Thanks to high air pollution, Indians are losing an average 3 years of their lives. The country has the highest death rate due to chronic respiratory diseases in the world. Ranked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be among the worst in the world, air pollution in India is the object of a recent study by economists from the Universities of Chicago, Harvard and Yale. The new study comes after the WHO figures showed 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, including Delhi as the worst-ranked city. Over half the country’s population, nearly 66 crore people, live in areas where pollution due to suspended fine particulate matter in air is above safety limits. If these standards are met, those 66 crore people will gain about 3.2 years onto their lives, thereby saving 2.1 billion life years. The study calls for increasing India’s pollution monitoring stations and taking advantage of new technology that allows real-time monitoring. Additiolly, it says a greater reliance on civil rather than crimil pelties will instill a ‘polluter pays’ system to give polluters an incentive to reduce pollution. One point the study forcefully makes is that air pollution retards growth by causing people to die prematurely. Earlier studies have also shown that air pollution reduces productivity at work, compels workers to take more sick leaves, and raises health care expenses that could be devoted to other goods to improve lifestyle. The latest study makes an important observation that ‘for too long, the conventiol definition of growth has ignored the health consequences of air pollution’. In other words, the one-track focus on economic growth in India without environmental concerns is aggravating the pollution problem. The fruits of such growth mostly accrue to the rich, while the poor are paying for it with reduced lifespans. This rich-poor longevity divide brought about by pollution is a worrisome aspect of the country’s progress.
Lopsided growth reducing lifespans