Air Pollution and GDP

Shankar Sharma

At a time when all political parties seem to be obsessed with high GDP growth rates for the country in an effort to make it the largest economy soon, a report from the World Bank should provide the necessary directions to developmental paradigm.

Among other issues, the news report says:
"If strict policies to battle smog were successfully implemented, India's citizens and government would be much richer. By the World Bank's calculations, health-care fees and productivity losses from pollution cost India as much as 8.5 percent of GDP. At its current size of $2.6 trillion that works out to about $221 billion every year. India's government has said some international studies linking air pollution to mortality "may not be realistic" and that the "number of deaths due to air pollution needs to be further investigated and supported by indigenous studies". "World's fastest growing economy has the world's most toxic air".

How long will the persons in authority continue to ignore the net negative growth rate of Indian economy because of such direct and indirect impacts on natural resources and people's Health?

Whereas the Union ministries in-charge of environment and health may like to continue to take the Ostrich like stand that air pollution cannot be linked to the higher mortality rates, the telltale signs of the unacceptable levels of pollution of air, water and soil should be evident from various parts of the country. The fact that India has 14 of the world's most polluted cities should say a lot in this regard. The serious issues associated with air pollution in the nations's capital, where most powerful and/or influential people live, cannot be ignored either, and should be symptomatic of the collapse of the regulatory framework in the true context.

It is not a rocket science even for a non-scientist to link such fast deteriorating environmental health parameters to the breathtaking levels of economic activities in the country in the guise of poverty alleviation. A sustained high GDP growth rate will mean the manufacture of products and provision of services at an unprecedented pace leading to setting up of more factories/manufacturing facilities; consumption of large quantities of raw materials such as iron, steel, cement, chemicals etc; increasing an unsustainable demand for natural resources such as land, water, minerals, timber etc; acute pressure on the Government to divert agricultural/forest lands; huge demand for various forms of energy (petroleum products, coal, electricity etc); accelerated urban migration; clamour for more of airports, airlines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc. Vast increase in each of these activities, while increasing the total greenhouse gas (GHG, responsible for global warming) emissions, will also add up to reduce the overall ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests and lands to absorb GHG emissions. There will also be increased pollution of soil, air and water along with huge issues of managing the solid, liquid, gaseous and radiological wastes.

The ever increasing number of coal mines and coal power plants against all wisdom, and the ever increasing number of vehicles on the road against the threat of financial instability (due to enormous import bill of petroleum products) can be cited as two glaring examples of the failure of the successive governments to appreciate the inevitable linkage between human welfare and clean environment.

Earlier, a World Bank report of June 5, 2013 had highlighted how the environment has suffered in India consequent to the past decade of rapid economic growth. The report with the title "Diagnostic Assessment of Select Environmental Challenges, Economic Growth and Environmental Sustain-ability: What Are the Trade-offs?" has many revelations of critical importance to the future of communities; provided political leaders take cognisance of it.

Some vested interests in the country may even try to find collusion of various sorts of international entities against national interest, various health reports from concerned Indians cannot be ignored.

At the minimum the government should consider as to what should be done in the context of its claim for global leadership on the issue of Climate Change when the latest IPCC report asks for drastic change in life style approaches. Whereas it is difficult to associate various policies/practices of the govt. with true welfare of its people, it should at a minimum try to respect its international obligations on Climate Change.

In this larger context, can the people of this country expect a discernible change in the policies and practices of its government sooner than later?

Vol. 51, No.22, Dec 2 - 8, 2018