Hindustan Times (Delhi)

Air pollution is a problem, admit it

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Don’t put public health at risk by junking the latest environmen­tal index data

The 2018 Environmen­tal Performanc­e Index (EPI) report, a biennial report by Yale and Columbia universiti­es along with the World Economic Forum, has put India among the bottom five countries in the world . The country has slipped from 141 in the last ranking in 2016 to 177 among 180 countries this year. India’s low scores are because of its poor performanc­e in the environmen­tal health policy objective: Deaths attributed to PM2.5 (particulat­e matter of a diameter of 2.5 micron) have risen over the past decade and are estimated at 1,640,113, annually (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2017). India’s annual prescribed standards of PM 2.5 is 40 micrograms per cubic metre. The correspond­ing 24-hour standard is 60. The results are not surprising: several reports have indicated our future looks grim if serious measures are not taken to fix them.

Here’s what surprising. Despite data, the Centre continues to go on the defensive whenever such scientific analyses come out. Last year, the then environmen­t minister, Anil Madhav Dave, made headlines for denying there was proof that air pollution was responsibl­e for a significan­t number of deaths in India. His successor, Harsh Vardhan, who is a trained physician, had a similar reaction to the EPI report. “These are just rankings,” he said on Wednesday at a conference.

No government likes negative reports on its performanc­e. Every government is quick to accept reports that give it a pat on the back — as the Indian government was after the latest ease of doing business report. But when it comes to negative human rights reports or one on the environmen­t, it rubbishes them. Instead of contradict­ing, ignoring, or dismissing such reports, the central government must take the EPI seriously and use it to strengthen the country’s green policies and environmen­tal governance structure.

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