Again this year, World Environment Day ended with selfies and photos of Academics, Politicians, Social Workers, Students and people from other affluent sections of the society. All the hullabaloo of the Environment protection will perhaps zero-down to the likes and comments on these photos on social media. The real thing to ponder upon this year is whether we do realize the potential Environmental Catastrophe that is in the making. Our Making. Do we really understand the situation we are at and the consequences that are to arise from it? What price are we going to pay?
The 2018 Environmental Performance Index ranked India 177 out of 180 countries surveyed. EPI is unique in its approach because it ranks countries on 24 performance indicators across ten issue categories covering environmental health and ecosystem vitality; incorporating many high-priority environmental issues, including resource consumption, depletion of environmental assets, pollution, and species loss among other important topics. In the 2016 survey which covered 19 indicators, India was ranked 141. Over the years, environmental condition in India has only worsened, whereas rest of the world has tried to improve it. The most positing part about the Pollution is that of Air Pollution. The World Health Organization monitors the air quality and publishes the global report regularly. In the report published in 2016, India had 13 cities in world’s top 20 most polluted cities with Delhi leading the pack along with Patna, Gwalior, and Raipur respectively. Latest survey published in the May 2018, it was reported that India had 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM 2.5 concentrations, with the worst being Kanpur.
The saddest thing about the worsening condition is that it has very much to do with the Government’s policies and measures. The very air we breathe, the water we drink, the toxic and adulterated food we eat, the dying soil we walk on, the glaring sounds we are forced to hear, and everything else we encounter that is against nature is all political.
Recently, 13 people in Tuticorin died when the police fired on the crowd who had been protesting against Vedanta’s Sterlite copper unit for its adverse impact on the environment. The protest had been going on for very long but it got the national and international attention only after it turned deadly. NDA government had passed some orders in December 2014 which favoured companies like Vedanta, which later in 2016 was struck down by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Before, the NDA came to power; Vedanta was even supported by the UPA government in 2009 when it gave clearance to Vedanta without any public hearing.
In March 2016, The World Culture Festival was organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to celebrate 35 years’ service of his Art of Living foundation. The Indian army was made to build bridges across the river by the Union government. It was attended by many prominent leaders including Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Arvind Kejriwal besides the Environmental activists like Dr Vandana Shiva. The event was organized on the floodplains of the Yamuna in the outskirts of Delhi. An expert committee appointed by the NGT reported that the event destroyed the floodplains and caused so severe a damage that it would cost over Rs 42.02 crore and may take up to ten years for the rehabilitation of the floodplains.
When it comes to budget allocation and its usage, the government doesn’t seem to put the fragile environment as a priority. In the fiscal year 2018-19, the budget of Rs. 2,675.42 crore was allocated to the environment ministry which, although saw a slight increase from the previous year, was far less than 2012-2013, the year in which a budget of Rs 3082.41 crore was allocated. Between 2014 and 2017, mere Rs 56.8 crore was allocated for Pollution abetment. Namami Gange, a project of the Central government, was launched in 2014 to clean the Ganga with an estimated budget of Rs 20,000 crore to be spent between 2015 and 2020. The project covers the activities such as sewerage treatment, river surface cleaning, industrial effluent monitoring, afforestation, and making Ganga gram villages open defecation free among others. Most of the money allocated till date are for sewerage treatment plants in which 2769.38 million litre waste per day was targeted to be processed around. According to the data retrieved, only 299.13 million litres waste has been processed per day. The success of other activities too remains a distant dream.
When it comes to the solid waste, India produces over 62 mn tonnes of solid waste annually, collects 43 mn tonnes and treats only 12 mn tonnes is treated. Each day, around 25,940 tonnes of Plastic waste is also generated. It is estimated that almost 94 per cent of the plastic is recyclable, but the recycling sector is unable to cope with the high volume. Most of the States and Union Territories already have laws which seek to regulate the plastic production but they laws yet remain to be enforced properly. Experts fear that government is complicit in the crime. Early this year, it has made amends in a 2016 law which had stiffened the production of plastic. The law no longer requires the plastic vendors to register and pay the annual fee to urban local bodies and at the same time also removes the complete ban on the non-recyclable multilayered plastic which, was although supposed to be phased out by March this year, remains in use. In terms of medical waste, India currently produces 550.9 tons of medical waste per day which is likely to increase up to 775.5 tons per day by 2022.
To make the matters worse, India also acts as a dumping yard for “the first world” countries. According to reports, a lot of waste from developed countries including metals, textiles and tires end up in India. Alang shipyards in Gujarat salvage around half of all the ships in the world meant for recycling. Various ports in India regularly receives illegal wastes from United States, Europe and the Middle East most of which go unchecked by the custom. Apart from local e-waste generation (1.95 million tonnes), India also imports a large number of e-wastes from United States (42%), China (30%), Europe (18%), and other countries (10%).
We must not forget continuing deforestations in the mining areas, destruction of the environment at the hand of crony capitalists and most of all the Government’s neglect to the real issues. in the past one year, about 146 per cent increase in the non-forest activities on the forest land has been recorded in Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha, together accounting for 54 per cent.
The effect of air pollution is so high that the life expectancy among Indians on an average reduces by 3.4 years while among the residents of Delhi it reduces by almost 6.3 years. A study even shows that about 2.2 million school children in Delhi are growing up with irreversible lung damage which they will never recover. According to WHO, total welfare losses due to air pollution in India amounted to more than 500 billion USD (~8.5% of country’s GDP) in the year 2013 (381% increase from 1990). A report—True cost of sanitation states that poor sanitation cost India US $ 106.7 billion (5.2% of its GDP) in the year 2015. There are also other economic consequences of pollution in addition to the inexplicable loss that is borne be nature.
India, in spite of being better in GDP per PPP than many countries, has done very poor in both the Environmental Performance Index and World Health Organization reports. If we compare India with highly industrialized economies, India has far more poor air and water quality than these countries. Infact, we observe that India has done worse than various less peaceful countries like Iraq, Nigeria Libya, Ukraine, Egypt, Syria and several others in overall EPI. Beijing which was often compared with Delhi for its pollution has drastically improved its air quality along with other main cities. In 2016, Beijing’s PM 2.5 concentration was found to be around 73 micrograms per cubic metre compared to Delhi’s 143. China has decreased the water pollution in its river by 30-40% within 3o years and continues to d do. Above discussions explain why the government has everything to do with controlling air pollution.
However, there are still rays of hope. It is in India that the world’s first solar-powered airport i.e Kochi Airport is situated with the world’s biggest solar power plan being situated in Tamil Nadu. Modi Government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has helped in creating most villages Open Defecation Free and in turn controlling the pollution. Free LPG service to the women of underprivileged section of the society would substantially decrease the indoor air pollution which is the cause of 300000-400000 deaths annually. Future prospects look favourable as India has ratified Paris Agreement and strives for the dependence on clean and green energy. India looks forward to meet the target of 175 GW of installed renewable energy capacities by the year 2022.
Hanzala Aman is a columnist writing for HW News Network. The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of HW News Network or any employee thereof. HW News Network makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.