reduced and brought within the national ambient air quality standards.
  • The paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science notes that if all households transitioned to clean fuels, about 13% of premature mortality in India could be averted.
  • At the national scale, mitigating household emissions is also expected to bring large health benefits.
  • In many villages, they still use firewood for room heating and water heating. People prefer cheap wood fuel despite LPG being provided to many households.

Using Satellite data

  • Using satellite data and chemical transport model simulations, the researchers pointed out that complete mitigation would bring down the country’s average annual PM 2.5 air pollution to 38 microgram/cubic metre.
  • Surprisingly, this is below India’s national ambient air quality standard of 40 microgram/cubic metre and slightly above the World Health Organization (interim target 1) standards of 35 microgram/cubic metre.

Need for a multipronged approach

  • But India’s pollution problem is much bigger than often perceived.
  • The study has demonstrated that mitigating at a household level is the easiest and more practical way out for the government to reduce not only the household pollution but also outdoor air pollution at the national scale.

Air Pollution

State of Global Air Report, 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : State of Global Air Report 2019

Mains level : Air pollution related deaths in India and across the world

  • The current high level of air pollution has shortened the average lifespan of a South Asian child by two-and-a- half years while globally the reduction stands at 20 months, according to a global study released.

State of Global Air Report, 2019

  • State of Global Air 2019, published by Health Effects Institute (HEI), said exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to over 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017.
  • The worldwide air pollution was responsible for more deaths than many better-known risk factors such as malnutrition, alcohol abuse and physical inactivity.
  • Overall, long-term exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to nearly 5 million deaths due to stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer, and chronic lung disease in 2017.

India’s performance

  • In India, air pollution is the third highest cause of death among all health risks, ranking just above smoking; each year, more people globally die from air pollution-related diseases than from road traffic injuries or malaria.
  • The study found that China and India together were responsible for over half of the total global attributable deaths, with each country facing over 1.2 million deaths from air pollution in 2017.
  • China has made initial progress, and is beginning to achieve a decline in air pollution.
  • Out of these, 3 million deaths were directly attributed to PM2.5, half of which were from India and China together.
  • South Asian countries — Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan — led the world as the most polluted region, accounting for over 1.5 million air-pollution related deaths, according to the report.

Air Pollution

Parking management plan for Delhi


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Impact of privately owned vehicles in Delhi’s air pollution


  • After the Supreme Court direction, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority has put forth a parking management plan for New Delhi.

Management of parking in Delhi

  • In its report, the EPCA assessed the state of residential parking in Delhi and observed that free parking on public land continues to be a city-wide menace.
  • The EPCA highlighted a serious crisis of night-time parking, which was in turn leading to obstruction on roads and problems with the movement of emergency vehicles, including ambulances, fire engines, etc.
  • Lack of regulation or charges over parking on public land also adds to the menace, as most car owners, in order to avoid parking charges, shift to parking on the streets adding to congestion on the road.
  • The EPCA stressed on joint management of parking spaces to ensure that there is coordination between different road type’s service roads and residential lanes and commercial and mixed land use areas.

MCLPs remain un-utilized

  • The Multi-Level Car Parks (MLCPs) remain highly under-utilized in Delhi because there is no parking charge on public land.
  • The parking in residential areas is not regulated or priced. There is, therefore, no incentive to use the multi-level parking lots or to pay for these.
  • Further, it makes note that the MLCPs are working at a loss, and these are just operational costs which “do not account for the price of land, which is exorbitant as these parking lots are located in prime residential areas.”

Key recommendations listed in EPCA report:

  • Implementing agencies are unanimous that residential parking will have to be regulated and managed
  • Parking spill over from residential buildings will require management
  • Multiplicity of responsibility is at the core of the problems of governance in the city and parking regulations must not add to this
  • Pricing for residential parking should be determined jointly by the local agency and RWA/shop-keepers association but it must be based on the principle of charging differential and higher rates for additional cars
  • The local parking plan must ensure that there is provision for movement of emergency vehicles and green areas, parks and footpaths may not be allowed to be used for parking
  • The Delhi Police may be directed to greatly improve enforcement against illegal and unauthorised parking through state-of-the art equipment, including cameras and automated challans

Air Pollution

India’s carbon dioxide emissions up 5%: IEA Report


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Air Pollution


  • India emitted 2,299 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018, a 4.8% rise from last year, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

About IEA

  • The International Energy Agency is a Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organization established in the framework of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis.
  • The IEA was initially dedicated to responding to physical disruptions in the supply of oil, as well as serving as an information source on statistics about the international oil market and other energy sectors.
  • The IEA acts as a policy adviser to its member states, but also works with non-member countries, especially China, India, and Russia.

The Global Energy & CO2 Status Report

  • India’s emissions growth this year was higher than that of the United States and China — the two biggest emitters in the world.
  • This was primarily due to a rise in coal consumption.
  • China, the United States, and India together accounted for nearly 70% of the rise in energy demand.
  • India’s per capita emissions were about 40% of the global average and contributed 7% to the global carbon dioxide burden.
  • The United States, the largest emitter, was responsible for 14%.

Defying NDCs

  • As per its commitments to the UNFCCC, India has promised to reduce the emissions intensity of its economy by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.
  • It has also committed to having 40% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and, as part of this, install 100 GW of solar power by 2022.
  • However the IEA report showed that India’s energy intensity improvement declined 3% from last year even as its renewable energy installations increased 10.6% from last year.
  • India says it will cost at least $2.5trillion (Rs. 150 trillion approx.) to implement its climate pledge, around 71% of the combined required spending for all developing country pledges.

Soaring demands for fossil fuels

  • Global energy consumption in 2018 increased at nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010, driven by a robust global economy and higher heating and cooling needs in some parts of the world.
  • Demand for all fuels increased, led by natural gas, even as solar and wind posted double digit growth.
  • Higher electricity demand was responsible for over half of the growth in energy needs.
  • The United States had the largest increase in oil and gas demand worldwide. Gas consumption jumped 10% from the previous year, the fastest increase since the beginning of IEA records in 1971.

Air Pollution

Enforcing a ban will not end the menace of stubble burning, say, researchers


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Winter air pollution caused by stubble burning


  • A recent study says that the enforcement of the ban on stubble burning isn’t an only feasible solution.

Ground zero reality

  • On average, about 20 million tonnes of straw are generated in Punjab, and they barely have two to three weeks to dispose them off and prepare the fields for the next crop.
  • Hence the popularity of deploying stubble-burning as a quick and cheap solution.
  • For about a decade now the Centre has held this practice responsible for the abysmal air quality in the capital in winter.

Ban not a solution

  • According to the team, the government’s efforts earmarking funds for specialized farming equipment (for straw management) or enforcing the state-led ban on the practice are unlikely to solve the problem.
  • Farmer cooperative groups a key link between government and farmers ought to be playing a more active role in educating farmers.
  • The main message is that farmers are not to blame (for the pollution crisis).
  • There are deeper causes beyond economic incentives or awareness about the health consequences of burning at play.

Govt. measures so far

  • The Centre has spent about ₹600 crore in subsidizing farm equipment via village cooperatives to enable farmers to access them and avoid stubble burning.
  • In 2018, Punjab had disbursed about 8,000 farm implements to individual farmers and set up 4,795 custom hiring centers, from where such machinery could be leased.
  • However, the success of these efforts has been mixed, even though stubble-fires in 2018 were fewer than in 2017 and 2016, according to satellite maps by independent researchers.

What do researchers say?

  • The researchers found that farmers who had bigger landholdings were more likely to burn straw.
  • Those who used harvesters (for cutting the straw) as opposed to manual labourers were more likely to engage in burning.
  • On average, the input costs of farmers who burned straw were about ₹40,000 per acre and those who didn’t about ₹25,000 per acre.
  • However the incomes of those who burned and those who didn’t were closer about ₹60,000 and ₹50,000 respectively.

Way Forward

  • There needs to be greater participation by village cooperatives in being able to impose social norms that would dissuade burners.
  • Only educating farmers about the monetary costs of burning stubble can address the environmental crisis triggered every year.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] A fresh warning: what GEO-6 means for India


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:GEO

Mains level: Suggestion by GEO to deal with air and water pollution



The sixth edition of the Global Environment Outlook from the UN Environment Programme has come as another stark warning: the world is unsustainably extracting resources and producing unmanageable quantities of waste.

Relationship between economic growth and environment degradation

  • The linear model of economic growth depends on the extraction of ever-higher quantities of materials, leading to chemicals flowing into air, water and land.
  • This causes ill-health and premature mortality, and affects the quality of life, particularly for those unable to insulate themselves from these effects.

Suggestions for India

  • The UN report, GEO-6, on the theme “Healthy Planet, Healthy People,” has some sharp pointers for India.
  • It notes that East and South Asia have the highest number of deaths due to air pollution; by one estimate, it killed about 1.24 million in India in 2017.
  •  As India’s population grows, it must worry that agricultural yields are coming under stress due to increase in average temperature and erratic monsoons.
  •  The implications of these forecasts for food security and health are all too evident, more so for the 148 million people living in severe weather ‘hotspots’.
  • Evidently, the task before India is to recognise the human cost of poorly enforced environment laws and demonstrate the political will necessary to end business-as-usual policies.
  • That would mean curbing the use of fossil fuels and toxic chemicals across the spectrum of economic activity.

Managing air and water pollution

  • There are some targeted interventions that only require the resolve to reduce air and water pollution, and which in turn promise early population-level benefits.
  • Aggressive monitoring of air quality in cities through scaled-up facilities would bring about a consensus on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, and provide the impetus to shift to cleaner sources of energy.

Responsibility for pollution

  •  It is significant that GEO-6 estimates that the top 10% of populations globally, in terms of wealth, are responsible for 45% of GHG emissions, and the bottom 50% for only 13%.
  • Pollution impacts are, however, borne more by the poorer citizens.

Way Forward

  •  Combating air pollution would, therefore, require all older coal-based power plants in India to conform to emission norms at the earliest, or to be shut down in favour of renewable energy sources.
  • Transport emissions are a growing source of urban pollution, and a quick transition to green mobility is needed. In the case of water, the imperative is to stop the contamination of surface supplies by chemicals, sewage and municipal waste.
  • As the leading extractor of groundwater, India needs to make water part of a circular economy in which it is treated as a resource that is recovered, treated and reused.
  • But water protection gets low priority, and State governments show no urgency in augmenting rainwater harvesting.
  • New storage areas act as a supply source when monsoons fail, and help manage floods when there is excess rainfall.

Air Pollution

[pib] India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ICAP and its provisions

Mains level: India’s efforts in phasing out Ozone Depleting Substances


  • India is one of the first countries in the world to develop a comprehensive Cooling Action plan.
  • It has a long term vision to address the cooling requirement across sectors and lists out actions which can help reduce the cooling demand.

India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)

  • The overarching goal of ICAP is to provide sustainable cooling and thermal comfort for all while securing environmental and socio-economic benefits for the society.
  • It provides an integrated vision towards cooling across sectors encompassing inter alia reduction of cooling demand, refrigerant transition, enhancing energy efficiency and better technology options with a 20 year time horizon.
  • One of the major demand is to reduce cooling demand across sectors by 20% to 25% by 2037-38 and refrigerant demand by 25% to 30% by 2037-38.

Why focus on cooling?

  • Cooling requirement is cross sectoral and an essential part for economic growth and is required across different sectors of the economy such as residential and commercial buildings, cold-chain, refrigeration, transport and industries
  • Cooling is also linked to human health and productivity.
  • Linkages of cooling with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are well acknowledged.
  • Its cross-sectoral nature of cooling and its use in development of the economy makes provision for cooling an important developmental necessity.

Benefits of the Plan

  • Thermal comfort for all – provision for cooling for EWS and LIG housing,
  • Sustainable cooling – low GHG emissions related to cooling,
  • Doubling Farmers Income – better cold chain infrastructure – better value of produce to farmers, less wastage of produce,
  • Skilled workforce for better livelihoods and environmental protection,
  • Make in India – domestic manufacturing of air-conditioning and related cooling equipment’s,
  • Robust R&D on alternative cooling technologies – to provide push to innovation in cooling sector.

Air Pollution

Nitrogen Pollution


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: N2 Pollution

Mains level: India’s vulnerability to Nitrogen Pollution


  • The annual Frontiers Report 2019 published by the United Nations (UN), has included a chapter on nitrogen pollution in its latest edition.
  • Pollution caused by the reactive forms of nitrogen is now being recognised as a grave environmental concern on a global level.

Frontiers Report 2019

  • The report was released by the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi.
  • It highlights that growing demand on the livestock, agriculture, transport, industry and energy sector has led to a sharp growth of the levels of reactive nitrogen — ammonia, nitrate, nitric oxide (NO), nitrous oxide (N2O) — in our ecosystems.
  • The report claims that the total annual cost of nitrogen pollution to eco system and healthcare services in the world is around $340 billion.
  • The report also warns that the scale of the problem remains largely unknown and unacknowledged outside scientific circles.

Nitrogen: A limited necessity

  • Nitrogen is essential to all life on Earth as it forms an important component of life-building and propagating biochemical molecules like proteins.
  • But overuse in agriculture in the form of fertilisers and other fields have made this important element more bane than boon.
  • Some of these forms of nitrogen like N2O can have far reaching impacts for humanity.
  • N2O is 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Nitrogen: The “new carbon” for India

  • In 2017, a large team of Indian scientists had come out with The Indian Nitrogen Assessment (INA).
  • India had become the third country/entity after the United States and the European Union to have assessed the environmental impact of nitrogen on their respective regions comprehensively.
  • The INA shows that agriculture is the main source of nitrogen pollution in India. Within agriculture, cereals pollute the most.
  • Rice and wheat take up the maximum cropped area in India at 36.95 million hectares (ha) and 26.69 million ha respectively.

Overuse of Fertilizers

  • India consumes 17 Mt (million tonnes) of nitrogen fertiliser annually as per the data of the Fertiliser Association of India.
  • Only 33 per cent of the nitrogen that is applied to rice and wheat through fertilisers is taken up by the plants in the form of nitrates (NO3). This is called Nitrogen Use Efficiency or NUE.
  • The remaining 67 per cent remains in the soil and seeps into the surrounding environment, causing a cascade of environmental and health impacts.

India is curious about it

  • The Indian government is leading a resolution on nitrogen pollution in the UNEA in Nairobi that starts from this March 11.
  • This is a historic event as India has never pushed for a resolution of such importance at any UN congregation before.
  • And this has happened because India can now leverage its own nitrogen assessment and its strong support to South Asian and other regional assessments with a more inclusive approach.
  • This would lead a process for faster global consensus and a more realistic programme of action.

Way Forward

  • All the policy frameworks, which deal with nitrogen, should be studied and a single framework like the one that exists for carbon should be built.
  • Bringing together nitrogen pollution and benefits under one framework will help in calculating the tradeoffs between the two and informing governments and the public about the total societal cost of using nitrogen.
  • There should be an international convention and forum for the discussion on nitrogen.

Air Pollution

Most polluted cities of the world are in India


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: World Air Quality Report 2018

Mains level: Ever increasing air pollution in India


  • Fifteen of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are located in India, according to an analysis of air quality in several cities around the world.

World Air Quality Report 2018

  • The report was compiled by IQAir Group, a manufacturer of air-monitoring sensors as well as purifiers and environmentalist group Greenpeace.
  • It relies on ground-based sensors located in 3,000 cities from 73 countries.
  • The main objective behind the report was to measure the presence of fine particulate matter known as Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5, which has been recorded in real-time in 2018.
  • Exposure to PM 2.5 pollution increases the risk of lung cancer, stroke, heart attack and respiratory diseases, including asthma symptoms among all age groups.

Highlights of the Report

  • Gurugram, in Haryana, topped the list with an average annual particulate matter (PM 2.5) quality of 135 g/m3 (micrograms/cubic metre), in 2018.
  • Delhi — a frequent fixture on global pollution hotspots — was only the 11th most noxious city behind Lahore, Pakistan (10th) and Hotan, China (8th).
  • When ranked by country, Bangladesh emerged as the most polluted followed by Pakistan and India respectively.
  • Jakarta and Hanoi emerged as Southeast Asia’s two most polluted cities and average concentrations in the cities in China fell by 12% from 2017 to 2018.
  • Beijing ranks now as the 122nd most polluted city in the world in 2018 and China, the 12th most polluted country in the world.
  • Of the countries analyzed, Iceland emerged as the one with the cleanest air.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] The thing about air


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: air quality standards,Lancet Report, NCAP

Mains level: Worsening air quality and findind alternatives to energy consuming air cleaning methods.



Air pollution is a silent killer in India, especially in the country’s northern belt. Eighteen per cent of the world’s population lives in India, but the country bears 26 per cent of the global disease burden due to air pollution.

Impact of air pollution on public health

  • According to estimates of the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative — published last year in Lancet Planetary Health — over half the 12.4 lakh deaths in India attributed to air pollution in 2017 were of individuals under the age of 70.
  • The average life expectancy in the country could be 1.7 years higher if air pollution is contained at a level at which human health isn’t harmed.

Policy and civil society responses to air pollution

  • Policy and civil society responses to air pollution have been limited and delayed.
  • in January that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change revamped the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to make it the country’s first overarching policy framework on air quality.
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) came forward to provide technical assistance to the government for implementing the NCAP by an emission inventory database.
  • The two institutes would also cooperate with the government in identifying sources of pollution and tracking emissions in order to help it realise the target of reducing particulate matter by 20-30 per cent in the next five years.

Energy costing Measures to tackle Air Pollution

  • In India too, researchers, entrepreneurs and environmentalists have voiced the need for devices such as sensor-based monitors, air purifiers and smog towers.
  • The use of mass spectrometers  to identify volatile substances that pollute air. But their energy footfall is likely to offset recent gains in energy efficiency.
  • It is a nationwide concern that requires systemic measures, long-term planning, stringent action against those violating emission laws and standards.
  • The country also requires inter-departmental coordination, continuous monitoring, appropriate warning systems and adequate protocols for assessment of air quality.

Problems with air purifiers

  • These devices consume energy, require constant maintenance and constitute a lopsided and expensive answer to the air pollution problem.
  • Studies have shown that many types of air purifiers used in households, offices and commercial set-ups do not actually improve the air quality .
  • ertain types of air purifiers do not remove chemicals or gases. Ionisers have limited utility against harmful particles and activated carbon filters — amongst the most popular air purifying devices — are not effective against particulate matter and allergens.
  • Electrostatic filters are not effective in large rooms and ozone purifiers are known to trigger asthma attacks.

Way Forward

  • It is also high time we recognise that air pollution problem is not merely a technological issue, but a social concern.
  • It is high time we recognise that air pollution will not go away if we continue to see it as a problem of only the affluent sections of society.
  • Besides emphasising on clean energy devices, energy efficiency technologies, dust control mechanisms and clean transport facilities, the government must be alive to the concerns of the people whose livelihoods are affected when polluting industries are banned.
  • Some states of the US, Singapore and China, for instance, have come out with citizen-friendly remedies that emphasise dust management, soil conservation and ecological restoration.
  • Addressing air pollution is a human concern. Regulation and technological solutions should not lose sight of this perspective.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Clean power


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Name of air pollutants notified

Mains level: Financing clean energy and cost of non complinace of such measures



The effort to clean up India’s thermal power plants running on coal has never really taken off, despite the Ministry of Environment notifying emission limits for major pollutants such as suspended particulate matter, sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury in December 2015.

Notification Regarding Pollution Control

  • Ministry of Environment notified emission limits for major pollutants such as suspended particulate matter, sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury in December 2015.
  • Considering that the cumulative impact of these pollutants on the health and well-being of people is severe, the Centre should have followed up the notification with a viable financial plan to help power plants acquire pollution control technologies.
  • The economics favours such an approach for the larger plants.
  • For the smaller, older units, scaling down generation during the winter months when pollutants accumulate may prove beneficial.
  • Originally, the compliance deadline was set for 2017, but that was missed and the plan now is to achieve the norms by 2022.

Cost of Non-Compliance

  • Greenpeace India, suggest the estimated cost of non-compliance by the original deadline has been about 76,000 premature deaths.
  •  The Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy, put the positive outcomes from achieving pollution control at coal-fired plants by 2025 at potentially 3.2 lakh lives saved from premature death, and 5.2 crore respiratory hospital admissions avoided in the next decade.
  • The latest proposal from the Power Ministry to provide the equivalent of over $12 billion (about ₹88,000 crore), mainly to remove sulphur from coal plant emissions, becomes important.

Planning Financing Pollution Control Measures

  • A viable financial mechanism must be evolved to remove pollutants in existing and upcoming power plants.
  • Stop further long-term investments in a dirty fuel such as coal that contributes to carbon emissions.
  • The burden of incorporating pollution control should fall on the beneficiary-user, which in simple terms would translate into a tariff hike.
  • Achieving speedy implementation of the new processes covering both public and private power producers may require some form of immediate governmental support, such as grants.
  • Because, power producers that have borrowed from several institutions, including state-funded ones, are reported to be under severe financial stress.

Way Forward

  • India’s coal use represents just over 54% of the present energy mix, and the fuel will continue to retain a high share of the overall generation.
  • The challenge, therefore, is to identify the right instruments to fund the entire exercise, in the interests of pollution control and extending electricity access to the unreached.
  • A positive spin-off from sulphur-removal will be, since it can yield commercially significant quantities of synthetic gypsum.
  • The benefits of clean air to public health would make the investment well worth the effort.


Air Pollution

Emission levels rising faster in Indian cities than in China


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Problem of Vehicular Pollution in India


  • Urbanisation is accelerating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles in India at a faster than in China says a study that analysed the link between population density and emissions from transport, across India’s districts.
  • The study is to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters.

Vehicular emissions

  1. The experience in most developed countries was that urbanisation led to a reduction in emissions.
  2. More urbanisation meant shorter distances between the workplace and home and thereby, a preference for public transport.
  3. However this didn’t effectively apply to developing countries.
  4. On an average, an Indian emitted about 20 kg per capita while commuting for work, with the highest (140 kg CO2) in Gurugram district (Haryana) and the lowest (1.8 kg CO2) in Shrawasti district (UP).

Why blame New Delhi?

  1. Delhi had the highest commuting emissions per capita — a factor that also contributed to its high level of pollution — and the national capital region had 2.5 times higher commuting emissions than Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad.
  2. Delhi’s higher socio-economic status and heavy reliance on private travel modes led to higher commuting emissions than in other megacities.
  3. There were several instances of districts with similar population density but varying per capita emissions.

Indian emission exceeds China

  1. In China a 1% increase in urbanisation was linked with a 0.12% increase in CO2 emissions whereas, in India, it translated into 0.24% increase in emissions, said the study.
  2. India’s CO2 emission grew by an estimated 4.6% in 2017 and its per-capita emission was about 1.8 tonnes.
  3. In spite of being the 4th largest emitter, India’s per capita emissions are much lower than the world average of 4.2 tonnes.
  4. But those emissions have been growing steadily, with an average growth rate over the past decade of 6%, according to data from the Global Carbon Project.

Fuel Price hike has no impact

  1. Fuel price hikes aren’t always a solution to curb emissions, the study says.
  2. With a ₹1 increase in diesel price, commuting emissions decreased by 11% in some districts whereas it only fell by about 3% in low-income districts.
  3. In total, India’s transport patterns are very climate friendly, and much better than those of Europe and the United States.
  4. Some districts are mostly relying on three-wheelers for short commuting distances, while others are highly urban, rich, and rely on cars.
  5. The mean commuting distance (among commuters) is 5.9 km, with the lowest 1.3 km in Longleng district (Nagaland) and the highest 14 km in Dharmapuri district (Tamil Nadu).

Air Pollution

Airpocalypse III Report


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Airpocalypse III Report

Mains level: Potential threats of Nitrogen Pollution from various sources


Greenpeace faults Centre’s scheme

  • There are 139 Indian cities that breach air pollution standards but are not included in the Centre’s National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), says a report by Greenpeace.
  • The NCAP was launched by the government earlier this month and is a ₹300 crore initiative to reduce particulate matter (PM) pollution by 20-30% in at least 102 cities by 2024.

Highlights of Airpocalypse III

  1. Airpocalypse III, as the Greenpeace report is titled, analyses air pollution data of 313 cities and towns for the year 2017.
  2. Of these 313 cities, 241 (77%) had PM10 levels beyond the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
  3. While 102 of these cities were included in the NCAP, the remaining 139 cities were left out.
  4. That’s because the government’s list of 102 cities relied on average pollution data until 2015, whereas Airpocalypse III used data updated up to 2017.

Action plan under NCAP

  1. The 102 cities, identified as hotspots of pollution, were asked to submit a plan for how they would address the problem.
  2. Broadly, the plans include increasing the number of monitoring stations, providing technology support, conducting source apportionment studies, and strengthening enforcement.
  3. As part of the NCAP, cities have been given a specified number of days to implement specific measures such as “ensuring roads are pothole-free to improve traffic flow and thereby reduce dust” (within 60 days) or “ensuring strict action against unauthorized brick kilns” (within 30 days).
  4. It doesn’t specify an exact date for when these obligations kick in.

Fault-line in NCAP

  1. Even if the NCAP were to able to reduce pollution by 30% by 2024, 153 cities would still be left with pollution levels exceeding the NAAQS, the report said.
  2. Of the 139 cities that have not been included in the non-attainment list under the NCAP, there are several cities that have a population of more than 1 million, and PM levels (recorded in 2017) above NAAQS.
  3. Since the data for 2017 was available when NCAP was finalised, it would have made more sense to update the non-attainment list to include all such cities in the final NCAP.

Air Pollution

Nitrogen Pollution


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SANH

Mains level: Potential threats of Nitrogen Pollution from various sources


  • 18 research institutions in India are among a group of 50 institutions called the South Asian Nitrogen Hub (SANH) — in the UK and South Asia to assess and study the quantum and impact of “nitrogen pollution” in South Asia.

Nitrogen Pollution

  1. While nitrogen is the dominant gas in the atmosphere, it is inert and doesn’t react.
  2. However, when it is released as part of compounds from agriculture, sewage and biological waste, nitrogen is considered reactive.
  3. It may be polluting and even exert a potent greenhouse gas effect.
  4. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide but isn’t as prevalent in the atmosphere.
  5. Other than air pollution, nitrogen is also linked to the loss of biodiversity, the pollution of rivers and seas, ozone depletion, health, economy, and livelihoods.
  6. Nitrogen pollution is caused, for example, by emissions from chemical fertilisers, livestock manure and burning fossil fuels.
  7. Gases such as ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) contribute to poor air quality and can aggravate respiratory and heart conditions, leading to millions of premature deaths across the world.
  8. Nitrate from chemical fertilisers, manure and industry pollutes the rivers and seas, posing a health risk for humans, fish, coral and plant life.

Nitrogen emission in India

  1. NOx emissions grew at 52% from 1991 to 2001 and 69% from 2001 to 2011 in India.
  2. Agriculture is the largest contributor to nitrogen emissions.
  3. Non-agricultural emissions of nitrogen oxides and nitrous oxide were growing rapidly, with sewage and fossil-fuel burning — for power, transport and industry — leading the trend.

About South Asian Nitrogen Hub (SANH)

  1. The South Asian Nitrogen Hub (SANH) is a major international research programme to tackle the challenge that nitrogen pollution poses in South Asia.
  2. The SANH will be established with funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under its Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).
  3. 18 Indian research institutions are part of a group of 50 which have received £20 million funding from the United Kingdom Government.
  4. The SANH will study the impact of the different forms of pollution to form a coherent picture of the nitrogen cycle.
  5. In particular, it will look at nitrogen in agriculture in eight countries – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives.
  6. Its recommendations will support cleaner and more profitable farming, as well as industrial recycling of nitrogen, fostering development of a cleaner circular economy for nitrogen.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] An inside problem


Mains Paper 3: Environment| Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of ill-effects of household air pollution.

Mains level: The news-card analyses how household air pollution is perhaps the single largest source of air pollution in India, in a brief manner.


  • According to experts, household air pollution is the invisible factor increasing ambient air pollution in India.


  • The problem of air pollution and its ill-effects on people has gained significant traction in the media recently.
  • This is largely driven by the abysmal air quality in Delhi and the dubious honour of Indian cities repeatedly topping global air pollution charts.
  • This has led the conversation to be primarily about ambient air pollution (AAP), particularly in urban areas.
  • In turn, this has turned the spotlight on issues such as emissions from transport, crop burning, road dust, burning of waste and industries large and small.
  • However, this discourse leaves out the single largest source of air pollution — the pollution from our homes.
  • Burning of solid fuels such as firewood and dung-cakes, mainly for cooking, results in emissions of fine particulate matter and form by far the single largest source of air pollution in the country.

Single largest cause of AAP is actually household air pollution (HAP)

  • According to a 2018 international study led by many reputed researchers including five Indians titled “Burden of disease attributable to major air pollution sources in India”, 11 lakh deaths were attributable to AAP in 2015.
  • Of this, as many as 2.6 lakh were due to HAP.
  • A 2015 report of the Steering Committee on Air Pollution and Health Related Issues on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s website, reached a similar conclusion that about 26 per cent of particulate matter AAP was caused due to combustion of solid fuels in households.

HAP is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in the country on its own

  • The MoHFW, 2015 report states that HAP by itself, that is apart from its 26 per cent contribution to AAP, contributed to about 10 lakh deaths in 2010 and is the second biggest health risk factor in India (in comparison, AAP was seventh).
  • A 2017 study spearheaded by the Indian Council of Medical Research titled “India: Health of the Nation’s States” found that the five leading causes of mortality and morbidity in India are, respectively, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, diarrhoeal diseases, lower respiratory infection and stroke.
  • Of which there is strong and quantifiable evidence linking HAP to four with diarrhoeal diseases being the exception.
  • In other words, the overall, total health impacts attributable to HAP are more than half the health impacts attributable to air pollution.
  • Therefore, there is a strong case to be made for tackling HAP on a war footing.
  • This requires households to predominantly use fuels that burn cleanly, because even partial use of solid fuels can have significant health impacts.

Way Forward

  • On the policy and programme front, a scheme such as Ujjwala for providing LPG connections recognises this challenge and represents an important first step to tackle the problem.
  • However, it needs to be strengthened to improve affordability and reliability of supply. Addressing this challenge requires going beyond Ujjwala.
  • In a country as large and diverse as India, LPG need not be the only solution to address this problem and consumers should be given a wider choice of clean-burning options.
  • Demand-side interventions to encourage people to switch to cleaner options, in order to address any behavioural or cultural barriers, and, to track HAP and associated health impacts, are also critical.
  • This requires a coordinated strategy involving multiple government agencies and programmes.
  • It also requires setting well-defined targets for HAP and its associated health impacts, and having systems to monitor and publish them.

Air Pollution

Methanol-blending in petrol reduces carbon dioxide emission: ARAI study


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Read the attached story

Mains level: Controlling vehicular pollution


Govt to support research on methanol blending

  1. Methanol (M-15) blended with petrol and used in the existing BS-IV standard cars reduces carbon dioxide emission, a study conducted by Pune-based group.
  2. M-15 is a mixture of 15% Methanol with Gasoline.
  3. According to the ARAI, the study evaluated emissions in real-world conditions and used 15 per cent M-15 blend in vehicles and tested them for 3,000 km.
  4. The finding has been submitted Transport Ministry to support further research on methanol blending as the government aims to increase fuel blending to 20 per cent by 2030.

Why such move?

  1. India imports ₹7 lakh crore worth of crude oil every year.
  2. Using alternative fuels, we can divert ₹2 lakh crore for farmers to boost agriculture.

Fuel replacement plan and its benefits

  1. Adopting methanol in this scale would bring down pollution in the country by more than 40 per cent.
  2. By adopting methanol, India can have its own indigenous fuel at the cost of approximately ₹19 per litre, at least 30 per cent cheaper than any available fuel.
  3. According to NITI Aayog, at least 20 per cent diesel consumption can be reduced in the next 5-7 years and will result in a savings of ₹26,000 crore annually.
  4. Also, ₹6,000 crore can be saved annually from reduced bill in LPG in the next three years itself.
  5. Methanol blending with petrol will further reduce the fuel bill by at least ₹5,000 crore annually in the next three years.

Air Pollution

National Clean Air Programme: Good idea but weak mandate


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level: NCAP

Mains Level: NCAP and its mandate and effectiveness


  • After a long and impatient wait, MoEFCC has announced the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).
  • This is the first ever effort in the country to frame a national framework for air quality management with a time-bound reduction target.

National Clean Air Programme

  1. NCAP proposes a framework to achieve a national-level target of 20-30 per cent reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 concentration by between 2017 and 2024.
  2. It will be a mid-term, five-year action plan with 2019 as the first year.
  3. The approach for NCAP includes collaborative, multi-scale and cross-sectoral coordination between the relevant central ministries, state governments and local bodies.

Prospects of the NCAP

Need stronger mandate

  1. NCAP will not be notified under the Environment Protection Act or any other Act to create a firm mandate with a strong legal back up implementation NCAP in a time bound manner for effective reduction.
  2. NCAP only mentions that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) will execute this nation-wide programme in consonance with the section 162 (b) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1986.
  3. The MoEFCC has not drawn upon the precedence of the notification of Graded Response Action Plan or the Comprehensive Action Plan under the Environment Protection Act in Delhi and NCR.

Advisory in Terms

  1. If NCAP remains an advisory, why will anything change?
  2. The past experience shows that MoEFCC and the CPCB have asked non-compliant cities to prepare action plans from time to time.
  3. Legal back up for a plan also becomes important not only to establish more enforceable mandate but also to ensure inter-ministerial coordination for multi-sectoral interventions and convergence.

Need litmus test for effectiveness

  1. NCAP has certainly helped kick start the much-awaited good practice of setting air pollution reduction targets.
  2. The biggest advantage of such targets is that it helps decide the level of stringency of local and regional action needed for the plans to be effective enough to meet the reduction targets.
  3. It is interesting that NCAP has cited how Beijing has succeeded in reducing PM2.5 by 33.3 per cent in five years.
  4. NCAP must sensitize cities about the scale, depth and strictness of action with detailed pathways for clean energy and mobility transition, waste and dust management and control of combustion sources to meet this target in Beijing and other Chinese cities.
  5. This can be done with strong multi-tiered accountability system, under which various levels of government could be held legally accountable for shirking responsibilities.

Joining all dots

  1. It is encouraging to see that the NCAP this time has listed comparatively more comprehensive action points than the very minimalistic and very generic 42 action points of CPCB that were put out earlier.
  2. This time, NCAP will have to be sure about strategies for implementation with detailed indicators to enhance the potential impacts.
  3. For instance, in case of vehicular pollution, the main body of the plan has ignored mobility, transportation and urban planning strategies.
  4. Though fortunately, broadsheet of action at the end has listed public transport, transit-oriented development policies, and non-motorized transport.
  5. But these will have to be detailed out with clear pathways and milestones and integrated well with the NCAP strategies.
  6. NCAP will also have to be more nuanced and adopt appropriate approaches for small and big cities according to their dominant pollution profile while several strategies may remain uniform.

Need fiscal strategy

  1. The most baffling part of NCAP is the absence of a robust fiscal and funding strategy.
  2. Only a pittance of Rs 300 crore is being earmarked for NCAP.
  3. Clearly, NCAP cannot be sustainable nor can it gain strength or make a difference on a longer-term basis if it does not have a clear fiscal strategy.
  4. It is also not clear if the proposed allocation is a one-time exercise or a continuous support.
  5. NCAP will require long-term commitment and support.

Need for Polluter Pay

  1. It is very surprising that NCAP has not provided for innovative financing mechanism at central and state/city level.
  2. It has not taken on board the ‘polluter pay’ based taxation mechanism to mobilise resources for dedicated funding of pollution control action and also to discourage polluting products, processes and activities.
  3. It should have taken precedence from emerging practices in the country ex. pollution cess in Delhi on truck entry, big diesel cars, and diesel fuel sales and the coal cess—to generate dedicated funds to finance clean air action plan.
  4. Such funds should be managed through unified window for the purpose of admissible pollution control activities identified in the action plan.

Health  is on-board with NCAP

  1. Even though NCAP continues to express skepticism about the existing health impact studies and evidences, it is encouraging to see that it has finally proposed support for health impact studies.
  2. NCAP has now taken on board the National Health Environmental Profile of 20 cities that the MoEF&CC initiated along with ICMR with special focus on air pollution and health.
  3. It has asked the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to maintain health database and integrate that with decision making.
  4. It has recommended support for studies on health and economic impact of air pollution.
  5. But NCAP must also make provisions to integrate health database, health impact, cost benefit studies and indicators for policy making.

Way Forward

  1. Air pollution is the top killer today. Under-5 children, the ailing, elderly and the poor are most vulnerable.
  2. Air pollution control cannot remain only policy intent. Local and national action requires teeth and grit to make a difference and save lives.
  3. NCAP should not become only a top-down prescriptive approach.
  4. In fact, within the federal structure, NCAP, while ensuring compliance, will also have to create enough room for tighter action that can be even stronger.
  5. State governments and city authorities should be encouraged and enabled to take those extra steps to meet local targets.

On the morning of 29 November, Beijing woke up to air pollution levels not seen in over a year. The city’s government immediately issued an alert and ordered factories to stop or reduce production.


The same morning, Delhi woke up to pollution levels much higher than Beijing’s.

And it hosted the Delhi half marathon.

In the name of health awareness, the runners breathed air laced with pollutants exponentially beyond safe levels. And they inhaled 10-20 times as much air as a sedentary person does.

In sharp contrast, the embassies of Norway and the United States have taken urgent steps to safeguard their personnel. While Norwegian officials are set to get “hardship pay” for working in New Delhi, the US embassy’s school has cancelled outdoor activities for its students.

The stark difference in attitudes, perhaps, is because most Delhiites know little about how exactly the city’s air is killing them. Slowly. Daily.

The government has largely failed to make people aware of how the pollution affects them, what the main pollutants are, what precautions they should take, the types of masks they should wear, and suchlike.

It only dumps air pollution data on a rather glib website, on a page full of numbers and technical terms befitting a chemistry textbook.

There is no air warning system in Delhi that could alert citizens, shut down schools and prohibit outdoor activity when pollution reaches hazardous levels.

Most of all, though, the residents should know what exactly makes Delhi’s air so toxic. Even if you know what it is – the toxin is called PM 2.5 – there is no easy way to know how harmful it is.

So, here’s a primer.

Why are we talking about PM2.5?

Delhi’s air is not polluted as much with poisonous gases as it’s with really tiny particles known as PM2.5. And its levels are consistently 16-20 times higher than the prescribed standard. At the time of the half marathon, it was 48 times the limit.

Greenpeace recently found that even inside Delhi’s classrooms, PM2.5 levels were 11 times the limit.

What is PM2.5?

PM stands for particulate matter, while the number refers to the size of the particles. So, PM2.5 is like extremely fine dust whose particles are just 2.5 microns wide — that’s thirty times smaller than the width of a human hair.
The tiny size makes it harder to prevent PM2.5 from getting into the body, making it deadlier.

What exactly is PM2.5 made up of?

There is no easy answer to this since the toxin is identified more by its size than what it contains. It could be a variety of solid or liquid chemicals.

According to the United States’ Environment Protection Agency, a PM2.5 particle, depending on where it’s emitted from, could contain compounds of any of these four materials:

Carbon – from cars, trucks, waste burning
Nitrate – from cars, trucks, thermal power generation
Sulphate – from thermal power generation
Crustal – suspended soil and metals
While individual particles obviously can’t be seen without special equipment, large amounts are visible as haze or smog.

Why is PM2.5 bad?

  1. Being tiny, these particles easily reach the lungs. From there, they can travel through the bloodstream and reach the heart.
  2. Long exposure to PM2.5 can worsen asthma and heart conditions. They also cause runny nose, sneezing and coughing.
  3. 5 coming from diesel vehicles contains carbon and is a carcinogenic.
  4. It can also cause other heart and lung diseases, or make them worse.
  5. It slow down development of lungs in children and can leave them with reduced lung function for the rest of their lives, according to the WHO.
  6. Illnesses caused by PM2.5 kill at least 3.1 million people a year across the world.
  7. The WHO estimates that exposure to PM2.5 reduces a person’s life expectancy by an average of 8.6 months.

How much of PM2.5 is safe?

The WHO says there is no safe level, PM2.5 is harmful in any amount. Still, there are standards on how much PM2.5 is too much.
As per the WHO’s own standards, the average PM2.5 levels should not exceed 10 mg per cubic metre in one year.
In one day, it should be under 25. Indian safety limits, however, are more relaxed – at 60.
WHO says PM2.5 level mustn’t exceed 25 mg/cubic metre. Yet, India has relaxed the limit to 60

What’s the best protection from PM2.5?

  1. Protecting yourself from PM2.5 doesn’t require gas masks, but cotton masks that can block very fine particles.
  2. It is recommended to use an N-95 mask, the same one used to protect against the H1N1 virus.
  3. Unfortunately, planting more trees does nothing to solve the problem.
  4. Since PM2.5 are particles and not gases, they can’t be processed by the leaves.
  5. In fact, a high tree density can make the exposure worse because the extra moisture in the air would trap the particles instead of letting them fly away with the wind.
  6. The only way to cut down PM2.5 levels is to stop it at the source – cars, factories, waste burning, thermal power plants. Until then, strap on the N-95s.

Only way to reduce PM2.5 is to stop it at source – cars, factories, waste burning, thermal plants


Source - CatchNews | Pic - Vox-cdn

Everything that you want to know on Delhi’s Odd-Even Policy

Delhi Government releases blueprint for Odd-Even formula December 25, 2015. In an attempt to curb alarming levels of pollution in the Indian capital, Delhi, authorities have announced that private cars with even and odd number plates will be allowed only on alternate days. Let’s see it in brief!


How will odd-even policy work out?

  • The Odd-Even formula plan seeks to curb the number of vehicles plying in the national capital by limiting 4-wheelers on alternate days.
  • Under it cars with licence plates ending in an odd number will ply on odd dates and those ending with an even number can run on even dates.
  • This will be on a trial basis from 1 to 15 January, 2015.
  • During this implementation, public transport including buses and the Metro will be run at high frequency.
  • The government plans to run 6,000 more buses to accommodate those who can’t drive their cars.

Then, Who is exempted?

  • The list of 20-plus exemptions from the restrictions include emergency vehicles, fire engines, ambulances, hospitals, hearses, prisons, VIPs, enforcement vehicles and defence ministry vehicles.
  • Among VIPs, leaders of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Chief Ministers of states, Judges of the Supreme Court and high court and Lokayukta are exempt. <CM of Delhi is not exempted>
  • CNG and electric vehicles are also exempt.
  • Two-wheelers and vehicles driven by or occupied by handicapped persons and female drivers are also exempt.

So, Will it really help clean the Delhi air?

  • The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), has welcomed the “emergency action to reduce vehicle numbers on the road” but questioned the absurdity of exempting 2-wheelers, which account for more than 30% of air pollutants generated by the transport sector in Delhi, and women drivers.
  • According to the scientists of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), 80 per cent of PM 2.5 air pollution is caused by vehicular traffic and reduction in its levels, even in outer areas of Delhi shows that reduction of four wheeled vehicles on roads.
  • The latest set of ambient air data collected at 18 locations across Delhi through mobile dust samplers shows a consistent trend of declining levels of PM 2.5 air pollution levels.
  • If we take 250-300 as an average, then there is a drop of 100 points in PM 2.5 levels. This means there is a drop in pollution by about 25 percent. [ Isn’t it great! ]


But, Where did the odd-even idea come from?

Car rationing has been tried in many countries around the world.

  • Rationalisation of the movement of private vehicles has been adopted in many countries, starting with Sweden (Stockholm) and extending to other European countries.
  • China (Beijing), Mexico and Colombia (Bogota) have also implemented such measures.

Let’s glance over some international experiments?


  • The city initiated the alternate day car driving restrictions just ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games and saw pollution levels drop by almost 20%.
  • Currently, Beijing imposes this rule periodically, on days with high air pollution.
  • The city has also restricted its car sales since 2011 to 20,000 car plates every month.
  • However, they have made tremendous efforts to increase public transport such as bus connectivity and metro services. [ Lesson for Delhi ]

Paris, France

  • The city has been imposing the odd-even number plate rule during periods of high air pollution. On such days, public transport is free.
  • The rule was last implemented in March 2015 when a smog alert was issued.


  • The “Hoy No Circula” was introduced in Mexico around 1989 to combat air pollution.
  • It called for citywide bans, one day per week, based on last digit of the number plates.
  • For example, plates ending in 5 and 6 were not allowed to drive on Mondays while 7 and 8 were not allowed to drive on Tuesdays and so on.
  • This measure was highly successful in bringing carbon monoxide (CO) levels down by almost 11%.
  • However, in the long run, people eventually started buying more cars, rendering the ban inefficient. Therefore, it actually ended in a rise in CO levels in the long run by almost 13%.

Oh! Are these measures short-term?

  • Yes, these examples show that the system has better potential as a short-term measure.
  • It show that temporary restrictions on vehicles may not reduce air pollution in the long term.
  • Drivers inevitably buy more cheap and inefficient cars with different number plates to get around the rules.
  • Hence, such an initiative must be complemented by other measures to ensure that we have a stable system in the long run.

So, Are there any long-term measures available?

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has suggested some long-term measures –

  • There is a need to impose restrictions on diesel vehicles to promote electric and alternative fuel vehicles.
  • The electric vehicles should be exempted from any such alternate number plate restriction.
  • The number plate measure needs to be combined with high parking charges and intensified public transport strategy. <This should be the strategy for the entire period of poor air quality as well as a long-term measure>

International Example

  • Paris has set an example by deciding to phase out diesel cars completely by 2020.
  • London is also planning to ban diesel cars despite having a fuel quality as high as Euro 6.
  • China has already banned diesel cars on roads.India, on the other hand, is still juggling between BS-III and BS-IV norms<With accepted ground reality, we can not directly implement BS-V/BS-VI in one go>

What Delhi can do more?

Immediately link and scale up metro, bus, autos, taxis-walk and cycle –

  • This is needed immediately to connect doorsteps of people with their destinations for effortless movement without the car.
  • Connect each and every neighbourhood with efficient and reliable public transport service.

Provide safe and barrier free walking and cycling infrastructure –

  • Redesign roads and road network to give safe and priority infrastructure to walkers, cyclists and public transport users.

Adopt parking policy and taxation measures to restrain car usage –

  • Currently, parking charges in Delhi are one of the lowest in the world.
  • Limit legal parking areas across the city and demarcate them on the ground. Impose high penalty for illegal parking on public space.
  • Impose higher taxes on cars for their congestion and pollution impacts. Use the revenue to build public transport.<Congestion tax can be a good case in this regard>

How will it affect automobile industry sector?

  • Delhi’s odd-even decision will upset powerful automobile lobbies.
  • The stakes for the car industry are too high in the capital, which is India’s biggest car market.
  • The city has the largest population of registered motorised vehicles in the country, about 89 lakh as on March 31, 2015.
  • Of them, 26 lakh are cars, 28 lakh motorcycles and 27 lakh scooters.
  • In comparison, the number of commercial vehicles like taxis, buses and three-wheelers is about 3.5 lakh.
  • The national capital region (NCR) accounts for 12% of car sales in India and is the biggest car market in the country.
  • The temporary ban, according to reported estimates, will prevent 12,000 new diesel cars from coming on the Delhi roads.

So, the Odd-Even vehicle formula restriction is a good initiative, it is only a start. To control congestion, reduce pollution and improve liveability, there must be a comprehensive strategy in Delhi.

At national level, how odd-even policy will affect Make in India programme? Critically analyse.


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