On the occasion of World Environment Day (June 5), Indian cities have topped the chart as the most polluted with Delhi ranked first in worst air quality.
When it comes to environmental degradation, India has overtaken its giant neighbour China as the worst polluter. Of the world’s top 20 polluted cities, 13 are in India compared to just three in China.
The two nations have seen a frenetic pace of economic growth leading to big jumps in pollution level across major cities.
While China leads the world in carbon emissions, India is in third position in this category.
But China has proved that it has the ability to manage the impact of its rapid economic growth on environment much better than India. In the last 3-4 years, the Communist nation has brought down pollution levels in its air and water which have a big impact on public health.
It is observed that air pollution slashes life expectancy by 3.2 years for the 66 crore Indians who live in cities. In China the corresponding dip is marginally lower at three years.
The Ganga and Yamuna are ranked among the world’s 10 most polluted rivers. China has just one. A survey has ranked Vapi in Gujarat and Sukinda in Odisha among the 10 most environmentally-degraded zones in the world.
China has cleaned its polluted rivers and managed to check the urban air pollution through strict rules. “Beijing’s air pollution has dipped 40% since 2000 as we have taken steps to phase out polluting vehicles and put checks on building heating systems,” said Beijing municipal officer Li Kunsheng at an event in Delhi.
But Delhi’s air pollution has climbed by 20% in the same period with the government reluctant to act. The impact of rising toxins in the air is visible on an average Indian’s life, as proved by a Lancet study in 2012 that ranked air pollution as the sixth biggest killer with an annual estimated toll of 66 million.
A 2015 report by the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based NGO, says the decline in the country’s overall environmental standards was because of river pollution, which is worse now than it was three decades ago, piling garbage in cities and increasingly toxic urban air.
“In India, environment degradation is a runaway problem impinging on public health an exacerbating poverty,” says Sunita Narain, the NGO’s director general. “We need to act and act fast … otherwise the health cost would be enormous,” she added.
Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar is hopeful of people’s participation to improve the environment, saying a policy of “development without destruction” is in place.
His ministry will introduce a new regime that will focus on “self-regulation” and strengthen the “polluter-pay principle” with higher penalties for violation of environmental laws.