Hyderabad: EAS Sarma, former Secretary to GoI, has written a letter to Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC) to take measures to prevent air pollution in the country. Addressing to AN Jha, Secretary in the Ministry, Sarma has suggested that the Centre constitute a Group of Experts to look into the alarming pollution levels and study the latest research reports in this regard. Sarma has also found fault with relaxing norms on pollution in the wake of Make in India campaign.

EAS Sarma in the letter said: “Recent research study undertaken by the Boston-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) in collaboration with a group of Chinese and Indian universities, showed that worsening air pollution levels in India are far more worrisome compared to China.

Your Ministry has been a willing party to relaxing the environment impact appraisal procedures in the guise of facilitating the ‘Make in India’ approach and in the guise of promoting the ‘Ease of Doing Business,’ without being mindful of the need to safeguard the human lives and protecting the health of the people,” points out Sarma.

The dragon country seems to have initiated several corrective measures, whereas India is going in the opposite direction, on the false premise that ‘ease of doing business’ requires dilution of the environment norms. May I once again suggest that your Ministry to set up an expert group to take stock of these studies and propose statutory changes necessary to contain the trends.”

EAS Sarma has enclosed a research paper from ‘American Thoracic Society and Marron Institute. The study estimated excess morbidity and mortality caused by air pollution above recommended standards by American Thoracic Society. The report is based on a comprehensive research study carried out by scientists at New York University School of Medicine and the American Thoracic Society.

“Your Ministry has been a willing party to relaxing the environment impact appraisal procedures in the guise of facilitating the ‘Make in India’ approach and in the guise of promoting the ‘Ease of Doing Business,’ without being mindful of the need to safeguard the human lives and protecting the health of the people,” points out Sarma.

The environmental norms published by Union Ministry of Environment lax when compared to the norms prescribed by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA. For instance, the minimum threshold of 24 hours in USA for PM 2.5 is 35µg per M 3 whereas the corresponding Indian norm is 60 µg per M 3. Similarly, the norms in our case in respect of Lead, Nitrogen Oxides, Sulphur, Ozone and other pollutants are far too lax compared to the US norms. In other words, even if the norms prescribed in our case were to be strictly enforced, still, the air pollution levels in our case would significantly enhance the mortality rates
EAS Sarma, former Secretary to GoI

“The above cited report shows how excess air pollution levels reduce the mortality of the people and considering the high levels of air pollution in Delhi and many other cities in India. It has a direct relevance to industrialisation and transport planning in India and the need to tighten our own environmental norms urgently. Otherwise, the huge public expenditure incurred in our country on public healthcare may prove to be infructuous and counter-productive,” said Sarma.

The US study has further found that despite the rigorous norms prescribed in that country, even marginal excesses in pollution over and above the existing norms applicable in the US have resulted in an incremental increase in the mortality rates.

“The environmental norms published by Union Ministry of Environment lax when compared to the norms prescribed by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA. For instance, the minimum threshold of 24 hours in USA for PM 2.5 is 35µg per M 3 whereas the corresponding Indian norm is 60 µg per M 3. Similarly, the norms in our case in respect of Lead, Nitrogen Oxides, Sulphur, Ozone and other pollutants are far too lax compared to the US norms. In other words, even if the norms prescribed in our case were to be strictly enforced, still, the air pollution levels in our case would significantly enhance the mortality rates,” explains Sarma.

Sarma gave an example from Visakhapatnam, where he lives. The port city is surrounded by a highly polluting industrial cluster identified as such by the CPCB.

“Your ministry had earlier imposed a ban on new industrial units but, later lifted it under pressure from the industry. The Visakhapatnam and Gangavaram Ports have violated the conditions precedent to the Environment Clearances given for their expansion projects, but your Ministry has chosen to ignore the same, infringing the provisions of the various environment laws. These acts of omission almost border on acts of criminality as they lead to serious public health problems and loss of life.”

Sarma has requested the Ministry for Environment to constitute a committee comprising experts and civil society representatives to look into the problem of air pollution urgently and come up with corrective measures at the earliest.