Kill air pollution before it kills us-min
India is the fastest growing economy in the world and at this rate India will become third largest economy in the world by 2030. Though this makes every Indian proud about the country, a little analysis of the ground situation makes one little nervous about the price which we are paying to achieve this goal. Water tankers on the roads and mask wearing people on the footpath clearly indicate how difficult it is get basic needs like fresh air and water in the country despite being on rapid economic growth path.
Recently released WHO global air pollution database has some disturbing statistics which the policy makers and the people in general, need to think over and take immediate remedial actions. Nearly a quarter of total deaths that occur due to air pollution all over the world, happens in our country. Deaths due to air pollution are only a fraction less than the number of deaths caused by tobacco usage. According to the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 3,283 Indians died every single day due to outdoor air pollution in India in 2015. In other words, 1.2 million Indians died due to air pollution in 2015. There are no indications to suggest that the situation has improved substantially in last two years and one need not be surprised if that number has gone up further in the last two years.
Remember, pollution is not just a health hazard but soon may turn out to be an economic crisis too. Think about the impact of pollution on economic front – loss of productivity due to health issues and forced closure of schools, factories and offices due to air pollution. According to World Bank estimates India may be losing around 3% of its GDP due to air pollution.
In Indian stock markets, chemical manufacturing companies were one of the best performing equity stocks during 2014-17. Incidentally, this period was preceded by the strict ‘Blue Skies’ rules announced in China. China started following strict enforcement of environment laws in the country which was facing similar situation few years ago (and the situation there has not improved substantially since then) to improve the air quality. As a result, many chemical manufacturing companies had to shut their units, thus giving an opportunity to chemical manufacturers in India and elsewhere to take advantage of the situation. On the surface it, it appears as a big opportunity thrown in by strict environment laws in China, but it was nothing but shifting of pollution problem of China to other less developed countries like ours.
Today China is one of the leading countries to follow green construction norms rigorously. For example, recently the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) and China Green Building Council (China GBC) announced a partnership to collaborate efforts to increase green buildings around the world and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. China is embracing green building at an accelerated pace with 523 million square metres of buildings certified green by China GBC’s Three Star green building rating system alone, making it one of the largest markets in the world for certified green building. It is also giving greater impetus green energy and has made much headway in the process.
One thing we need to learn from China is their single-minded pursuit of goals – be it economic growth or clearing of NPAs or now pollution control. Unless we pursue our goal of improving our environment with single minded dedication as Chinese do our future generation may have to inherit only desert and empty rivers from us.
There is no doubt that none of the cities/states have measurable targets aimed at reducing pollution levels. Most actions suggested until now are either political stunts or just initiatives on paper without efficient monitoring mechanism to achieve their estimated benefit through the implementation of targeted policies. First of all, we should realise the pollution problem is a national problem and is not restricted to any region or city and as a citizen of this nation it is our responsibility that we help the government machineries to contain the impact of pollution. Whatever steps we might take it should not be Delhi-NCR specific and but should be extended beyond that region as the country moves into higher growth trajectory more and more regions will be covered by the problem of pollution.
In this regard, one has to appreciate the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) formulated by the central government. This Programme aims to seek and ensure source-wise solutions in a time-bound manner for the entire country. Though the government has almost doubled the number of real-time monitoring stations spread across the country it has a long way to go to ensure clean and safe air to ward off the hazards faced by the country and its people. The strategies should be formalised into a time-bound action plan with clearly defined targets and penalties to ensure accountability.
There are some criticisms about the manner in which pollution level being measured. But to measure pollution one doesn’t need sophisticated equipment but those who can breathe can easily find out the dangerous environment we are living in. There is no doubt that Delhi is the top-most polluted city followed by many more towns like nearby Faridabad and Bhiwadi and far off Dehradun, Varanasi, and Patna. Together these critically polluted cities point to not just the need for long-term action plans but also cry for a strict emergency response in an immediate, short-term and time-bound manner to bring pollution levels down drastically and ward off an impending health and economic emergency.
Public participation and involvement is critical in reducing air pollution along with centralised actions and policies rolled out by the Government at national and regional levels. Any delay on action front will only hasten the inevitable and there may not be many left to enjoy the fruits of rapid economic growth likely to bring in. We need to act faster before the menace of pollution turns into a public health hazard and economic crisis.