July 27, 2018
NEW DELHI: Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Congress Member of Parliament, has called for a united fight by all political parties to address the problem of India’s air pollution crisis.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2nd Round Table Consultation on “Clearing the Air: Addressing India’s Air Pollution Crisis” in Delhi, Dr Tharoor regretted that despite the poor air quality, “the larger concerns of air quality have failed to dawn on the majority of citizens in the country. And where it has become a topical and political potato, it has by and large been confined to urban centres, mainly in Northern India.”

And because of this, the larger point of the issue, that it is “a perennial and a pan-Indian issue”, has been completely missed out, Dr Tharoor pointed out.

The two-day workshop on “Addressing India’s Air Pollution Crisis” was organised Observer Research Foundation in association with Air Quality Asia, a Washington based inter-parliamentary air quality advocacy group.

He pointed out that according to the 2017 State of the Global Air report, published by the Health Effects Institute, the absolute number of ozone related deaths in India has risen by a staggering 150 percent, since 1990.

He said the economic implications of deteriorating air quality are equally ominous, with a 2013 World Bank study estimating that welfare costs and lost labour income due to air pollution cost the exchequer nearly 8.5% of India’s GDP.

“Labour losses due to air pollution (in terms of number of man days lost for instance) resulted in a reported loss of USD 55.39 billion in a single year and further premature deaths cost the country an estimated USD 505 billion or roughly 7.6% of our country’s GDP,” Dr Tharoor pointed out.

He said toxic air quality is a silent killer and today in India, the air we breathe has in itself become a public health crisis, one that is slowly but surely crippling our country.

“The issue of air quality is, politically, similar to concerns surrounding our foreign policy. I have previously remarked that there is no BJP or Congress foreign policy, only an Indian foreign policy. So too with air quality—our political differences on the subject must end at the beginning of the stratosphere. There is only an Indian air quality and currently, little has been done to address the toxicity that is spreading,” Dr. Tharoor said.

He called for an ambitious Action Plan, bringing in the best of tech-based innovation and interventions wedded with our age old heritage of sustainable practice and conservation that has served India well in the past.

Mr Anand Sharma, Congress MP and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment, called for a balanced and coordinated effort to tackle the menace as India is a major developing country with infrastructure needs. “The important question is how to balance between the SDGs and maintain the norms set by the World Bank and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

He pointed out that “when Delhi was choking, the question came up again: Was it only air pollution or something else?. It was stubble burning as well as the major dust storm that started due to the Syria conflict,” he said, explaining the complexity of the problem as well as the multiple challenges.

Mr Sunjoy Joshi, Chairman, ORF, also pointed out the fact that air pollution is not always a localized phenomenon. “Its effect can be felt far away from immediate source. Therefore there is a need to adopt a regional as well as an inter-sectorial approach.”

He said air pollution related costs already account for three to eight percent of the Indian GDP. As per WHO data upto 2016, six of the world’s ten most polluted cities are in India. And the list is not topped by Delhi as many would believe, but by Gwalior and then Allahabad. And the phenomenon of bad air is far wider than the Tier I and Tier II cities, he added.

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