The winter is over and the outrage that erupted over pollution after last year’s Diwali has also been overtaken by other news events. But the problem of polluted air stubbornly persists, affecting the health of the citizens. The Global Burden of Disease (GBD), a comprehensive regional and global research programme including 500 researchers representing over 300 institutions and 50 countries, has estimated that 3,283 Indians died per day due to outdoor air pollution in India in 2015, making the potential number of deaths due to outdoor air pollution in India in 2015 to 11.98 lakh. But the Union minister of environment, forests and climate change Anil Dave seems to be either unaware of the data or doesn’t want to believe it. In a written reply to Rajya Sabha earlier this week, he said that there is no conclusive data to link deaths exclusively with air pollution. He added that Greenpeace India’s report ‘Airpocalypse,’which was released in January, is based on secondary information on air quality collected through RTI, annual reports of state pollution control boards and literature review in which it claimed that 12 lakh deaths take place due to air pollution.
The Greenpeace India report had said Delhi tops the list of 20 most polluted cities in the country where 12 lakh deaths take place every year due to air pollution. It also claimed that none of the 168 cities it assessed complies with air quality standards prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to the report, the deaths every year in India due to air pollution are only a “fraction less” than that caused by tobacco usage. Three per cent of the GDP is lost due to air pollution, it added.
Read: HT Air Quality Index
In response to the minister, and correctly so, Greenpeace India has said that country is way past the stage of discussing what may have caused this nation-wide epidemic of poor health and compromised childhoods — instead of picking at the data, and the sources for it, government agencies need to come up with a clear, national action plan. In fact, the health evidence necessary to take policy action has already been well documented by the ministry of health and family welfare’s steering committee. What is necessary, experts say, at this stage is to chart the road ahead to address what is a national issue that threatens to deflate India’s demographic dividend. Instead of trashing the links between citizens’ health and air pollution, the minister must invest in more comprehensive scientific studies into the phenomenon and come up with concrete and effective solutions to tackle pollution.