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Javadekar criticised by the WHO over pollution claims

Top view of the city street in the poor quarter of new Delhi. Air pollution and smog in crowded cities.
Delhi blanketed by smog.

Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar has been criticised by the World Health Organization (WHO) for claims about air pollution and its effects on human health. 

“Let us not create a fear psychosis among people,” Javadekar told MPs last week. “Indian studies have not shown a correlation between shortening of life and pollution.” This is despite research from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and numerous pieces of international research, including research with Indian inputs, linking exposure to poor air quality to a plethora of health issues and shorter life expectancies. 

Javadekar’s remarks have been criticised by WHO officials. “We have brought together and analysed tens of thousands of studies showing effect of air pollution on health from every population of the world,” said Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a team leader on climate change and health in the WHO’s public health and environment department. “We are yet to find a study which shows any population, including India, which is immune from the health impacts of air pollution.” 

“It is urgent to take action because the levels of air pollution in certain cities in India are very high and this is definitely having an impact on the health of citizens,” concurred Dr Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health Department. “The evidence is available and so are the interventions, the expertise is there and so is the plan of action. We urge the Indian government, which has enormous amounts of expertise and competencies, to do its best in tackling the sources of air pollution and reducing toxic pollutants that citizens are exposed to at the moment.”

Javadekar’s remarks seemed to contradict past statements he had made as an MP. In 2015, he said “high level of particulate pollution increases the risk of various diseases, including respiratory and cardiovascular [conditions].” However, he has also made statements contradicting reports on the country’s pollution crisis. In 2016, he called a WHO list of the 100 most polluted cities in the world which featured thirty Indian metros “misleading.” 

Javadekar is far from the only official to be criticised over remarks about pollution. More recently, Babul Supriyo, Minister of State for Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, told MPs that “there is no conclusive data available in the country to establish a direct connection of deaths/diseases exclusively due to air pollution.” 

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, while serving as Union Environment Minister, has been criticised for statements concerning pollution. He dismissed a report linking pollution to 1.2 million deaths in India as being intended only for “causing panic”, stating “regarding the high-profile data of millions of deaths, I do not agree with that because pollution can cause premature illness and other things. Pollution does affect health, but to create such a panicky situation and say millions of people are dying, I do not agree with that.” More recently, he was mocked on Twitter for suggesting that Indians stave off pollution-related harm to health by eating carrots.

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