Minister claims no data for pollution-related deaths in India, studies say otherwise

Dr Harsh Vardhan said in Parliament on Friday that there is no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlation of death/disease exclusively to air pollution

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Friday 04 January 2019

The Union minister of environment, forest and climate change, Dr Harsh Vardhan, said in Parliament on Friday that there is no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlation of death/disease exclusively to air pollution.

Incidentally, a study done by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that functions under the Union health and family welfare ministry was released only last month.

“We report that one out of every eight deaths in India in 2017 could be attributed to air pollution. The results show that India has a higher proportion of global health loss due to air pollution than its proportion of the global population,” says the study. 

The study, titled, 'Impact of air pollution on deaths, disease burden and life expectancy across the states of India' also says that the average life expectancy in the country would have been 1.7 years higher if the air pollution level was less than the minimal level. 

It was touted as first such comprehensive study that measures the health impact of air pollution.

The report even detailed state-wise burden—Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Haryana recorded highest number of deaths attributable to air pollution.

Name of State

Death rate attributable to air pollution among people younger than 70 years



Madhya Pradesh




Uttar Pradesh










Andhra Pradesh


West Bengal


The ICMR report also calculated the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) rate due to air pollution. “The ambient particulate matter pollution DALY rate was highest in the north Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Punjab, and Rajasthan,” it says.

World Health Organisation (WHO) study released in 2018 said more than 60,000 children under the age of five years and more than 4,000 children between the age of five-14 years died due to air pollution in 2016.  The death rate per 100,000 in the case of the former was 50.8, while that in the case of the latter was 1.7.

These startling figures came out in a nation-wide analysis done by WHO which also attributed significant number of still births and pre-term births to air pollution.

Another study done by three researchers from US and one from Canada had revealed that air pollution in Delhi was responsible for approximately 10,000 to 30,000 annual deaths.

Incidentally, this is not the first time that the government has made such a statement. At least twice earlier, Dr Vardhan made similar statements.

During an interview with a private news organisation in November 2017, he had stated that no death certificate has the cause of death as pollution.

In the same interview, he had also said that the Delhi smog was not a reason to panic over, and that his “benchmark for an emergency" situation would be one like the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984. 

"Let me clarify that I have never said that we shouldn't be bothered. All I am saying is that there is no need to frighten people. There is only a need to educate people and tell them about the routine precautions that they have to take. And I am sure that with routine precautions, people will be able to take care of it. I am not saying someone with lung problems should not go to the hospital," he had said.  

Dr Harsh Vardhan, the same year, told another private news channel in an interview that "to attribute any death to a cause like pollution may be too much.”

Adding to his reply in Lok Sabha on Friday, he clarified: “However, air pollution is one of the triggering factors for respiratory ailments and associated diseases. The government has initiated National Environmental Health Profile study.”

He adds: “The study aims to make assessment of human health impact as a consequence of exposure to outdoor air pollution in 20 selected cities across the country. The study will cover four zones of the country i.e. North, South, East and West, and will be a collaborative effort of Central Pollution Control Board/ State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and medical institutions.”

In this reply, he also claimed that air quality has improved. “Analysis of data revealed that SO2 levels were within the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) in all 43 cities during 2015-17. With respect to NO2, 14 cities showed an increasing trend, 14 cities showed a decreasing concentration, 14 cities showed a fluctuating trend and one city revealed steady concentration.”

“With respect to PM10, 14 cities showed an increasing trend, 8 cities showed a decreasing concentration, 21 cities showed a fluctuating trend. With respect to PM2.5, trends are available for 15 cities, and out of 15 cities, five cities showed an increasing trend, four cities showed a decreasing concentration, six cities showed a fluctuating trend,” he says in the reply. 

However, another WHO report last year featured 13 Indian cities in the global list of most polluted cities of the world.

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