India has unhealthiest air in the world, a new study says, confirming the fear that air quality was getting worse because of urbanisation. Of the 132 countries ranked by scientists at Yale and Columbia Universities for the Environment Performance Index (EPI) 2012, India ranks dead last on the parameter - Air (effects on human health) - much behind neighbours such as China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Even Bangladesh had a score of 13.66 as compared to India's 3.71. "It (the study) tells us that we are heading towards environmental hell to achieve high economic growth," said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment.
Not just air pollution, the study listed India among world's worst environment performers with a rank of 125, down from 119 it held two years ago. Only Kuwait, Yemen, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iraq were ranked lower. India's neighbour Nepal was ranked 38, Bangladesh 115 and Pakistan 120.
The study used satellite data to measure air pollution concentrations, unlike the pollution watchdog Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) that does ground monitoring.
"Rising vehicular traffic and increasing industry in and around cities is the cause," said CPCB chairperson S P Gautam. According to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, India's auto production has doubled from 7 million units in fiscal year 2004 to over 14 million units in year 2010 largely on the back of a buoyant domestic market.
Vehicle exhaust has witnessed eight-fold increased in 20 years and industrial pollution four times in the same period, both contributing to over 90% of country's air pollution. "The economy has grown two and a half times over the past two decades but pollution control and civil services have not kept pace," says the planning commission's 12th five year plan working group report on environment.
The US-based Health Effects Institute in 2010 found that each year, air pollution killed 3,000 people in Delhi, which had particulate matter four times above the national standard. Symptoms include wheezing and coughing, or feeling stressed out or distracted more than usual.