Report on Contemporary Population and Environmental Health Issues Affecting Kolkata


The critical question that rings in the minds of the majority is, what renders some people healthy, whereas others remain unhealthy? Another disturbing issue is how a society can be developed whereby each person has an opportunity to live a long and healthy life. Altogether, a wide range of health determinants can be referred to whenever seeking solutions to the above queries. They range from social, economic, personal, and environmental factors. Determinants of health, however, fall under various broad categories: social factors, health services, policymaking, biology & genetics, and the behavior of individuals. Interrelationships of the above-mentioned factors are the key determinants of both individual and general population health. Therefore, interventions targeting multiple health determinants are bound to be more effective. Important sectors that have been identified and proved effective in improving the health of a population are; transport, housing, agriculture, education, and environment. The following report is based on environmental factors that are determinants of health.

Name and description of case study location

Dating back to 1690, Kolkata is a megacity located on the eastern banks of the river Hooghly. It is the capital of West Bengal which is an Indian state.1 Until 2001, the city was famously known as Calcutta. It quickly flourished from a small village based on fishing into a prosperous metropolitan during the colonial administration. Until 1911, it was the serving capital of the British Imperial. It has an area of two hundred and five square kilometers. The larger urban area that considers all the suburbs around it has a population that exceeds 14.8 million people as of 2018, thus ranking it third amongst India’s list of the most populated metropolitans.

Its population density per square kilometer exceeds 23999 people, equivalent to 62999 people per square mile. Generally, Kolkata has an admirable green environment under significant threat following massive human development projects. The most threatening hazard is earthquakes, whereby following assessment by geologists, the city falls under Moderate Earthquake Damage Risk Zone, which is ranked zone 3.2. Kolkata has witnessed massive economic and social development over the years. It is extensively recognized as the financial and commercial center for the eastern section of India. It is also socially developed with numerous social interaction points. During the annual governance quality survey, Kolkata emerged as second amongst the major 23 cities of India. Below is a representation of Kolkata’s annual temperature.

Figure 1: Average Monthly Temperature of Kolkata (Source: BBC 2018)

  • Key Current Environmental and Population Health Issues

Kolkata is being severely and adversely affected by the prevailing negative environmental issues. The major disturbing issues are water pollution, garbage, the natural environment, and air pollution.3

A report from the FCA (Federation of Consumer Association) indicated that drinking water in Kolkata was contaminated with human-excreted waste. Further research indicated that of all the reservoirs meant to supply drinking water to residents, 87% of them were already contaminated with the waste mentioned above. After examining water outlets deeply, results indicated that 63% contained significant amounts of human waste. Following results obtained after sampling water from various hospitals around the megacity, it was again established that 20% of them received contaminated water. By approximation, it was established that more than 1/5 of the deep wells reportedly operated by the Municipal Corporation of Kolkata were also contaminated.

The river that is highly affected is River Ganga due to its cross proximity to Kolkata’s industrial area. Huge amounts of industrial pollutants are being discharged directly into this river without any kind of treatment. Domestic waste and sewer emanating from various residential areas are also being directed into this river which is a major source of water for various uses within the locality.4 Subsequently, these major water contamination issues have resulted in the deterioration of public health, as the only way to access clean water is by purchasing bottled water. The majority of the residents cannot afford the same.

Another environmental issue that requires urgent attention in this city is garbage collection and disposal.5 It was observed that there exists a sole landfill site located at Dhapa. After garbage collecting companies such as Dhara collects garbage, they dump more than 4000 metric tons of waste at this site. Garbage that is visible from far has piled sky-high and has resulted in a foul smell that is almost unbearable. A truck driver on the site confessed that there are all sorts of garbage, including the unthinkable. He said, “There are dead babies, there are truckloads of smuggled chocolates or medicines that the excise department finds.”

The high amounts of garbage that the authorities seem to have ignored pose a significant threat to the public’s health.

Kolkata is also facing massive air pollution. Due to its state as a rapidly developing metropolitan, industrialization is at its peak and thus marks it as a major contributor towards air pollution after motor vehicles.6 Large numbers of factories continuously being set up emit enormous amounts of smoke into the atmosphere. It was also learned that the city has greatly embraced fuel-combusting engines applied in different fields. Below is tabulated data indicating seasonal variation of SO2 polluting the air from various sources.

Figure2: Seasonal Variations of SO2 (Data Source: India Stat 2018)

Regarding population health, 48 hospitals managed by the government have been set up in Kolkata. However, the number of households covered by any prevalent health insurance or scheme is meager. This city is, however, the leading among all major Indian cities in the percentage of women suffering from anemia, with it being 55%. The majority of the residents suffer from other diseases, which could include goiter, thyroid disorders, asthma, and diabetes.7 Dengue fever and malaria are also prevalent amongst other tropical diseases. The city is also associated with numerous cases of diseases that are induced by pollution. Research showed that 80% of respondents lived in slums, most cooking in their living rooms. The primary fuel source for their cooking was kerosene, which increased indoor air pollution. As a result, this pollution raised their susceptibility to diseases induced by pollution.

Major Environmental Health Challenges and Obstacles

There are various challenges that face environmental health in Kolkata. Kolkata residents breathe in air which has 3-5 times higher pollution levels than the ambient level that is already several times higher than the permissible limit.

Despite all efforts to improve environmental health, it has proven almost impossible. The issue of water pollution has proven hard to eradicate. The local authorities are the major contributors to this. Failure to establish efficient sewerage and drainage systems has resulted in sewers being directed toward rivers. Poor planning, especially in the suburbs8, was again considered a life-threatening challenge. It was observed that living quarters were constructed before proper planning and lacked elaborate sewerage and drainage systems. The authorities also lacked elaborate and firm rules and regulations regarding sewer disposal. This left contractors of residential premises the power to direct waste to the nearby water sources resulting in contamination.

The local authority should also assert itself and show its dedication towards eradicating this menace by taking tough action against anyone who defied set rules and regulations regarding sewerage disposal.9 It also prevailed that factories could dispose of their liquid waste by discharging it into nearby rivers and other water sources before subjecting it to any kind of treatment. These discharges from various factories contain harmful chemical substances that are dangerous to environmental health. Governing authorities in Kolkata again lacked liquid waste disposal regulations to regulate discharges directed into water sources by these manufacturing entities. 

Various entities have also been fighting losing battles toward completely eradicating air pollution. The lack of success in these battles has resulted from prevailing challenges hindering achieving Kolkata’s environmental health. It was observed that motor vehicles were the greatest contributors to air pollution.10 Use of un-roadworthy vehicles is one compelling factor towards this. The traffic department lacked the drive to take stern actions against motorists operating in wrecked vehicles that emitted vast amounts of pollutant gases into the atmosphere. The type o fuel that motorists use is another challenge. Due to monetary constraints, most motorists use leaded fuel, which is relatively cheaper. Upon combustion, this fuel produces significantly higher amounts of pollutant gasses, thus posing a major threat to environmental health.

Governing authorities in Kolkata have also failed to implement elaborate rules through relevant environmental management bodies to regulate the maximum amount of toxic gases that manufacturers can emit into the atmosphere.11 Various factories, therefore, end up releasing unlimited amounts of pollutant gases into the air posing great threats to environmental health. In conclusion, Kolkata lacked evident means of getting rid of disposed garbage. Continuous heaping of garbage over the years on one landfill site has posed a great threat to environmental health.

Current Policies, Projects, and Plans Aimed at Tackling Environmental Health Challenges

Following the prevalence of the challenges mentioned earlier, the Kolkata administration, in collaboration with the federal government, has embarked on a brave fight against environmental pollution. Various plans have been developed and implemented to curb all pollution levels in the megacity. To begin with, WBPCB (West Bengal Pollution Control Board) has given suggestions to the High Court of Kolkata to limit fuel sellers to stop sales of fuel to all vehicles that are not in a capacity to produce valid certifications of PUC (Pollution Under Control).12 According to a statement made by WBPCB, careful monitoring of Auto Emission Testing Centers should be conducted. This is to be achieved by regularly maintaining and calibrating measurement equipment. The board also pointed out that the operators working in these centers should be acquitted with adequate training. It has also been observed that there are several plans underway to construct and renovate already existing plants for sewage treatment.13 This is a measure towards the reduction of contaminants in wastewater.

The federal government has also overseen the formulation and implementation of Kolkata regulations to curb any lawlessness resulting in environmental health jeopardy. It has also been through governmental interventions that there has been the eradication of poor quality fuel with high lead content and instead replacing it with alternate/cleaner fuel such as CNG and PNG. Public transport networks such as Metro have been promoted greatly in an attempt to reduce motor vehicle count on Kolkata’s roads as an approach to curb the amount of motor emissions. Infrastructure incorporating cleaner production processes is being set up as an initiative to control industrial pollution. Due to the high level of negligence from the inhabitants of Kolkata towards such pollution-averting practices, the government has initiated programs to create public awareness of the essence of maintaining environmental health. In conclusion, Kolkata is among the states that are attending coordination meetings held regularly at the National Capital Region as a move towards control of environmental pollution.


Kolkata has been identified as a region requiring immediate attention to stop the skyrocketing environmental pollution and boost its environmental health. The most disturbing issue, again affecting the lives of most local inhabitants and at the same time threatening their lives, is water pollution. It has also been ascertained that governing authorities carry the larger part of the blame for the increased deterioration of environmental health in Kolkata. However, the same authorities are to be commended for taking the appropriate measures to curb the same immediately upon realizing mistakes. Private developers and investors are also to be blamed for a lack of concern about the consequences of their actions. Whereas they cannot be deprived of their rights to develop their property, they ought to undertake the same activities responsibly, taking care of the environment. In conclusion, the general public of Kolkata ought to be educated on the significance of caring for the environment. They ought to understand their responsibilities in developing and maintaining a clean and healthy environment.


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