Union environment minister Anil Dave is a brave man. At a time when people are becoming increasingly cautious about air pollution and the harmful effect it has on our health, and several studies are warning of the same, Mr Dave told the Lok Sabha this week that there is not enough “evidence” in India to establish a direct correlation between diseases and air pollution. “Air pollution could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory ailments and associated diseases,” he said in a statement. In the past, the minister had stirred controversy by expressing reservations about the findings of foreign studies that are widely cited in the media to highlight the air pollution problem in India. Recent studies have claimed that India’s poor air quality causes nearly 1.1 million premature deaths every year, almost on a par with China. More crucially, where deaths linked to air pollution in China have reached a plateau in recent years, the rate has soared in India where smog readings in major cities routinely eclipse safe exposure levels. India has recorded a nearly 50% increase in premature deaths linked to PM2.5 -- fine particles that lodge deep in the lungs -- between 1990 and 2015, one of the reports said.
Expanding on the argument that deaths cannot be directly linked to air pollution, Mr Dave described health impacts as “generally synergistic manifestation of the individual’s food habits, occupational habits, socio-economic status, medical history, immunity, heredity, etc.” In response to his assertions, Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, said, “There is more than enough evidence across the world that air pollution kills...if the Indian minister is in denial it is extremely unfortunate.”
If one rereads Mr Dave’s statement in Parliament, the minister used his words cleverly. He said that air pollution “could be” one of the triggering factors but there is not enough evidence in India. In other words, there is no government-generated study to establish the link. This is true: The environment ministry is working with the ministry of health and family welfare to “assess the trends and impact [of air pollution]”. So the plan to tackle air pollution, according to Mr Dave, is this: People must suffer till as long as a study by the Indian government does not establish the link between air pollution and diseases. This is a strange stand to take since on many other issues, the Indian government agrees with studies/rankings from by foreign agencies.
How can we come out of this situation? Mr Dave should tell at least apprise us of the shortcomings of the existing studies, many of which have come from credible institutions.