The recent remark by the Environment Minister on not trusting foreign study on air pollution has cleared my doubt on our preparedness and willingness to fight air pollution. The government institutions continue to indulge in the argument on reports, numbers and methodology rather than realising the fact that air pollution is claiming life, even if it is one or one million.
It’s surprising that despite so many satellites and scientific evidences, we continue to downplay the existence of air pollution. Very little has moved since 2014, when the World Health Organisation’s report had branded Delhi as the most polluted city in the world and India had been singled out as home for the maximum polluted cities. It is sheer pity that we continue to be in dilemma of air pollution’s existence and even more surprising that there is no coherence within the government’s machineries.
During the budget session, when the environment minister downplayed Greenpeace India’s “Airpocalypse” report in the parliament, it actually contradicted its own commissioned report by the Steering Committee on air pollution that documented the best available evidence of the impact of air pollution on death and disability. And guess what, the committee was comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. What more data do we need to bring the government to have zero tolerance against air pollution?
Air pollution has become one of the most pressing issues globally, making it the fifth largest cause for premature death. We don’t need to look for an international body to tell us a bad story about air pollution, our own Supreme Court appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention) Control Authority, EPCA has identified air pollution as the fifth biggest killer after high blood pressure, indoor air pollution from cooking fuels, tobacco smoking and poor nutrition. If the Minister wants to believe that air pollution is causing negative growth, then there are enough scientific, economic and social evidences to back that up. The World Bank study has shown that welfare and lost labour income due to air pollution is 8.5% of India’s GDP in 2013. It is extremely frustrating to see the government publish a new report, when the urgent requirement of the hour is a comprehensive and coordinated time-bound action plan to mitigate air pollution. The government seems to need constant reminding that clean air is the principal prerequisite to sustain healthy lives of people.
The crucial question is- How do we win the war against air pollution? The answer is not very difficult; in fact, the government has been taking steps, just a little too less considering the volume of the issue. Currently, India has more than 600 manual air quality monitoring stations. Unless the data from these stations is converted into automatic stations that carry real-time values, its scope is limited. The automatic NAQI stations will enable citizens to not only know the air quality levels, but also take adequate precautions. India should take its learning from China, and implement a robust, systematic, time bound Action Plan and hold sectors accountable for polluting and ensuring the implementation. It is imperative that dilution of the emission standards for thermal power plants are avoided and the timelines and compliance stuck with.
It's Now or Never!
The recent Guardian article wrote -“you never see air pollution written as the cause on death certificates”. It fits in so well into the current narrative where millions of people are dying because of air pollution. One can continue to argue about the numbers, sources and extent, but there is no doubt that air pollution is a global crisis and the war has begun, whether we win it or lose it, it is up to us to make the right choices and decisions.
Madhulika Verma is a Senior Media Specialist at Greenpeace India