NEW DELHI: A global study released this week that estimated 11 lakh Indians died due to air pollution in 2015 has been rejected by the government, with Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave insisting that he did not "trust sensational reports", pollution wasn't a killer and there were other associated reasons for deaths.
Mr Dave was, however, contradicted by his ministerial colleague, Dr Harsh Vardhan, who called pollution a "silent killer" that acts like "slow poison". "Even if the report had not come out I would be worried," he said.
Science and Technology Minister, Dr Vardhan said it was important to look at all reports objectively. "The report may be partially correct but we need to study it," the minister, a practising ENT surgeon before he made a career switch and joined politics in 1993, said.
US-based Health Research Institute released a study on Tuesday that attributed 42 lakh early deaths worldwide in 2015 to air pollution. India and China each, accounted for 11 lakh deaths.
But as environment minister, it is Mr Dave's statement that reflects the government's stand.
"Pollution is an issue and people do suffer from it but we rely on reports made by Indian institutions," he told NDTV, dismissing the global study.
Dr Bhure Lal, chairman of the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) set up to control pollution in the National Capital Region on the Supreme Court's orders, didn't agree with the environment minister Mr Dave.
"That may be the minister's view but medical science does not say so... all medical reports are saying that it affects health," he said, stressing that "it is in our interest to bring it under control".
Dave's reaction to the study is in line with the Centre's stand on previous studies that put a number on deaths due to pollution. It brushes them aside, insisting that there was "no conclusive evidence" to back the statistics.
Last year, the environment ministry cited similar grounds to dismiss a research paper co-authored by scientists at the government-funded Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune. The paper had estimated air pollution reduced life expectancy of Indians by over 3 years. In Delhi, it said, people lost 6.3 year of their lives due to pollution.