Gurinder Kaur

On June 8, 2022, Yale University’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Sciences Information Network released Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2022. According to the Environmental Performance Index, India ranks lowest among 180 countries. India lags behind Myanmar (179), Vietnam (178), Bangladesh (177), and Pakistan (176). The Environmental Performance Index has been issued every two years since 2002. This 2022 Environment Performance Index is a data-driven summary of the state of environmental sustainability around the world.

Using 40 performance indicators across 11 main categories to measure the 2022 Environmental Performance Index rank environmental health, climate change, conservation of ecosystem vitality (biodiversity and their habitat) and ecosystem services. It also shows how close a country is to meet the national environmental policies designed to cope with climate change. Based on these criteria, Denmark ranks first with a score of 77.90 out of 100 while India is at the bottom with a score of just 18.90.

India has rejected the Environmental Performance Index 2022, stating that some of the indicators it used are “extrapolated” and are based on “surmises and unscientific methods”.  Second, a new indicator in the climate policy objective is ‘projected greenhouse gas emissions in 2050’. This is computed on the average rate of change in emission of the last 10 years (2010-2019) instead of considering it over a longer period, the extent of renewable energy capacity and use, additional carbon sinks, energy efficiency etc. of respective countries. Historical data on the lowest emission trajectory has been ignored. It should also be noted here that when India is ranked at a lower rank in any of the international reports, our country generally rejects it outright.

India should not question the Environment Performance Index. In 2020, our country had 168th rank on the Environmental Performance Index, while Pakistan was at 142nd and Bangladesh at 162nd ranks, which shows that even then India was behind Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 2018, India was ranked 177th out of 180 countries. The rankings of the past years in this regard show that India has never been even in the top 150 countries. So instead of denying international status, we should look at our own performance. Now India is followed by Myanmar (179) and Vietnam (178) which are prioritizing economic development over a balanced environment or countries which are facing civil war or other similar problems.

In the Environmental Performance Index 2022, India is at 179th rank in the air quality indicator which cannot be denied even by the common citizens of our country as the north-western region of the country is exposed to the most dangerous air pollution in winter every year. Even at the international level, every year one or the other organization releases statistics on the rising air pollution in India which is generally denied by our country. The Yale University rankings were rejected in 2014 by the then Union Environment Minister Anil Dave, in 2016 by the then Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan and in 2019 by the then Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. 

Prakash Javadekar had even said that no Indian research shows that air pollution has anything to do with diseases and people of India die prematurely, mocking critics. His statement was also discussed at the International Conference of Parties-25. The reports from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, USA, first on March 22, 2022 and now on June 14, 2022, reveal that air pollution is seriously affecting the health of the people of India. According to the report released on June 14, 2022, if the amount of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 in the air of Delhi meets the criterion set by the World Health Organization, then the life expectancy of Delhi residents can be increased up to 10 years.

Not only according to the reports by international organizations but also as reported by national organizations, air pollution in India is increasing rapidly. According to a January 2021 report by the Greenpeace of India, 80 per cent of the country’s cities have a higher amount of PM 10 even than the national standard. In September 2021, a joint study by Dr Sandeep Salvi and Dr Arvind Kumar concluded that one in three children in Delhi suffers from asthma due to increasing air pollution. According to a report by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, 16.7 million people died in India in 2019 from air pollution-related diseases and a 2020 report by the State of Global Air stated that 1 lakh 16 thousand children in India could not even complete the first month of their lives in 2019.

According to a 2018 report by the NITI Aayog of India, 70 per cent of the country’s freshwater sources have been polluted as 60 per cent of untreated water from industrial units and sewerage is being discharged directly into water bodies. According to this report, by 2030, 40 per cent of the country’s population will not have access to safe drinking water. Drinking polluted water kills 2 lakh people in the country every year with various diseases. The area of ​​rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands is steadily declining and many ecosystems are slowly disappearing; as a result, biodiversity is declining. Between 1970 and 2014, Mumbai had lost about 70 per cent of its wetlands.

In our country, dense forests are being cleared on a large scale in the name of economic development. Forests play an important role in recharging groundwater and maintaining the flow of water in rivers, lakes, waterfalls and the like. Due to continuous deforestation, waterfalls and springs in mountainous areas are rapidly disappearing. According to a report by the State of India Forest, forest cover in India has increased to 21.67 per cent in 2019 from 21.54 per cent in 2017. This slight increase of 0.13 per cent is also misleading as out of this increased area 82 per cent has grown under crops, 4.4 per cent under commercial crops (tea, coffee, coconut, and the like), and the rest under forests.

One also has to take a cursory look at what India is doing to tackle climate change as they too are directly related to the Environmental Performance Index. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy from renewable sources (water, air and sun) should be used instead of energy from coal, oil and the like. In the budgets of India from 2009-10 to 2021-22, more money was allocated for power generation on coal than renewable sources. India is the third-largest producer of power generation from coal in the world. An example in this regard is the power crisis in the country caused by the sharp rise in temperature in March, April and May this year due to an insufficient supply of coal. According to a December 2021 report by the International Energy Agency, India’s use of coal for power generation could grow at a rate of 3.9 per cent per annum by 2024.

The Indian government needs to work expeditiously on issues like clean energy, clean environment and climate action for improving the Environmental Performance Index. This year’s budget should have increased the amount to be spent on improving air quality in the National Capital Region and surrounding areas as compared to the 2021-2022 budget, but instead of increasing it, our government has reduced it by ₹3 crores. The Indian government under the Clean Air Programme has also failed to provide additional funding in the 2022-2023 budget to improve the air quality in 42 cities across the country. Under the National Coastal Mission, the Ministry of Environment is responsible for the protection of the coastal areas from natural disasters, protection of coastal people including fishermen, flora and fauna, and sustainable development, but this year the Union Government has reduced the amount for this head as compared to last year’s budget. By reducing the amount in the budget and changing the Coastal Regulation Zone rules in 2019, the government is leaving the coastal areas to suffer more natural disasters.

The Union government is pushing the natural environment to the brink of catastrophe by building four-lane roads in environmentally sensitive mountainous areas and setting up hydropower projects on rivers beyond their capacity. The Union government of our country should increase the area under forests and prepare nature-friendly development plans to make the environment of the country clean so that the status of the country’s environmental performance indicator can be raised and the quality of life of our people can be improved. To do so, the government must adopt a pro-people and nature-friendly economic development model and take immediate measures. 

About the Author

 Dr Gurinder Kaur, Former Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala and a Visiting Professor at IMRPI.

Read more by Gurinder Kaur at IMPRI Insights on Counter Magnet and Satellite Towns are not Necessary for Shimla.

Watch Gurinder Kaur at IMPRI #WebPolicyTalk delivering a special talk on Delhi’s Air Pollution and its Solutions.