(EnergyAsia, March 14 2013, Thursday) — India’s heavy reliance on coal to fuel 111 of its largest power plants is causing between 80,000 and 120,000 premature deaths and as many as 20 million asthma cases each year, said Greenpeace.

In a new report researched by a former World Bank official, the environmental group blamed coal use for making the Delhi and Kolkata regions the country’s most polluted. India’s other major urban centres are also increasingly blanketed by smog as the Indian government has failed to tighten environmental regulations and step up inspection of its power sector.

India relies on its coal to fire the bulk of its 210MW of power capacity to produce more than 70% of its electricity.

“Thousands of lives can be saved every year if India tightens its emissions standards, introduces limits for pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury and institutes mandatory monitoring of emissions at plant stacks,” said author Sarath Guttikunda, a former head of the World Bank’s pollution division.

“Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved, and millions of asthma attacks, heart attacks, hospitalisations, lost workdays and associated costs to society could be avoided, with stricter emission standards and the installation and use of the technologies required to achieve substantial reductions in these pollutants.”