The report that air pollution in cities is the fifth major killer in India is alarming, to say the least. That it is based on a study of government data and the Global Burden of Disease report lends it further credence. As many as 6,20,000 people die of air pollution-related diseases every year. It’s a pointer to the seriousness of the situation. Air pollution is in the same league as blood pressure, tobacco use and alcohol consumption, which are some of the other causes of death. Unlike tobacco and alcohol, which are avoidable, impure air is unavoidable and its victims are, therefore, involuntary.
Yet, the truth is that air pollution does not get the attention of the authorities concerned. There are systems in place to monitor the level of air pollution in cities like New Delhi and Mumbai but little is done to control it. After introducing compulsory use of compressed natural gas (CNG) as fuel in buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws in the national capital, about a decade ago, no follow-up action has been taken. With the exponential increase in the number of vehicles, whatever little gains achieved by such measures have been offset. Everyone knows that vehicular pollution is the villain of the piece but there has been no action to counter it.
The new auto fuel committee, which will set standards for fuel for the next decade or so, should take into consideration the national ambient air quality standards. Vehicle manufacturers should be mandated to use the latest technology available so that their engines conform to the European and American standards. Also, little is done to control adulteration of diesel, particularly in smaller cities. Pooling of cars to reduce the number of cars on roads is a concept yet to be implemented. Similarly, a policy that promotes public, rather than private, transport is yet to become a reality. All this is because there is little awareness of the public health-air pollution link. The new report should be an eye-opener.