Health as the focus of air pollution policy

Source: The post is based on the article “Health as the focus of air pollution policy” published in The Hindu on 16th November.

Syllabus: GS 3 – environmental pollution and degradation.

Relevance: About the status of health in India’s pollution policy-making.

News: The harmful effects of air pollution on health has again been highlighted by the poor winter air quality in north India.

Why status of health in India’s pollution policy-making is essential?

Clearly mentioned in Indian environmental laws: The primacy of protecting public health is clearly laid out in the statement of objects and reasons of India’s key environmental laws.

Impact of air pollution on health: According to the Lancet, in India, in 2019, 17.8% of all deaths and 11.5% of respiratory, cardiovascular and other related diseases are attributable to high exposure to pollution.

Read more: The action plan against Delhi’s air pollution
What is the present status of health in India’s pollution policy-making?

Non representation of health experts: India’s environmental regulators, expert groups and decision-making entities do not have any health expertise.

For instance, a) the recently constituted Commission for Air Quality Management also lacks any health representation, b) Recent papers published by the Centre for Policy Research revealed that health sector representatives comprise less than 5% of the membership of State Pollution Control Boards.

What are the contributions of the Ministry of Health’s Steering Committee on Air Pollution on pollution policymaking?

Ministry of Health’s Steering Committee on Air Pollution was India’s only effort to include health in India’s pollution policymaking The committee took an exposure-centred view of policy.

The committee a) Prioritised interventions that contributed the most to reducing exposure and thereby providing health benefits, b) Brought the local and global epidemiological evidence on the harmful effects of air pollution to light, and c) Defined policy measures aligned with science.

Read more: The weakest link in air pollution fight
What needs to be done to include health in India’s pollution policy-making?

Mention explicit health benefits: Health must be turned into a feature and eventually a function of the air pollution policy. For instance, foregrounding health in ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) will improve awareness among people.

Radical rethinking policy design: India should centre science and health to permanently fix the problem of air pollution.

Must read: Air pollution in Delhi: In the hopes for a clear blue sky
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