Measured in terms of life expectancy, particulate pollution is the greatest threat to human health in India, taking 5.3 years off the life of the average Indian, according to a study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.
All of India’s 1.3 billion people live in areas where the annual average particulate pollution level exceeds the WHO guideline; 67.4% of the population live in areas that exceed the country’s own national air quality standard of 40 µg/m3.
It stated that in the most polluted region of the country—the Northern Plains—521.2 million residents or 38.9% of India’s population are on track to lose 8 years of life expectancy on average relative to the WHO guideline and 4.5 years relative to the national standard if current pollution levels persist.
In 2019, India declared a “war against pollution” and launched its National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), signalling its desire to reduce particulate pollution. NCAP originally aimed to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30% nationally relative to 2017 levels by 2024 and focused on 102 cities that were not meeting India’s national annual average PM2.5 standard, termed “non-attainment cities.”
In 2022, the Indian Government announced its revamped particulate pollution reduction target for NCAP, setting no national goal but increasing its ambition at the city level. The new goal aims for a 40% reduction relative to 2017 levels for an expanded number of 131 non-attainment cities by 2025-26.3 If the ambition of the revised target is met, these cities’ overall annual average PM2.5 exposure would be 21.9 µg/m3 lower than 2017 levels.
This would add 2.1 years to the life of the average Indian living in these specific 131 cities and 7.9 months to the life of the average Indian country-wide.