Seven months after India found itself among the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2018, the Union Environment Ministry on Tuesday said that “changes made” to the index, which saw India drop 36 points from 141 in 2016 to 177 this year, “have not been explained or backed by scientific arguments”, and seem to be “arbitrary.”
The ministry also said that the report “relied on data gathered by NASA satellite in place of actual monitored data”, and “has not been peer-reviewed.”
The biennial report by Yale and Columbia universities, along with the World Economic Forum, was released on the sidelines of the forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. It ranks 180 countries on their performance.
India ranked bottom of the list in the environmental health category, and ranked 178 out of 180 on air quality. The EPI found that air quality remains the leading environmental threat to public health.
The ministry has said that as per its assessment of the report, “weightage given to the parameters at the three hierarchical levels (policy objectives, issue categories and indicators) are different in 2016 and 2018 iterations. The changes made have not been explained or backed by scientific arguments, and seem to be arbitrary.”
In his written reply in Lok Sabha, Minister of State Mahesh Sharma said that different weightage and the difference in methodology used implies that rankings arrived at are not comparable, and have their limitations. “Under the category ‘water resources’, the only indicator shown is waste water treatment, which puts developed countries on the top since it is a measure of the capacity to address a problem,” he said
Sharma said that under EPI 2016, air quality figured as a category only under environmental health, while in EPI 2018 there is an additional category of air pollution under ‘Ecosystem vitality’, which “seems misplaced”.
Overall, the report put India (at 177) and Bangladesh (179) near the bottom of the rankings, with Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal rounding out the bottom five.
The report had said that deaths attributed to ultra-fine PM2.5 pollutants have risen over the past decade and are estimated at 1,640,113 annually in India. “India’s low scores are influenced by poor performance in environmental health policy objective. Deaths attributed to PM2.5 have risen over the past decade and are estimated at 1,640,113, annually [Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2017],” noted the report.