The National Human Rights Commission on Friday issued a notice to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on a report by a United States-based think tank which noted that air pollution in India reduces the life expectancy of citizens by an average of five years.

The commission took suo motu cognisance of media reports on the US think study and asked the ministry to respond on it within four weeks. The ministry has also been asked to present a status report on the National Clean Air Programme launched in 2019.

The programme is aimed at reducing 20% to 30% particulate matter concentration in 122 cities by 2024.

“The Commission has observed that the contents of the media reports, if true, raise a serious issue of Right to Life,” the statutory human rights body said in a press release.

The study released on June 14 by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago had found Delhi as the most polluted mega city in the world, and that air pollution in the national capital shortens lifespan by nearly 10 years.

The researchers calculated the reduction in life expectancy on the basis of what the average lifespan would have been if the World Health Organization’s guidelines on fine particulate pollution had been followed.

The global health body’s guidelines state that the annual average PM2.5 concentration should not be higher than 5 micrograms per cubic metre.

Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns – about a ten-thousandth of an inch – is particularly dangerous to human health. Such particles are small enough to travel deep into the respiratory system, potentially impairing lung function.

The Energy Policy Institute had said that India accounted for about 44% of the world’s increase in air pollution since 2013. It said that a permanent nationwide reduction of 25% in particulate pollution would increase life expectancy by 1.4 years in India, and by 2.6 years in Delhi.

If current levels of pollution persist, the average life expectancy of the residents of Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal will be reduced by 7.6 years on average, the report said.