India’s poor ranking in the Environment Performance Index (EPI) is a measure of its failure to address its environmental challenges, compared to other countries. India’s position is 168 among 180 countries whose performance has been analysed, and it is behind all other South Asian countries except Afghanistan. The index was released last week by Yale University in the US which, along with Columbia University and other agencies, has been preparing the index since 2002. The index has been accepted as a reliable indicator of environmental actions and policies of governments, and is considered as a tool to assess the progress of countries in their efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It also helps governments to set targets and formulate policies to achieve them and provides data and analysis to evaluate shortcomings and understand successes better. The index is based on 32 indicators of environmental performance, including bio-diversity, air quality and water and sanitation, and takes into consideration trends at the national and global levels for 10 years. This helps to track the progress or decline of countries in the achievement of environmental goals. India’s score is below the regional average on five important parameters including air quality, sanitation and drinking water, heavy metals and waste management. All these are important for the general health of the people. The country’s performance was below par on other indicators also.
The only consolation is that its position has gone up from 177 last year to 169 this year, but that would not have made any big difference on any indicator in a large country like India. In previous years also the country’s performance was equally dismal. India has a fairly strong environmental movement and environmental awareness is growing. There are public debates and campaigns on many issues. There are environment ministries at the Central and state levels and institutions like the National Green Tribunal (NGT). There are various laws on environment, and courts frequently accept environment-related petitions and issue orders, and even take suo motu action in some cases. Yet the country’s performance is about the worst in the world, followed only by a few countries like Burundi and Liberia. India needs to re-double national sustainability efforts on all fronts, according to the index. The country needs to focus on a wide spectrum of sustainability issues, with a high-priority to critical issues such as air and water quality, biodiversity and climate change. The 11 countries lagging behind India were — Burundi, Haiti, Chad, Soloman Islands, Madagascar, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoir, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Liberia.
In the 2020 EPI – a biennial scorecard of national results on a range of sustainability issues – Denmark has ranked first in the world, followed by Luxembourg, Switzerland etc. The director of the EPI project identified some factors common to all top performers: good governance, public participation in policy process, good regulatory strategies, open debate over goals and programmes, a lively media and a commitment to the rule of law. India claims to have all these, but the results do not show that. It is time the Union and state government lay more stress on environment and initiate action-oriented steps.