Another Dubious Distinction For India: The Most Polluted Country In The World

Posted on February 17, 2012 in Environment

By Nidhi Kumari:

As if poverty, illiteracy, hunger, unemployment, crime, were not enough; India has bagged another award of being the host of the deadliest air in the world. In a recent study conducted by the scientists at Yale and Columbia Universities, of 132 countries, India stood at the bottom of the Environment Performance Index (EPI) on parameters of air and its effects on human health. A matter of both worry and shame as even our neighbors are cleaner than us. China, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh were way ahead of us. Not only this, India ranked 125 or was the ‘worst’ when the overall environment was taken into consideration, lagging behind Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan which ranked 38, 115 and 120 respectively in the performance scale.

The study used satellite data to measure air pollution concentrations. High levels of particulate matter in the air, vehicular emissions, release of toxic gases from the industries and automobile have been credited for our deadly state. According to S.P. Gautam, chairman, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), “Rising vehicular emissions, increasing in and around cities is the cause” of this depleted state of the air around us.”

Our craze for economic growth and development has made us blind towards Mother Nature. “The economy has grown two and 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 (HT report dated 5th February, 2012).

The ill effects of air pollution include:-
– On humans:- Lung cancer, bronchitis ,asthma
– On vegetation: – Crop yield gets affected. Pollutants like sulphur dioxide interfere with the respiration and photosynthesis of plants.
– On animals:-Animals are affected by eating contaminated plant parts and also directly by pollutants from the air.
(The effects have been taken from Environment Explorer, ICSE)

The World Health Organization found respiratory infections as a major cause of death in children ageing below five and also in 13% of patient deaths in pediatric wards in our country. In the words of Ms. Anumita Roy Choudhary, executive director of India’s Centre for Science and Environment, “our emission standards are nearly 10 years behind European standards and these are not enforceable unlike in the U.S. which has the Clean Air Act. We do have the Air act 1981 (prevention and control of pollution) amended in 1987 to be enforced by CPCB but this act is not very effective.” Ms. Roy Chowdhury further added,“We need to take big steps or the problem will overwhelm us.” However Dr. Saha, a scientist in the Air Lab at India’s CPCB said, “The study’s findings were not a matter of huge concern. We should not compare our country with others”. He added “India has a different terrain.” He cited seasonal rainfall, deserts and dusty conditions as being responsible for the particulate matter. “Can we put water sprinklers across the country?” he asked.

Particulate matter comes from boilers, thermal power plants and cars, as well, he said, but India would not have development if these activities were curbed. His advice? “It is a non-issue, we have other pressing problems like poverty, focus on them.”

There’s no denying the fact that we have other issues to worry about Dr. Saha but our environment, our ultimate abode cannot be overlooked or sidelined. The study is an alarm to wake us up before it is too late. The following steps can be taken to reduce pollution:-
– Controlling particulate pollutants by using scrubbers, filters, cyclone separators and electrostatic precipitators in the industries.
– Locating industries far from human settlements.
– Control automobile pollution by using unleaded petrol, adopting fuels like CNG (Compressed Natural Gas)and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas)
– Installing catalytic converters in the vehicles.
– Ensuring proper maintenance of vehicles.
– Adopting non-conventional energy sources of energy like solar energy, wind energy.
– Using mass transport and switching over to non-polluting modes of transport like bicycles.
– Controlling deforestation and encouraging plantation, especially around the polluted areas. (Steps to reduce air pollution have been taken from Environment Explorer, ICSE).
The above steps may not eradicate air pollution but these may at least reduce the toxic level it is heading to.

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