Discussion Paper

Who Changed Delhi's Air? The Roles of the Court and the Executive in Environmental Decisionmaking

Dec 31, 2005 | Urvashi Narain, Ruth Greenspan Bell


Although there is general public approval of the improvements in Delhi’s air quality in the recent years, the process by which this change was brought about has been criticized. A common perception is that air quality policies were prescribed by the Supreme Court, and not by an institution with the mandate for making environmental policy. A careful review of the policy process in Delhi suggests otherwise. We find that the government was intimately involved in policymaking and that the main role of the Supreme Court was to force the government to implement previously announced policies. A good understanding of what happened is essential, as the Delhi experience for instituting change has become a model for other Indian cities as well as neighboring countries.