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Giving the Urban Indian a Better Life


The central theme of World Cities Day for this year, observed on October 31, was “Financing Sustainable Urban Future for All.” The focus is on ensuring that financial resources are directed towards addressing the flawed urbanization that is currently shortening urban futures, thereby making cities more livable and safe. It is deeply concerning that air pollution is responsible for reducing life expectancy by over 10%.


  • GS1- Urbanization
  • GS3- Pollution

Mains Question:

Data show that India is home to some of the most polluted cities in the world, highlighting the need for a citizen ­involved strategy of city building. Comment. (10 marks, 150 words).

Pollution in Indian cities:

  • A report from The Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC) has revealed that out of the 50 most polluted cities globally, 39 are located in India.
  • Pollution has a direct impact on public health, with the average Indian losing 5.3 years of life expectancy due to it, while residents of Delhi face a staggering 11.9-year reduction.
  • Pollution not only causes health issues such as burning eyes, respiratory problems, and cardiovascular diseases but also leads to unsatisfactory Air Quality Index levels in cities like Mumbai, earning it the moniker “Death by Breath.”
  • Poor air quality is no longer confined to the Indo-Gangetic plains, and coastal cities in India are also facing a deteriorating situation.

Causes of Pollution in Indian Cities:

  • The root cause of this acute problem in Indian cities lies in the overall development approach, which prioritizes real estate development, road expansion, and the proliferation of large fuel-consuming vehicles.
  • This has led to the squeezing of pedestrian spaces and the unchecked growth of polluting factors like road dust, concrete batching, industrial units, and vehicular emissions.
  • Motorized transport alone accounts for 60% of urban pollution.
  • While “grey” infrastructure has expanded rapidly, green spaces like urban forests, water bodies, and urban agriculture have shrunk, emphasizing the need for a shift in priorities.
  • The burning of paddy straw during North India’s winter months exacerbates the issue, but this is only a small and seasonal aspect.
  • The growing automobile market in India, expected to reach $160 billion by 2027, underscores the necessity for a new approach to urban development.

Way Forward:

  1. Controlling the usage of private vehicles: Efforts to control private vehicle usage, such as imposing congestion taxes during peak hours and implementing odd-even number plate regulations, should be considered.  Public transport must become accessible and affordable for the majority of the population in the informal sector. Encouraging the use of public transport, securing pedestrian paths and bicycle lanes, and regulating construction activities are crucial steps.
  2. Community-based efforts: Residents should actively participate in street supervision instead of relying solely on statutory bodies. Urban commons, such as ponds, water bodies, and parks, should be safeguarded and nurtured by the local community. In addition to cosmetic solutions like smog towers and road watering, empowering the public through improved city governance is crucial.
  3. Planning and Strategy Building: Our current urban development strategy needs a fundamental change. Rather than focusing on massive land use changes and handing over open spaces to real estate developers, cities should prioritize their ecology.
  4. Miscellaneous:
  • Additionally, a mechanism like Delhi’s Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) should be adopted in other cities to address air pollution.
  • Industrial pollution must be completely eliminated, and real-time monitoring should become standard.
  • Afforestation within the city, not 50 kilometers away, is essential to combat pollution.
  • Standard operating procedures and pollution guidelines should be readily available to the public and integrated into daily city life.
  • The medical community should also support public health advisories to address the issue of air pollution.


Ultimately, we cannot afford to let air pollution continue to shorten our lives. The poor and marginalized, who contribute the least to pollution, are the most vulnerable and should be a central focus in efforts to improve their quality of life.

December 2023