To help improve India’s air quality, researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard Kennedy School have laid out five key evidence-based policy recommendations in a new report titled “A Roadmap Towards Cleaning India’s Air.”
More than 660 million Indians live in areas that exceed the Indian National Ambient Air Quality
Standard (NAAQS) for fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution. Our research suggests that if India were
to meet its own standards, life expectancy would increase by more than one year on average.
Moreover, if India were to meet the WHO’s air quality standard, its people would live about
four years longer on average. The economic costs of pollution, through its impact on health
care expenditures and workforce productivity, will be significant. Ascribing a monetary value
to all of the damages created by pollution is difficult, but an estimate from the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that ambient air pollution alone
may cost India more than 0.5 trillion dollars per year (OECD 2014).
This policy brief summarizes our research publication, The Solvable Challenge of Air Pollution
in India, published in the 2017-18 volume of the India Policy Forum. In this paper, we examine
environmental regulations with the goal of identifying characteristics of policy instruments that
have made success more likely, and lay out a roadmap for regulatory reforms.
We first highlight four key facts that requires attention of the regulatory authorities: the
enormous health benefits by improving air pollution levels; high non-compliance to industrial
norms; the limited effectiveness of traditional regulatory measures that rely on equipment
mandates; and bans on polluting activities.
We then provide five key policy recommendations. These include increasing the quality of
information about polluters’ emissions that is provided to both regulators and the public, as
well as introducing market-based instruments to deliver the largest impact. High levels of air
pollution were once commonplace in developed nations such as the U.S., England, and Japan.
These countries were able to address this problem by tightening regulations and introducing
new policies. Today, India faces a similar opportunity to utilize a variety of tools to improve