Hindustan Times (Delhi)
Air pollution is a problem, admit it
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.