Social Policy & Administration

Pollution as the enemy, not polluter: A different approach to improve Delhi-NCR air quality

Pollution as the enemy, not polluter: A different approach to improve Delhi-NCR air quality

The air quality debate is often framed as a tussle between the producers and consumers of pollution, with the state often being asked to step in to defend the rights of the consumers by penalizing the producers.


Vatsalya Srivastava, Assistant Professor, Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana; Fellow, Center for the Digital Future, India Development Foundation.


The US Ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, recently remarked that the pollution level in Delhi and surrounding areas reminded him of Los Angeles of the time when he was growing up. While not a novel insight, it does highlight how we can draw on the experience of other great cities. Many cities have dealt with the problem and, therefore, there is no need for us to reinvent the wheel when it comes to standard pollution metric-based policy interventions.

But as should be clear to anyone familiar with the conversation around air quality in NCR, we do need to identify novel methods that can improve compliance with the policy prescriptions given the specific socio-economic conditions of Delhi. Two of the most often talked about sources that require urgent redress are crop residue burning in the neighboring states and the excessive reliance on private vehicles and cars in the region. To the first, my limited assertion is that the issue is linked to the underlying incentive structure in Indian agriculture and we need to keep looking for issues within the urban environment that can be addressed. To the second, I would contend that while some progress will be made as older vehicles get replaced by newer ones, the topography and climate of the place will always mean we have a large number of vehicles. Neither of these implies that we must not work towards improvements in these areas, but that new fronts must be opened to make further improvements.

Published in: DNA

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