New Delhi: Green activists Thursday asked the Centre to set up an empowered authority and expedite the release of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to combat air pollution, after a study said around 12.4 lakh deaths in India were attributable to air pollution last year.
Environment activists noted that the study confirms the urgency to take "bold and drastic" steps to clean the air and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make it a mission of national importance.
One in eight deaths in India last year was attributable to air pollution, which contributes to more disease burden than tobacco use, a study published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal said while asserting the highest exposure to ultra-fine particulate matter, PM2.5, was in Delhi followed by Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
Around 12.4 lakh deaths in India last year is attributable to air pollution, it said and termed air pollution as a leading risk factor for deaths in the country where the average life expectancy would have been 1.7 years higher if the pollution levels were less than the minimal level causing health loss.
"Lancet study has set alarm bells ringing. Finally, we have the Indian study which emphasises on the fact that approximately 12.4 lakh people die annually due to air pollution and not even a single person breathe air quality below the World Health Organisation safety limit of 10 µg/m3, and only 23 per cent people across the country breathe air quality below the Indian standard of 40 µg/m3.
"The numbers correspond to earlier estimates made by researchers across the world and reported by Greenpeace in the past through our report Airpocalypse," Greenpeace India Senior Campaigner Sunil Dahiya said.
He said the numbers only point in one direction that we cannot afford to not act on reducing air pollution in an aggressive time-bound targeted manner.
"The cost of our inaction is huge and expands to huge economic loss, welfare loss and morbidity along with 12.4 lakh deaths every year.
"The National Clean Air Programme should be released without any further delay incorporating the time-bound pollution reduction targets across sectors with fixed accountability and strong legal backing," said Dahiya.
The Environment Ministry has earlier said that the NCAP, which proposes multiple strategies to combat air pollution, will be released this month.
The first comprehensive estimates of the impact of air pollution on deaths, health loss and life expectancy reduction in each state of India was done by experts and scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) along with other Indian collaborators.
Jyoti Pande Lavakare, co-founder, Care for Air NGO said air pollution is a silent and invisible killer and it was always known that people were dying a slow death by breathing toxic, polluted air.
"Now we have research that is able to give an actual measure of how many years of our lives we are losing by breathing polluted air," Lavakare said.
He said the president on November 26 acknowledged that there is a "gap in justice" when a child suffers from asthma caused by pollution and losing years of our lives is an even bigger miscarriage of social justice.
"Air pollution exposure is a national health emergency. I entreat our prime minster to make it a mission of national importance and set up an empowered authority to reduce pollution in a measurable and time-bound manner.
"There can be no Swachch Bharat without 'swachch hava'. How can we 'Make in India' when we can't even breathe in India?," Lavakare said.
Uttar Pradesh, last year, recorded the most 2,60,028 deaths attributable to air pollution, followed by Maharashtra at 1,08,038 and Bihar 96,967, it said.
Reecha Upadhyay, campaign director of 'HelpDelhiBreathe' said, "We know pollution harms us and our children and the elderly. This study confirms the urgency to take bold drastic steps to clean our air."
Ashutosh Dikshit, CEO of URJA, the apex body of Delhi's resident welfare associations (RWAs) said it is a known fact that air pollution is fatal and the government has this knowledge and they need to act on it.
"The government should have taken action on it long back and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has flagged the issues several times. Air pollution is fatal and gradually kills. This fact is proven again and again through these reports," Dikshit said.