NEW DELHI—The government has finally admitted that there's a major pollution problem in the country, killing thousands every year.
The Union environment ministry said in Parliament on Thursday that more than 35,000 people had died due to acute respiratory infections (ARI) across India in the past nine years.
In a written reply in Rajya Sabha, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said during the period between 2006 and 2015, 35,616 people have died due to respiratory problems.
More than 2.6 crore cases of acute respiratory infections were reported every year during that period.
"Air pollution is known to be one of the aggravating factors for many respiratory ailments and cardiovascular diseases. Central Pollution Control Board had conducted an epidemiological study on ambient air quality, respiratory systems and lung functions of children in association with the Chittranjan National Cancer Institute, Kolkata," the Minister said.
A 2013 report by Global Burden of Disease report, published by the Centre for Science and Environment, noted that air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India. The report said that annual premature deaths caused by particulate air pollution have increased by six times since the year 2000. It said that 6,20,000 premature deaths had occurred in India from air pollution-related diseases in 2010.
However, the environment ministry had in the past maintained that there was no "conclusive evidence" that air pollution had led to loss of lives of patients suffering from respiratory diseases.
This was a rare official admission that pollution could be causing deaths on a large scale.
Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis etc are the diseases caused by exposure to increasing air pollution, the minister said.
The figures revealed that West Bengal reported the maximum number of ARI deaths, followed by Andhra Pradesh (along with Telangana), Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Delhi.
In Delhi, the levels of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) in the country stands at 316 µg/m3, that is nearly 16 times what is considered healthy by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and nearly twice that of Beijing, the next most-polluted city in the world.