Ever wondered which cities in India are the most polluted? Or which cities have the best lowest AQI and best air quality in India? I analyzed the data from the World Health Organization’s database of annual particulate pollution (PM2.5) averages for 122 cities. Here’s what I found.
Agra Through Mumbai
122 cities is too much for one graph, so to map out the pollution levels, I broke it in half. Here’s A through M from cities in India with the worst air quality (highest PM2.5 in the graph) to the best air quality (lowest PM2.5 number is the graph).
Note: the numbers used in this graph show PM2.5 concentration, not AQI. US AQI (not NAQI) is indicated by the colour bards going from green (‘Good’) to purple (‘Hazardous’) on the left hand side. To find out more about the relationship between “air quality index” or AQI, and PM2.5 concentration, check out the EPA’s Air Quality Index calculator.
Here’s that same list in alphabetical order.
Nagaon Through Warangal
Here’s cities in India, N through Z from highest pollution levels to lowest pollution levels.
And here’s that same list in alphabetical order.
Takeaway 1: It helps to be later in the alphabet
For some unknown reason (regional linguistic differences?), you’re better off on average if you’re living in an N-Z city in India (48 micrograms) rather than an A-M city (66 micrograms)!
Takeaway 2: Only one city is under the WHO annual limit
The World Health Organization’s annual limit is 10 micrograms/m3. Only one city in India came in under that limit, and can claim to be India’s least polluted city—Tezpur, Assam. That means Tezpur takes the spot as the city with best air quality in India!
Maybe 10 micrograms is a ridiculous, unattainable limit? It’s true that my university’s city, Chicago, is above that limit (12 micrograms), although New York City is just below it (9 micrograms). Many major developed cities are around 10 micrograms. Still, if you’re looking to move to a city with the cleanest air in India, then the take-home is that Tezpur is the place for you.
Takeaway 3: Seven cities are under the looser WHO 24-hour limit
If the 10 microgram limit is too strict, we can try out the looser 24-hour limit of 25 micrograms. Based on that limit, seven cities on the top 10 list make the cut. That’s a meager 6% of cities under this looser limit, or 6% of cities in India have air quality levels that are almost acceptable.
India’s Top 10
India’s top 10 cities with the best air quality, according to this database are:
- Tezpur (6 micrograms)
- Pathanamthitta (12)
- Hassan (19)
- Chitoor (21)
- Kollam (22)
- Puducherry (22)
- Bongaigaon (24)
- Madurai (26)
- Warangal (26)
- Alappuzha (27)
India’s Bottom 10
The cities in India with the worst air quality, or the highest levels of air pollution, according to this database are:
- Gwalior (176 micrograms)
- Allahabad (170)
- Patna (149)
- Raipur (144)
- Delhi (122)
- Ludhiana (122)
- Kanpur (115)
- Khanna (114)
- Firozabad (113)
- Lucknow (113)
Now, this data isn’t perfect. For one, it’s from 2012, so it’s a bit old.
Second, some Indian cities don’t measure PM2.5, so the WHO infers it from the larger PM10 particles (what’s the difference?). I’ve discovered that the WHO database vastly underestimates pollution levels in Beijing compared to my analysis of local data.
To some extent, the exact top and bottom cities for air quality in India are arbitrary. Different articles use different data sources and will come up with a different answer for the best air quality in India. But the bigger picture of air quality across India holds up regardless of the dataset – Indian cities are dangerously polluted and you need to protect yourself.
So what can you do about India’s air quality?
1. Purifiers don’t need to cost thousands of rupees
Most air purifiers on the market cost tens of thousands of rupees. What my data showed is that simple, no-nonsense air purifiers like the DIY air purifiers and Ladakh purifiers I subsequently created work just as well as the expensive brands, yet cost a fraction of the price. Visit the Smart Air office in Lado Sarai, New Delhi (close to Gurgaon) for a demo on how clean air doesn’t need to cost thousands.
2. Masks are a very cheap, effective way to protect yourself outdoors
After running some tests on a series of different masks, the results mimicked exactly what I found for air purifiers: Smart Air ran mask tests at a lab test in Mumbai to uncover the details of which air pollution masks really work. It turns out that simple, low-cost masks work just as well as the expensive ones! Pick up a set of simple, effective masks today and start breathing safe!
India’s air quality is far from safe. Stay smart, do the research, and breath safe today!
Thomas is an Associate Professor of Behavior Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the founder of, a social enterprise to help people in China breathe clean air without shelling out thousands of dollars for expensive purifiers.