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Fact check: No Indian study links pollution and lifespan, says Javadekar

Fact check: No Indian study links pollution and lifespan, says Javadekar

Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Prakash Javadekar on Friday said that no Indian study has shown a direct correlation between pollution and shortening of lifespan. "Let us not create a fear psychosis among people," he told Lok Sabha in response to a query about studies that people’s life expectancy is coming down due to pollution.

During the Question Hour, he said the government has been taking proactive steps to curb pollution and that efforts are bearing fruit. Referring to studies indicating that pollution is reducing life expectancy, he also said such studies might not be based on first generation data.

But all it would have taken the Environment Minister was a Google search.

The Indian Council of Medical Research, funded by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare actually funded one of the most exhaustive studies in India in this matter, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Public Health Foundation of India was also involved in the study, and it stated that one in eight deaths could be attributed to pollution in 2017.

The study, titled ‘The impact of air pollution on deaths, disease burden, and life expectancy across the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017’, published in December 2018 in The Lancet, states that 1.24 million deaths in India in 2017 were attributable to air pollution.

“1·24 million (1·09–1·39) deaths in India in 2017, which were 12·5% of the total deaths, were attributable to air pollution, including 0·67 million (0·55–0·79) from ambient particulate matter pollution and 0·48 million (0·39–0·58) from household air pollution. Of these deaths attributable to air pollution, 51·4% were in people younger than 70 years,” the study states.

It goes further. It states that life expectancy would have been higher by 1.7 years, and in some states by two years, if the air pollution were less than the minimum level that causes health loss.

The Air Quality Life Index by the Energy Policy Institute - India, calculates the effect of air quality on life expectancy. Research published a little over a month ago — in October 2019 — showed that the people in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (which comprises large parts of north and east India) lost about seven years of life expectancy because air quality in the region does not meet that of the World Health Organisation guideline for fine particulate pollution.

Based on Delhi’s pollution level in 2016, the study says that life expectancy of those in the city would have been 10 times more if WHO’s standards had been met.

Environment organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in June this year, said that air pollution is the third highest cause of death among all health risks, just above smoking. “...South Asians, including Indians, are dying early — their life expectancy has reduced by over 2.6 years. This is much higher than the global tally of reduced life expectancy by an average of 20 months. While globally a child born today will die 20 months sooner on an average than would be expected without air pollution in India they would die 2.6 years earlier,” the report released by the CSE said.

It is important to note that Javadekar’s statement that the studies aren’t India-centric isn’t a new narrative.

Dr Harsh Vardhan of the BJP, who previously held the MoeFCC portfolio, said in 2017: "Ultimately these studies have to be India centric. To attribute any death to a cause like pollution, that may be too much.” Dr Vardhan, however, has in the past called pollution a “silent killer”.

The central government in January launched National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to tackle the air pollution problem across the country. "Under NCAP, 102 non-attainment cities have been identified based on ambient air quality data for the period 2011-2015 and WHO (World Health Organisation) report 2014/18," Javadekar said in a written reply in this Parliament session. According to him, city-specific action plans have been prepared and approved for implementation in all 102 cities.

According to the Air Quality Life Index, if India meets its NCAP goals and sustains pollution reductions of about 25%, it could extend the life expectancy of the average Indian by 1.3 years, and those in the Indo-Gangetic Plain by 2 years.

With PTI inputs

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