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Explain Speaking: The economic cost of being ‘filthy India’

Updated 26th October 2020 | 11:25 IST

Last week, US President Donald Trump mentioned it as “filthy India” during the ultimate presidential debate and India received tons of unwanted attention.

This raises two important questions.

One, how “filthy” are we intrinsically and also in comparison to other countries? I’m presuming here that no matter how hurtful it sounds, not many would argue that we have an extended thanks to going before we call ourselves a clean country.

Two, what does it cost us as an economy to be this filthy? Because, frankly, if being filthy and polluted doesn’t cost us then that might be an excellent “economic” argument in favour of staying filthy.


But before we take a stab at answering these questions, allow us to first check out the opposite big analytical news on the economic front. This had to try to to with how the members of the newly constituted Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Federal Reserve Bank of India (RBI) saw the state of the Indian economy.

The week started with news reports of RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das stating that “India at the doorstep of economic revival”. But the week ended with news of Das contracting Covid-19 and therefore the release of MPC’s minutes from the October policy review that presented a much more sobering outlook for the economic recovery.

The most noteworthy, and simply the foremost accessible, the assessment was that of Michael Patra.

He stated that “it may take years” for India to regain the output (real GDP) lost as a result of the pandemic. And at a time when many commentators, especially within the government, have chosen to worry on the so-called green shoots, Patra stated: “While this has raised optimism about the much-awaited recovery, perhaps, pragmatic caution is warranted”.

His reason: “The fear of a second wave looms over India; already the forced lockdowns across Europe, Israel Indonesia, and India, with the second-highest caseload of infections and over-stretched healthcare infrastructure, can’t be immune. With the absence of intrinsic drivers, the recovery may last only until pent-up demand has been satiated and replenishment of inventories has been completed. Empirical evidence suggests that consumption-led recoveries are shallow and short-lived”.

Coming back to Donald Trump’s regard to “filthy India”, it must be remembered that while he was talking with regard to the Paris Climate Accord, the attempt here is to seem at the filth in terms of poor or inadequate sanitation and rising pollution levels.

According to the web site “Our World in Data”, a part of Oxford University, “an estimated 775,000 people died prematurely as a result of poor sanitation in 2017. “This was 1.4% of worldwide deaths. In low-income countries, it accounts for five of deaths,” it states.

See the chart below to urge a handle on the annual number of deaths by risk factors in India. “Air pollution” — both indoors and outdoors — also as “poor sanitation, unsafe water sources, and no access handy washing facilities” compete with risks thanks to high vital sign, high blood glucose and smoking.

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