Air Quality Index of India - A Solution with Too Many Problems – Nirvana Being
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Air Quality Index of India - A Solution with Too Many Problems

by Nirvana Being on April 27, 2022

India is counted among the topmost polluted countries in the world. Ranking in third place after Bangladesh, and Pakistan, India’s air quality has been a concern for health experts for the many health hazards it poses. 

On April 6 ,2015, the Indian government took its first concrete steps toward recognizing poor air quality in its leading cities and urban hubs. On this day, the government of India launched India’s air quality index, known as the National Air Quality Index, commonly abbreviated to NAQI. Read further to understand how NAQI works, and what is lacking its implementation across the country. 


How NAQI Works 

The air quality index of India or NAQI was launched with the aim of: 


  • Allowing Indian citizens to judge the air quality in their vicinity based on a ‘Single Number – Single Colour – Single Description’ based indexing system to measure the quality of air 
  • Its intended purpose is to measure air quality in urban centers across India, prioritizing real-time air quality analysis to spread public awareness for taking preventive action against exposure to polluted air 
  • To measure air quality in intended urban settings based on the presence of 8 pollutants in the air, namely Particulate Matter 10, Particulate Matter 2.5, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Ozone, Lead, Ammonia, and Sulphur Dioxide. 

The NAQI uses numerical values to make air quality data comprehensive to the general public. NAQI assigns 6 different categories for varying pollution levels, namely - Satisfactory, Good, Moderate, Very Poor, and Severe. Each category is colour-coded to indicate varying pollution levels, with green being ‘Good’ and red being ‘Severe’. While India’s air quality index is easily comprehensible to the general public, let’s take a look at the problems that have arisen out of this solution for measuring air quality in the country. 


Failing to Meet World Health Organization Guidelines 

In September of 2021, the World Health Organization updated its air quality guidelines. These stringent guidelines indicated that recommended levels of pollutants in the air, which were considered safe for breathing earlier, are now hazardous at even lower levels. Furthermore, the recommended levels for the six most common pollutants in the air, namely; PM2.5, Ozone, Carbon Monoxide, and Nitrogen Dioxide, were lowered as per WHO guidelines. 

India’s standards for national air quality are very lax when compared to World Health Organization guidelines. Let’s take for example India’s recommended PM2.5 concentrations which stands at 60 micrograms per cubic meter over 60 hours. In comparison, WHO’s 2005 guidelines for recommended PM2.5 concentrations was 25 micrograms per cubic meter over 24 hours, which was further downwards revised to 15 micrograms in 2021. Problems with the air quality index of India are not only limited for its failure to reflect WHO guidelines but also:


  • Air Quality Index glitches across various data centers in the country 
  • Limited implementation of the NAQI in select cities and urban hubs only 
  • Furthermore, governments are failing to advise people on mitigating action to be taken when pollution reaches alarming levels 

With these existing issues, experts recommend a path forward that involves revising the National Air Quality Index to reflect WHO standards, greater emphasis on accurate data collection, and prioritizing the spread of public awareness. 


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