Impact of industrialisation on health in India’s urban areas

By Priya Chetty on January 18, 2016

In comparison with urbanisation and industrialisation process at the global level, India is moving on a uniform pattern to become an urbanized country. The share of urban population in the country is growing by 6% per decade (Butsch, Sakdapolrak, and Saravanan 2012). It means that India will become up to the greater extent fully urbanized between 2040 and 2045. In the recent scenario, approximately 15% of the urban population of India is residing in one of the four largest metropolitan cities namely, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai which will grow to 42% by 2020 (Tripathi 2013). This growing pace of urbanization is posing health related problems for the urban population due to poor environmental hygiene. It is the result of the growing pace of industrialization that poses risks to the urban population in every dimension.

Current urbanization is the consequence of India’s New Economic Policy (NEP) which was inaugurated in the 1990s’ (Kanchana et al, 2014). A higher pace of industrial growth is one of the foremost objectives of this policy. Small Scale Industries such as leather industry which can be started by investing very little financial resources and in a relatively smaller place like home is contributing significantly to industrial waste. Industries like paper mills, cotton mills, and leather mills are highly clustered in semi-urban areas like Kanpur, Surat and are known as the largest generator of solid waste. This kind of small-scale industrialisation in these urbanized areas is relentlessly demanding huge quantity of water, proper sanitation arrangement.

Nature and extent of industrialisation in urban areas

India is experiencing high urbanisation and industrialisation in recent years for boosting its high industrial growth. Due to the demand of modernized infrastructure necessary for high export, urban regions in India are witnessing huge structural transformations for providing world class facilities to foreign investors. Five Year plans such as the Tenth Five Year (2002-07) pays high attention to these concerns, have laid special emphasis on urban cities reforms and healthy public-private partnership for meeting the investment needs of high industrialization in these areas (Kundu, 2011). These kinds of reforms and policy measures are resulting in Special Economic Zones (SEZs), National Investment Economic Zones (NIMZs) and a new type of towns established around urban areas which are focused on special industrial and economic activities (Tripathi, 2013). Small-scale industries, due to small investments and providing high employment opportunities have become the main vehicle for economic development in urban areas. At present, these industries are contributing 35% of the total exports, 40% of the industrial production and employ 17 million people in 3.2 million industrial units (Sami and Anand, 2015). Therefore, in urban areas, these industries have become the tool of high economic growth. Among these industries are:

  • Garments industry,
  • Leather industry,
  • Food processing industry,
  • Textile dying industry.

Waste produced by these industries

The major solid wastes generated by the steel industries steel making slag is fly ash (Kanchana et al, 2014). The leather industry which is considered as one of the most polluting industries poses major risks to the environment. Leather making activity produces highly toxic materials that are detrimental to the health of the urban population. Many chemicals are used in leather processing that is characterized by high proportions of dissolved suspended inorganic waste which requires high oxygen and use of chromium metal ion which are supposed to be highly dangerous to human health. Sugar industry runs only for four to eight months just after the harvest of sugarcane but during the production of sugar huge quantity of solid wastes like bagasse, molasses, and waste fibre are generated (Sami and Anand 2015). These solid wastes, if not discharged or managed carefully, pollute the environment severely.

Effect on people’s health

Waste produced by industrial units can be classified into the following categories:

  1. Corrosive
  2. Ignitability
  3. Reactive
  4. Toxicity (Alam, 2013).

Corrosive wastes are the ones that comprise of acids or bases that erode containers or tanks. Ignitable waste can be defined as the solid waste which can cause a fire at a certain temperature. Reactive wastes are the wastes that are explosive by nature and toxic wastes are the ones which are proved to be harmful when they are absorbed by any living being. More often wastes are discharged by industrial units without taking required measures in rivers, land, ponds. It affects the population most which live in those areas where there is no appropriate method of its disposal. The population which is living in those areas closed to the places where solid wastes are dumped face high problems due to the contaminated water supply that involves the leakages from landfill sites (HPEC 2011). Carelessly thrown solid wastes become the causes of high infections and communicable diseases since there are many ways through which industrial waste come in contact with a living organism such as plants, birds, livestock and vegetables (WEF 2015).

Health scares like chemical poisoning, congenital malformations, neurological diseases, mercury toxicity are some examples of the impact of industrial waste in urban areas. Metals which are the byproduct of dyeing and printing industries are the major source of environmental degradation in general and they are particularly detrimental to the aquatic environment. Some metals like aluminium and zinc are highly toxic at very low temperature (Kundu 2011). High concentrations of aluminium in the aquatic system can cause problems in the functioning of human brains such as memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. Inorganic matters like fluoride can cause dental and skeletal fluorosis and bending of spinal cords (Kundu 2011). Therefore, the effective management of industrial management is the need of the hour for the betterment of the urban population. Though efforts are being made by the urban local bodies there is a long way ahead which is yet to be achieved.

Gradually the situation is getting worse in India’s metropolitan cities. For instance, in the case of Delhi – NCR region, due to lack of proper municipal waste and its improper dumping by using poor landfill methods the groundwater and surface water has become contaminated in many places that result in spreading of diseases like diarrhoea and gastrointestinal illness (Choudhary 2013). In the case of Mumbai, the growing quantity of solid waste is becoming the high cause of concern for its population. People who live and work in the vicinity of solid waste processing and disposal sites have become victims of respiratory illness, parasitic diseases, dysentery by ingesting bio-aerosols particulates and volatile organics (Sharholy et al, 2008). Furthermore, high industrial production in Kolkata is degrading the quality of air with air contaminants like toluene and benzene. These air pollutants affect the health of the population by infecting their lungs which in turn results in diseases like asthma and pulmonary cancer.

The consequence of the failure of governmental efforts in the effective management of industrial waste

Urban areas in India produce greater than 1,00,000MT of solid waste every day (UMC 2015). Industrial centres like Mumbai and Kolkata are producing 7000 MT per day (UMC 2015). The situation is going to become worse in the further course of time. National and state governments are constantly trying to improve the management strategies of solid waste under various programs and schemes meant for urban areas development. Under these efforts, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) has occupied a pivotal place. Grants and other infrastructural assistance have already been provided to 49 Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) projects in various cities between 2006 and 2009. But despite these desperate efforts made by the governments at all levels, the situation has not improved. Furthermore, improper management of industrial waste is resulting in premature deaths. At present, India is recognized as the second most populous country in the world and constitutes the home of 17.66% of the world’s population according to the Census of 2011 (Mane, 2012). The pace of population is growing relentlessly which is causing bigger and denser urban cities in India. If required attention in terms of concentrated and effective efforts is not paid over the proper management of solid waste in urban areas then the population living in the urban areas will be the victim of large health-related epidemics.


Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).