Pollution illustration. (Photo: iStock)

Did you know the cost of tackling air pollution in India is Rs 3.39 lakh per second?


India spends a whopping Rs 3.39 lakh per second to tackle air pollution from fossil fuels. Amid an ongoing slowdown, the emerging economy is forced to shell out Rs 10.7 lakh crore ($150 billion) annually to deal with rising pollution, according to a report by an environment organisation Greenpeace Southeast Asia. 

India is in the top three, after China and the United States, to bear the highest costs from fossil fuel air pollution worldwide. The report titled 'Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels' estimates the global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels at Rs 800 crore ($8 billion) per day or 3.3% of the world’s GDP. 

The high economic cost of air pollution in India is due to pollution concentrations, population size and the availability and cost of healthcare. India houses seven of the 10 most polluted cities in the world and 22 of the worst 30. The country is also home to around 130 crore people that adds to the financial cost of dealing with pollution. 

Cost of breathing toxic air

Evidence from public health studies suggests that exposure to an air pollutant or combination of air pollutants such as PM2.5, NO2 or ozone is associated with increased incidence of diseases, including Ischaemic Heart Disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, lung cancer, lower respiratory infections, premature birth (preterm birth), type II diabetes, stroke and asthma.
Source: Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels report

Air pollution generated by burning fossil fuels causes approximately 45 lakh premature deaths worldwide every year, the report shows. According to the Greenpeace analysis, exposure to PM2.5 air pollution from fossil fuels kills 30 lakh premature adults each year through cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and lung cancer. An estimated 5 lakh premature deaths occur from chronic diseases due to fossil fuel-related NO2 pollution and 10 lakh premature children die due to fossil fuel-related ozone pollution annually. 

Economic cost

Globally, air pollution from fossil fuels costs Rs 203 lakh crore (approx.) (or $2.9 trillion), which is equivalent to 3.3% of the global GDP.  According to the report, the cost of dealing with NO2 and ozone air pollution from fossil fuels is estimated at Rs 24.5 lakh crore and Rs 26.6 lakh crore, respectively. This is equivalent to 0.4% of the global GDP.
Source: Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels report

As Indian cities struggle to breathe fresh air, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Union Budget 2020 allocated Rs 4,400 crore to improve the air quality of cities with over 10 lakh people.

Air pollution has already reduced the life expectancy of people living in the Indo-Gangetic Plain by up to seven years, according to a study of the region from 1998-2016. As nearly 48 crore people or about 40 per cent of India's population reside in the Indo-Gangetic Plain region, India seems to be in a race against time to tackle pollution. 

Even as the allocation to improve the air quality of cities seems relatively moderate, the country has an enormous task at hand.