There were no Indian studies that showed a “direct correlation” between pollution and mortality, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said in the Lok Sabha on Friday.
Exactly a year ago, on the December 6, 2018, the India State Level Disease Burden Initiative (ISLDBI) — which consists of at least a 100 health professionals — reported that one in eight deaths in India were attributable to air pollution and that “...the average life expectancy in India would have been 1.7 years higher if the air pollution levels were less than the minimal level causing health loss.”
The ISLDBI studies are funded by the Union Health Ministry and involve the Public Health Foundation of India, the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). They were part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 and appeared in the peer-reviewed Lancet Planetary Health.
Mr. Javadekar’s remarks were in response to a question by Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, of the All India Trinamool Congress who wanted to know if the Minister was “aware” that the life expectancy at birth of Indians was being “shortened” by 4.3 years due to environmental pollution.
Mr. Javadekar replied that the government was “proactively” taking steps to mitigate pollution from vehicles, industries, biomass and dust. Studies by various institutes were not based on “first generation data” and authors came to their conclusion based on “secondary data” that relied on modelling studies.
“Let us not create a fear psychosis among people because pollution problem is all over the globe...there is no direct correlation as per the studies we have conducted. The studies conducted in India have not shown a direct correlation of shortening of life because of pollution,” he argued.
“This is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand does,” a medical doctor, part of the ISLDBI told The Hindu , requesting anonymity as he’s part of government committees. These are studies commissioned by the Health Ministry but the Environment Ministry, on the other hand, wants more definitive numbers on how many exact years are lost due to pollution.
By January, India is expected to report results of a 20-city study, begun last year, on the extent to which exposure to air pollution correlated with respiratory diseases. It will also examine whether pregnant women exposed to polluted air made their foetuses and babies more vulnerable to birth defects. In Parliamentary debates, the government while acknowledging the challenges of air pollution and steps to clean the air has consistently maintained that air pollution didn’t directly kill people.