This World Environment Day, the new Environment Minister in the Modi government is faced with a host of challenges.
Says E Somanathan, Professor, Economics and Planning Unit, Indian Statistical Institute: “To curb the prevailing (environmental) issues, an independent regulatory body should be constituted.”
The recent Lok Sabha elections may not have debated environment and the looming crisis, but the challenges are there for all to see.
The fast-growing urban areas in our country are fast becoming unlivable. The unacceptably high levels of pollution in several cities, including in Delhi, shows a serious disconnect between the prevalent patterns of urbanization, consumption choices and the environmental concerns.
“We need a correct balance of ecology and economics”, says Hem Pandey, Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). He further opines, “India as a highly populated country with a growing economy and per capita income requires not just implementation of environmental policies but also require scientific and technical support.”
Somanathan informs, “Whenever we burn coal or oil that causes pollution, we have to track all the pollutants involved. The government needs to have a regulatory body to track how much damage is done by various pollutants and put a fee on them appropriately. Due to this fee, people will find those things expensive to use. A pollutant fee for coal, petrol and other pollutants will help the government mitigate the environmental problems.”
Considering the current crisis of water, he adds, “The overarching problem of water scarcity is seeping into the urban cities with the recent case of Chennai etc. The main issue of extraction of groundwater is one of the major causes which is primarily used in agriculture. To curb this, farmers should be given Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) wherein they should pay for the electricity which is currently given free of cost and further conserve water”.
Anand Sharma, Member of Rajya Sabha and Chairman of Standing Committee Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), on the other hand, says: “The prevailing gap between the poor and rich growing is one of the major causes of all these problems”.
The state of the air we breathe
Seventy cities breathe excessively polluted air irrespective of major overarching schemes of various governments. Somanathan says, “We don’t really have a policy. There is no body that is doing a comprehensive assessment of the situation. Moreover, there are various sources adding to the problem of air pollution. We don’t have a technical body comprising of scientists and economists which can assess the situation. However, we need a pollution fee for all the pollutants which will automatically direct people to use cleaner ways of doing things which will decrease the pollution levels tremendously. Pandey adds, “The biggest challenge for India today is not the policies and legal framework for the Environment Ministry but a collative measure of all the sectors where mitigation actions of the growth and development are to be met by state-of-the-art technology.”
How prepared we are as a country:
Climate change leading to more disasters including an increase in the frequency of droughts as well as floods are creating havoc not in India but in other parts of the globe as well. “We need much better planning of reservoirs, information system which should be available to the public and be transparent also. Lack in coordination between the IMD and the authorities which manage the dams and reservoirs also leads to various problems during disasters. We need people with specializations in scientific expertise.
"We need to replicate the institutional structure that is there in developed countries. We need an independent environmental agency that automatically funds and hires all the technical support in terms of manpower and other equipment independently. Currently, we lack all this in the system. Our ministry which is a political body is unsuitable for scientific and technical work. We need to separate scientific and technical decision making from political decision making," adds Somanathan.
Further, Leena Shrivastava, Vice Chancellor of TERI School of Advanced Studies adds, "India needs to prepare a strategy for a Green Economy incorporating concepts of a resource efficient, circular economy. Environmental issues in the industry have to be mainstreamed and not considered as a separate project clearance requirement. All industry activity must be driven towards a net-zero impact outcome in a defined time-frame of five years. In essence, environmental policy should get the same importance as the fiscal policy – after all the environment is rapidly becoming one of the most scarce and endangered factors of production."
With the current state of affairs, economics and environment go hand-in-hand.
The incumbent Environment Minister clearly has his task cut out.Read More
Policies in favour of reducing air pollution will help in monetary benefits. TERI, in its latest research on Delhi air pollution, has revealed that estimates of economic benefits in terms of health from air pollution reduction (to safer limit 100 micro gram per cubic) for a typical household amount is Rs 33,978.12 and for the entire population of Delhi it is Rs 52.4 billion.
In Delhi, a typical household can save about 2.54 per cent per year of their annual income from reduction in pollution exposure to safe levels. In discussions, various facts pertaining to different exposures, particularly on children, instance - hovering of vehicles run of fuel containing lead, high tension wires and their impact on mental ability were discussed.
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Experts call for a robust system to implement existing clean-air policies, hail National Clean Air Programme
ONE IN EIGHT DEATHS IN THE COUNTRY IN 2017 WAS ATTRIBUTABLE TO AIR POLLUTION, MAKING IT THE LEADING RISK FACTOR FOR DEATH ACROSS INDIA
NEW DELHI: Creating a robust system to implement existing clean-air policies, promoting coordination between the Centre and states, and devising stateand district-level pollution control plans are vital to improve air quality, experts say.
One in eight deaths in the country in 2017 was attributable to air pollution, making it the leading risk factor for death across India, said a state-level disease burden study published in Lancet Planet Health on Thursday.
The statewise breakup of data, however, shows that there is a three and six-fold variation in deaths and healthy life-years lost because of pollution. The heterogeneity among the states needs to be addressed by identifying local sources of pollution and developing policies to address them.
We need detailed emission inventories that not only tell us the type of pollutant but also what proportion of it is coming from where and what are the chemical properties. We get data on this from various studies conducted by the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) but we need to strengthen our monitoring systems too,said Tushar Joshi, adviser on occupational and environmental health and chemical safety in the Union health ministry.
The government is in the process of adding more automatic air quality monitoring stations and it is needed in the rural areas too, where typically the high ozone pollution is leading to failing crops. The ozone is high as there is no nitrous oxides to neutralise it, he said.
The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, under which women of poor households are being provided free cooking gas connections to reduce their dependence on firewood, is one step towards addressing the problem, said Sagnik Dey, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi.
For a county as large as India, source apportionment studies cannot be done everywhere, but modelling studies have shown biggest contributor, for the country as a whole, is use of solid fuels, said Dey.
Experts hailed the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) that aims to reduce PM 2.5 and PM 10 pollutants by 30% and 20% respectively.
The NCAP is a good start as it allows states to formulate their own plans. However, it is more important to improve the coordination among states and with the Centre for effective implementation of already existing and any policies that are introduced in the future, said Dey.
For example, the 15-year diesel vehicles removed from the roads in Delhi are not discarded but sold off to other places where they continue polluting. Would that pollution not come back to Delhi? he said.
Adding to the problem is the slow percolation of policies across the country.This is what we see with low emission diesel or CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles, which are still not feasible in many parts of the country. The government has brought in the BS (Bharat Stage) VI standards, which may face the same problem, said Kamna Sachdeva, associate professor at the TERI School of Advanced Studies
India will move up to the toughest emission standards of BS-VI from the current BS-IV by 2020, skipping an intermediate level.
Fixing accountability is also needed. â€œThe NCAP should be released incorporating the time-bound pollution reduction targets across sectors with fixed accountability and strong legal backing, said Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner, Greenpeace India.
And the focus should not just be on the polluting industries and the emissions from thermal power plants.
The government already has norms for the emissions from industries and policy on reducing dependency on fuelbased power. But we often forget that solid fuels are also used in the numerous dhabas across the country, or the dust pollution caused by sweeping, and inefficient municipal waste disposal that leads to people burning household waste. Emphasis should be on these too, said Dr Lalit Dandona, senior author and director of the India StateLevel Disease Burden Initiative
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