Environmental pollution timeline of India

The economic growth of a region results in an improved standard of living.  It leads to industrial and infrastructure development which in turn create job opportunities. However, these improvements come at the cost of a decline in the sustainability of the region when the adverse effects of economic expansion go unchecked for a long period. Pollution that arises due to rapid industrialization in an economy is one of the major reasons for the dilapidation of the environment. With industrialization, the achievement of a pollution-free environment is not possible. Nevertheless, imperatives to ensure the least pollution can minimize its ill-effects to the surroundings.

Industrialization in India and increasing pollution

With the implementation of new industrial policies in 1991, the manufacturing and other allied industrialized segments made tremendous progress in India. The GDP growth rate for the country between the period 1992 – 2001 was as high as 6.5% and India attained its status as one of the ten fastest growing economies in the world. However, it has also led to a massive degradation of the natural environment. A report published by Muthukumara et al. (2013) estimated the annual cost of environmental degradation in the country to be approximately $80 billion (INR 3.75 trillion). Pollution is an acute problem and the national action plans across the world are increasingly being focused on controlling the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). These include frameworks established by international institutes such as:

  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – Kyoto protocol,
  • Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate and
  • National Action Plan on Climate Change in India.

GHG is an important measure in the environmental timeline. GHG emission has been accepted as the most significant driver of climate change. GHG emissions increase as a result of increased human interference with environmental sustainability and have the most global warming potential than other gases (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017).

GHG timeline in India

The major GHG added to the environment as a result of increased industrial activities include carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrogen oxide (NOx), nitrous monoxide (N2O) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) (Bhattacharya, 2008). In a report published by Cliamte Watch, (2018) India ranked among the top five contributors to GHG in the world. The report also provides an illustrative graph on the increased emission of GHG since 1991. The figure below displays the increasing rate of GHG emissions in India since 1990.

Figure 3: Increase in GHGs measured in kt. of CO2 equivalent emission levels in India since 1990 (Source: Climate Watch, 2018).
Figure 1: Increase in GHG measured in kt. of CO2 equivalent emission levels in India since 1990 (Source: Climate Watch, 2018).

Additionally, the timeline data for the addition of Nitrous oxide also follows a similar pattern of being on rising since 1991. The dip between the trend since 1998 was a result of the use of the installation of emissions control technology. The figure below shows the same.


The addition of GHG in the atmosphere leads to an increase in global temperature at an increased rate and rate of cooling off of the earth decreases.  There are also incidents of climatic catastrophes such as tropical cyclone, river flooding, and drought (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). The main contributing factors of environmental pollution over the years are discussed next.

Increased human interference since industrialization

There is also a trade-off between economic growth and deforestation. Post liberalisation, India has lost much of its natural forests. Over the last three decades, more than 14,000 sq km of land has been cleared of forests in the country.

Also, with the rise in population, India witnessed an increased urban movement of people. Jamir, Nongkynrih and Gupta, (2014) highlighted an increase in the urban population in the country by 31.8% in the last decade (2001-2011). The study mentioned that the increase has led to increasing in noise pollution as ambient noise in the silence zones reached up to 90dB, whereas the maximum prescribed limit is 50dB. The increased noise pollution led to distractions, hypertension and noise-induced hearing loss. The unchecked industrialization has contributed to a range of problems including groundwater pollution to depletion of marine ecology as well.

Policy measures to control pollution

In recent years a few measures have been undertaken by the government to combat rising pollution:

  • India through Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) has set targets for decreasing the emissions to 33% – 35% of 2005 levels by 2030. Further, the NDC plans to enhance the share of non-fossil fuel based power generation capacity in the country by 40%. This will make it equivalent to 26 – 30% of the total capacity.
  • A carbon sink of 2.5–3 GtCO2e has also been planned through additional forest cover.
  • The government has taken measures such as Draft National Energy Policy projects that aim towards increasing renewable energy generation by more than 60% by 2040.
  • India has pledged to decrease GHG emissions by 20 – 25% below 2005 levels through the Copenhagen pledge by 2020.
  • The Draft Electricity Plan confirms no new addition of coal power electric plants after 2022.

All these measures aim to decrease the existing pollution levels in the country and make the nation capable of achieving its 2 degree Celsius target as per Paris agreement of 2015 (United Nations, 2018).


  • Climate Watch (2018) Climate Watch: Data for Climate Action – GHG emissions, United Nations Climate Change – World Bank Group. Available at: https://www.climatewatchdata.org/ghg-emissions?breakBy=location&filter=IND&source=31&version=1 (Accessed: 21 April 2018).
  • Environmental Protection Agency (2017) ‘Climate Change Indicators: Greenhouse Gases’, United States Environmental Protection Agency. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/greenhouse-gases (Accessed: 23 April 2018).
  • Hasan, S. and Foliente, G. (2015) ‘Modeling infrastructure system interdependencies and socioeconomic impacts of failure in extreme events: emerging R&D challenges’, Natural Hazards, 78(3), pp. 2143–2168. doi: 10.1007/s11069-015-1814-7.
  • Jamir, L., Nongkynrih, B. and Gupta, S. K. (2014) ‘Community noise pollution in urban India: need for public health action.’, Indian journal of community medicine : official publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine. Wolters Kluwer — Medknow Publications, 39(1), pp. 8–12. doi: 10.4103/0970-0218.126342.