The precipice of pollution

first_imgPeople, in general, have become impatient. Oblivious of consequences, they crave for instant gains – whether it is the election-time doles from governments or gifts and money from Parties; whether it is the profits from industries and businesses; or whether it is happiness from religious ceremonies or celebrations; or it could be any other. Doles and bribes to voters pollute our democratic environment. Pollutants from wastes of cities, industries and religious activities damage our water bodies and the environment itself. But, notwithstanding the much-publicised TV show of the PM, in Jim Corbett, and his claim of love for the environment, and his call to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort to preserve water and other natural resources, the reality is that except activists, others have no concern for the consequences. Also Read – A special kind of bondAlthough Vedic culture envisages living in harmony with nature, under a Hindutva-government, India stands at a shameful 177 out of 180 countries in the Global Environment Performance Index of 2018. Our priorities are different. When there was distress because of demonetisation, country’s focus was on Pulwama and surgical strikes. When there is widespread poverty, distress in economy, industry and agriculture, and an all-time high of unemployment of 7.9 per cent, the country’s attention is on Kashmir. Degradation of environment is no issue for us. Also Read – Insider threat managementMost of us are not even conscious that the combustion of fossil fuels is incessantly pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasingly warming the globe – dangerously close to the rise-limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and abetting the addition of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen monoxide, which cause acid rain. This acidity is further aggravated by oceans since they absorb about one-third of all carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to become warm and more acidic. The acid rain changes the pH value of water in rivers and lakes, creating conditions conducive for the growth of algae that not only deprive the aquatic organisms of oxygen but also cause many diseases like gastroenteritis to humans. Moreover, global warming contributes to the melting of ice and a rise in sea level; a rise of two to three feet would displace about 4 million people. Further, we are in for more natural disasters – storm surges, wildfires, heat waves, severe droughts, which heighten the risk of pests and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, etc. Furthermore, the toxins of industrial waste contaminate water for drinking and agricultural purposes, while artificial fertilisers spoil the soil itself. While forests are health-keepers of our environment, water bodies are no less important, since polluting them and illegally extracting sand affect agriculture, fish and drinking water. Since we limit ourselves only to praying to river goddesses, ‘Namami Ganga’ has remained mere rhetoric; and Yamuna, Godavari, and other rivers are also crying for help. But, elsewhere in the world, people and governments alike treat them as precious natural resources and keep them clean. Industrialists are only concerned with their profits. Environmentalists found that most of the chemical industries in and around Vizag directly pump pollutants into the ground using a reverse boring method, causing permanent damage to the groundwater resources and thereby posing threat to the lives of people in the radius of several kms. An international expert, KH Choi, from Hitech Energy, wonders how the local authorities allow industries to release untreated chemicals into water bodies. “In Korea, we cannot see smoke coming from the chimney of any factory. Industries use the heat to reduce fuel consumption as well as pollution in the air,” he said. In this context, sea pollution is a matter of serious concern. 60,000 sq km dead zone, discovered a couple of years ago near Andhra coast in the Bay of Bengal, is one of over 450 such zones in the world, which are low-oxygen water bodies within marine ecosystems formed in a process called eutrophication, where life cannot exist. Experts maintain that the fertiliser runoff from the Godavari and Krishna river-basins have led to this dead zone formation. It is likely to expand further due to the continued release of chemicals, fertilisers and pollutants. Coastal cities also let the drainage and sewerage waste into the sea. Industrial effluents and oil spill contaminate it further. Nitrogen fertilisers cause the growth of harmful species of algae nearshore water. The ballast water discharges from ships also contribute to the dead zone. As a result, there is a mass mortality of fish and marine animals, or they migrate to other areas in search of food. Yet, people do not care to take even the small steps of stopping the dumping of plastics, garbage, and debris in the sea; the micron-thick plastics, and even straws, stifle marine lives; with plastics in its stomach, a rescued dugong dies in Thailand despite all the attention given. Then, we have the saga of festive seasons. After Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja, people immerse thousands of idols in the sea and other water bodies, and these devotees unmindfully defile them even by standing on them to ensure their sinking. In spite of the guidelines of the Pollution Boards, these attractive idols, made of Plaster of Paris and chemical colours, are in vogue on a mass scale, causing pollution of water bodies. As a result, thousands of dead turtles and fishes get washed ashore. Further, these practices turn the beaches and water bodies into pathetic sights strewn with disfigured idols, remains of coconuts and other puja material. Environmentalists decry that sea is not a dustbin to throw off all unwanted stuff into it. They demand that strict rules must be framed by governments for releasing waste into the sea; instead of discharging the industrial effluents into the sea, the waste should be converted into energy; the discharge of ballast water by the ships also needs global regulations. Worried about the dead zone expansion, Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority has urged neighbouring countries to frame stringent laws against marine pollution. Yet, no action has been taken by India so far, nor has any serious research been done on the existing dead zone. Apparently, we are not serious about environmental health, ecosystem vitality, etc., that determine sustainable development. Indeed, we are far behind in achieving any of the Sustainable Development Goals. India scored a pathetic 5.75 per cent in air quality as against over 90 by Switzerland and Japan; cities are facing a multi-pollutant crisis. In spite of the Har Ghar Jal Yojana, over 82 per cent rural households have no tap-water connection; and 47 million live on contaminated groundwater. According to CSE’s water and sanitation experts, although 72 million individual household toilets have been built under the Swachh Bharat scheme, funds meant to popularise them have not been spent, rendering the scheme ineffective; and in urban areas, about a million families are still waiting for their construction. Further, as against the 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, only 9 per cent of the roof-top solar target has been met so far. Even the Centre’s Ujjwala Yojana for LPG distribution has not done any meritorious work. Forestland diversion for non-forest purposes has only increased; the central government cleared an average of six projects a day in 2017. Even the money allocated for containing forest-fires is lying unused. With the closure of regional branches of NGT in 2018 due to staff crunch, handling of environment-related crimes – over 20,000 pending in courts and quite many under investigation – has only become casual. Instead of paying more attention to research on the grave matter of the dead zone, the central government only revels in the creation of Panchagavya for validating research on cow-derivatives – dung, urine, milk, curd and ghee, and their benefits, by allotting Rs 100 crores. Interestingly, apart from officials from concerned ministries, the 19-member committee that works on this project includes those from Vigyan Bharti and Go-Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra, outfits affiliated to RSS and VHP. In Andhra Pradesh, it was the apathy of Chandrababu Naidu that made the suffering tribal people of Araku valley collaborate with the Naxals that led to the killing of two politicians who were indulging in illegal mining. Again, it was his collusion with sand mafias who were illegally extracting sand from river-beds that made the National Green Tribunal slap an interim fine of Rs 100 on the state government, although it has to be paid by the already suffering tax-payers. These are only striking examples of land, sand, mining, and logging mafias operating across the country hobnobbing with those in governance. We have thus hit the rock bottom in performance to save our environment. We are also among the unhappiest countries in the world as per the World Happiness Report. Chandrayaan and Kashmir are only temporary doses of excitement. Unfortunately, it is only the activists who cry and decry about the dangers and are fighting lone battles. The successes of Chipko movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan, etc., were all because of selfless activists. Now, upset about the industrial effluents, they have called for a mass movement to protect and restore water bodies in Vizag. But how much can they do? They can only bring the urgency of the matter to the notice of governments, and make people aware of dangers. It is for the common man to join them to raise the decibel levels so that governments come forward to organise a robust collaboration with people to save our environment and ecosystems. Everyone should realise that we are standing on a precipice. PM on his part is expected to walk his talk. (Dr. N Dilip Kumar, IPS (retd) is a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)last_img

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