The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems. According to the 2014 EPI, released at the World Economic Forum, Davos, on Saturday, India was placed at the 155th position out of 178 countries, with an index score of 31.23 points. This rank is much lower than its BRICS peers. Among the BRICS group, China ranked 118th, South Africa 72nd, Russia 73rd, and Brazil 77th. India also fared poorly in comparison with neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Nepal, ranked 148th and 139th respectively. India lags most notably in the protection of human health from environmental harm — its air quality is among the worst in the world, tying with China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organisation (WHO) thresholds.

In a report, researchers from Yale and Columbia Universities, who collaborated with the WEF, mention that “the stresses of urbanisation without sufficient investment in environmental protection help explain why India has seen a 100 per cent decline in its air quality scores over the past decade.” The result of this, says Angel Hsu, lead author of the report, is that very low GDP per capita, coupled with the second highest population in the world makes India’s environmental challenges more formidable than those faced by other emerging economies. Corroborating this and emphasising the human cost of India’s inability to protect its people from environmental harm, data from the WHO’s Public Health and Environment survey, 2008, on deaths owing to outdoor air reveal that around 1.7 lakh people have died owing to poor air quality.

The Centre for Science and Environment, using more recent data from 2013, ranks air pollution as the fifth leading cause of death in India, with about 6.2 lakh premature deaths occurring from outdoor air pollution-related diseases. This goes to show that the numbers only seem to be getting worse. Following in the footsteps of China, India too, may soon be approaching a state of “air apocalypse”. In light of these findings, what good are other indicators of economic growth — skyscrapers, metros and other trappings of urbanisation — if there’s no clean air to breathe? Do you think the Government should take stringent steps to pursue its growth vision in a sustainable manner? If so, how and what steps should it take? Write to us at >