Fly ash is inevitable while producing thermal power. However, leaving it to pollute the environment is not desirable
Fly ash, a by-product of coal-fired electricity-generating power plants, has always been a predominant challenge for the environment, as its unsafe disposal or ineffective recycling can pose a direct threat to the quality of the air we breathe. Such is our dependence on thermal power plants for energy that apart from the air pollution caused by these behemoths, the fly ash is also compromising other aspects of our environment.
For instance, the breach of the fly ash dyke at the Vindhyachal NTPC Super Thermal Power Station in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh in October 2019 led to the seeping of nearly 35 lakh metric tonnes of fly ash into the Govind Vallabh Pant Sagar, popularly known as the Rihand water reservoir. The Essar power plant at Mahan in the same district, too, saw breaches in its fly ash dykes leading to its seepage into the environment.
The huge level of water pollution triggered by the seepage of fly ash into the Rihand reservoir raised a red flag and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed an interim penalty of Rs 10 crore on the NTPC and Essar after reviewing the ground report filed by its committee. Additionally, the NGT also rapped the Lanco-Anpara power plant to stem the excess ash pond flow into the reservoir. The fly ash caused soil pollution, too, due to which agricultural land became infertile and standing crops suffered.
Thanks to the fly ash pollution, the levels of mercury in the soil, air and water spiked besides causing health complications for local communities as the Rihand reservoir is a source of drinking water for many. All these adverse developments took place despite the existence of statutory notifications from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) that mandates a 100 per cent utilisation of fly ash.
However, the full extent of the damage caused by the fly ash pond breach has come to light now thanks to a new report submitted recently by the joint committee comprising the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee. The report estimated that the fly ash breach by Essar Power Limited caused damages worth Rs 7.35 crore while the damage inflicted by the fly ash dyke breach at the NTPC plant was pegged at a whopping Rs 104 crore. The committee based its damage estimations on two parameters: One was the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions caused by the clean-up operations and two the extent of water pollution due to ash overflow.
The use of diesel during the clean-up operations caused the carbon footprint to spike, leading to the damage estimation spiking as well. Similarly, the fly ash infusion into the water bodies led to heavy metals and suspended solids leaching into the water. This, too, was translated into cost and added to the damages.
Thermal power stations are still the mainstay of our power sector with renewable sources of energy being nowhere near the required potential to take over as primary sources of our needs. Moreover, the opening up of the coal sector for mining to private players, besides nixing of the mandatory coal-washing requirements, is set to increase the production of fly ash in the future.
Already the ash ponds are overflowing across the nation due to increasing output and decreasing utilisation. As a result, the dykes are frequently breaking, leading to the ash polluting the nearby fields and water bodies.
The last 10 years saw the ash ponds contain a humongous 627 million tonnes of unused material. This is three times the fly ash being generated per year today, which is 200 million tonnes per annum. The close of 2019 saw an unused fly ash stock quantity of 1,647 million tonnes in India, which is eight times the annual generation quantity.
This is despite the fact that India has the regulations in place that mandate 100 per cent usage of fly ash and there is technology available to put this into action. Yet we are still far from a “full utilisation status.”
The Government-driven initiative to promote the use of fly ash in the construction material industry has not been a spectacular success as red bricks continue to be sold and used in open violation of the Government’s rules that ban them. Bricks are made out of top soil which is a precious part of our environment. An inch of top soil takes 500,000 years to form as it essentially involves the breaking down and erosion of rock.
If the Government cannot shut the countless red brick kilns that can be seen dotting the countryside, it cannot promote the use of fly ash in the building material industry. The buyer will have no option but to continue with the traditional red brick, which is easily available. Once the red brick production and supply chain is broken, it will not only save the top soil but also stem the pollution caused by these kilns as they use diesel and sugarcane waste as fuel.
Fly ash can be successfully used to produce bricks in combination with gypsum or lime. The resultant brick is not only eco-friendly but lighter and stronger. Technologies are available today that use compressed natural gas (CNG), an eco-friendly fuel, to fire autoclaves or huge ovens to manufacture fly ash bricks. Each autoclave can manufacture 22,000 fly ash-lime bricks in an eight-hour span.
So, if the thermal power plants in the country were mandated with a target to produce a certain quantity of bricks using the autoclave technology, then the problem of excess fly ash would disappear. There are ways to ensure full utilisation of fly ash; only a strong political will is required to implement the rules that have been put in place for this.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
Inefficient recycling of construction and demolition waste is indicative of the nation’s disregard for the environment and this can no longer be overlooked
As new commercial skyscrapers and lofty residential buildings continue to be the hallmark of “developed” cities, there is a virtual race among the builders to tear down older structures and replace them with energy-guzzling, steel and glass buildings that trap heat and require enormous air-conditioning input in order to make them liveable. The city skyline no doubt looks impressive but the more the skyline improves, the more the construction and demolition waste (CDW) on the ground level increases, as it is illegally dumped by builders on roadside and in landfills. India produces 150 million tonnes of CDW annually. The generation, management, recycling and finally disposal of this waste is governed by guidelines and rules put in place by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) under the Construction, Demolition and Waste Management Rules 2016. But the implementation and enforcement of the rules is insipid and lax. This is apparent by the dismal recovery and recycling rate of the CDW, which currently stands at about one per cent of the 150 million tonnes generated. The rest of the waste is left lying in residential areas, landfills and other urban spaces, which contributes to air and water pollution, not to mention spoiling the look and feel of our urban living environs. Given the huge gap between generation of the waste and its recycling, it is vital for a third party, such as an NGO, to apply for Government data under the Right to Information Act and appraise the implementation of these rules and compliance by the construction sector. They must also assess what difference they have made on the ground. The already burdened infrastructure is further hobbled by the fact that the recycling paraphernalia available with the Government is sufficient to handle a meagre 6,500 tonnes daily which renders an enormous backlog of CDW that gets illegally and irresponsibly disposed off.
The root cause of this wide gap between CDW generation and recycling is the slow pace in establishment of recycling facilities. As per estimates, 53 cities were expected to set up recycling units by 2017 but only 13 are in place. This alarmingly slow progress is further made worse by the rapid consumption of building materials which indicates that construction activity both in commercial and residential sectors is happening swiftly. As land is scarce, this construction is taking place by demolishing the existing old structures and this is rapidly contributing to the generation of CDW. The Swachh Survekshan 2021 has thankfully started putting emphasis on recycling and management of CDW, but it still needs to be instilled into the urban stakeholder, be it private or Government entities, that how a city fares in the survey will also depend on how it manages its CDW footprint. This can be done at the possible origin of the waste wherein the architects can be encouraged to recycle the demolition waste and use it in the new project. According to estimates, if CDW recycling is in-built into the architect’s plan, then 33 per cent of waste generation can be avoided. Similarly, specialised machines and equipment must be made available by the building contractors to the architects so that on-site waste generation is quickly turned around and converted or recycled into usable building material. This not only saves money for the building project but also confirms to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) norms that allow usage of concrete made from recycled CDW.
The present COVID-19 crisis has almost brought the construction sector to a grinding halt. This is unwelcome news for the sector but provides an opportunity for India to take stock of the CDW scenario. This lull can enable the Government and allied environmental agencies to rapidly put in place a strategy that ensures the efficient handling of CDW when building starts gaining momentum. As a part of this, it is essential to first spot the regulatory and technical barriers that are hampering the effective handling of the waste being generated. In the same process, it is also critical to ensure on-site recycling of CDW and enable a sustained sale of the recycled material in the market at economical rates. This will help ingrain the practice of CDW recycling at the epicentre of its generation.
The authorities must also set in place robust systems to collect data pertaining to CDW being generated and based on this a protocol must be designed that not only displays the region-wise generation of CDW but also breaks down the waste into sub-categories. This will help design forecasts of how recycled material can be made available in the building material market without any supply disruptions. The Government must also design special categorisation programmes in which those buildings will fall that have a certain certified percentage of recycled CDW used in them. This must automatically qualify these buildings as green buildings and make them eligible for rebates on electricity and property tax charges. Inefficient recycling of CDW is indicative of the nation’s disregard for the environment and this must not be overlooked.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
Accessible India intended to take measures to secure the right to an accessible environment for people with disabilities. But it failed
The enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 has ensured the domestic transition of the social model adopted under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted in 2006 and ratified by the Government in 2007. The principles stated to be implemented for empowerment of persons with disabilities (PWD) are respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one’s own choices and independence of persons. The Act lays stress on non-discrimination, full and effective participation and inclusion in society, respect for difference and acceptance of disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity, equality of opportunity, accessibility, equality between men and women, respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities. The principle reflects a paradigm shift in thinking about disability from a social welfare concern to a human rights issue. However, the rights-based vision of the Act has not been translated into reality as yet. This is because of the lack of the Government’s efforts to ensure that measures are taken for which it has been made responsible under the Act. Accessible India has been one of the most visible campaigns of the Narendra Modi Government which intends to take measures securing the right to an accessible environment for PWDs in the country. Launched before the enactment of the 2016 Act, it seeks to ensure a Built Environment Accessibility, Transportation System Accessibility and Information and Communication Eco-System Accessibility in India, the three of its basic components. It is a matter of great misfortune that India’s biggest campaign has failed miserably in its effort. The failure can be basically attributed to the ingenuity shown in its vision, as ambiguous and over-ambitious targets were made without any measure of accountability. The campaign thus serves more in rhetoric than in action.
Ambiguous and over-ambitious targets: The campaign under Built Environment Accessibility targetted 50 most important buildings in Tier-1 cities and 25 most important Government buildings in Tier-2 cities, to be made fully accessible within a period of six months by July 2016. The revised guidelines have extended the deadline to March 2020. The numbers and time period were too ambitious for the reach of the Department of Persons with Disability. The deadlines were missed and extended consecutively and targets under it are yet not achieved even as three years have passed since the campaign was launched. Moreover, there was no study done on the number of Government websites or the quantum of public documents, which makes it impossible to assess the Government on the targets it envisaged as they were mostly made in percentage terms i.e. to make 50 per cent of all Government websites and public documents accessible by March 2018 . Such ambiguous targets make it easier to extend the deadline as it becomes impossible to measure the true progress of the work done.
Lack of accountability framework: The department has only released partial information in terms of the total number of buildings and websites that were made accessible but greater details about these buildings have not been provided. This information is not only necessary for awareness but also necessary for accountability purposes. No verification study has been conducted or is currently under process by technically qualified Government or non-government agencies to assess the progress made in built environment or Information and communications technology in terms of accessibility. With respect to public buildings under the State Government, the department issues utilisation funds under the campaign. Data can be easily found on the huge amount of funds disbursed under the scheme. However, no accountability is ensued on the State Government as no post-verification study is done to check the proper use of funds. No training or workshop has been conducted to train engineers in the task of retrofitting. Untrained professionals are unable to understand the reports provided to them post accessibility audits.
Social audit: The campaign did include a component of “social audit” to ensure implementation in the form of a website, a mobile-based application where one could report inaccessible buildings and action could be taken on it. However, the objective completely failed because of sluggish implementation of this measure as both the website and the application have been unmanned and thereby lying defunct since 2016.
The failure of the campaign to properly formulate its target and include accountability in its practice has reduced it to a utopian status without any real ground-level impact. This failure is for the lack of technical experts on the subject of accessibility involved in the formulation process. There is a sincere need for the Department for Persons with Disability to diverge from this erring process and hire a permanent officer trained in universal design and accessibility so that proper measures can be taken to address the issues of PWDs.
(Writer: Arman Ali; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Irrespective of the disappointing outcome of the Madrid summit, as a responsible nation, India cannot be making a half-hearted approach to address the issue of climate change
Even as the thunderous reverberations of the 16-year-old environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, at the UN, just three months ago, are yet to die down, to our utter surprise, the Madrid climate talks under the aegis of COP25 ended in a failure. This is not the first time that such discordance among member nations has been witnessed. The present talks failed despite the fact that while inaugurating this conference, UN Secretary General António Guterres had issued a very stern warning. “I call on anyone who is still lobbying their Governments for a slow transition or even no transition, to end those activities now. The world is watching,” he emphasised. Today, the world community appears to be focussed more on the protection of their own domestic agenda rather than paying heed to the impending disaster.
The first decade after the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992 saw a rare building up of consensus on almost all issues. Perhaps it was the decade after the Cold War and the first Gulf War when the world community saw immense merit in consensus-building. The same was also manifest during the signing of the WTO Agreement at Marrakesh, Morocco, in 1994. But in the very next decade, one saw the appearance of discordant notes, particularly as former US President George W Bush virtually refused to follow the Kyoto Protocol even as America was the largest polluter in the world. This trend was further aggravated when President Donald Trump followed the same route as charted earlier by Bush.
Unfortunately, despite the bleak scenario, the voice of a number of smaller and less polluting nations, prominently Tuvalu, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan among others, who are already facing the brunt of the climate change, seems to have been lost. On the other hand, high polluting nations such as China, India and the European Union could not account for their efforts at reducing global warming. They were unable to quantify in specific terms the targets achieved as was laid down under the Paris Agreement. But the prime reason for the failure of the Madrid Summit, which was participated by 197 countries across the world, was a lack of consensus on development of a market mechanism to limit carbon emissions.
The concept of trading in carbon markets as a response to climate change was an important outcome of the Kyoto Protocol. The primary purpose of the Protocol was to make the developed countries pay for their emissions while at the same time, monetarily reward those nations with good record in this regard. The underlying philosophy was that since the developing countries could start with cleaner technologies, they would be rewarded by those who were stuck with old and polluting technologies. In a way, this translated into wealthier countries purchasing the extent of reduction in carbon levels achieved by the developing countries.
In this manner, the developed and wealthier nations would not only be able to sell their technology to the developing countries but could also gather carbon credits to meet the requirements of Kyoto Protocol without any reduction in their emission levels. The failure of the Madrid summit, to achieve any results in this direction, may have also disappointed those who encouraged carbon trading mechanism like the oil major Royal Dutch Shell Plc and the Spanish utility Iberdrola SA.
Such a market mechanism was also considered important by heavy industrialised countries, who are economically dependent on oil and gas production. In the normal course, large-scale de-carbonisation would take much longer than as prescribed under the Paris targets. Besides, it would also ensure that the rich and already developed countries could continue to pollute on the strength of carbon credit purchased by them, while the options of developing and relatively poor countries would be curtailed. It can, thus, be inferred that the summit spent more time in ensuring that the interests of the developed countries are well protected through the carbon trading mechanism.
In fact, the scheme of carbon credits is some kind of a smokescreen which enables the developed and richer countries to exploit those still developing. Those already developed, thus, escape the limits while the less industrialised and less polluting are loaded with the burden of further reductions. This may ultimately impact and retard their progress in the long-run.
In this context, let us take the example of the GFL gas project in Gujarat. GFL is one of the largest producers of carbon offset credits in the world, selling them to many of the biggest polluters in the EU. Europe’s polluters have had a cheap way to offset their climate responsibilities without actually greening even a small patch of the land. EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard admitted that such projects have a “total lack of environmental integrity.”
At the summit, not much time was spent on determining the targets to be achieved by each country so as to keep the emissions of greenhouse gases within the overall objective of the global warming being limited to the extent of 1.5 degrees between 2018 and 2100. For this to become a reality by 2050, we should be a net-zero emitter. So far only about 20 countries, including the UK, France, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden, figure in the list of those who are expected to meet this target. India, China and the US still have a long way to go.
In India, with a perceived difficulty in cutting emissions in order to meet the targets, an ambitious plan for harnessing solar energy has been formulated. We are lucky that sunlight is available in abundance but the challenge lies in the procurement of solar Photo Voltaic (PV) cells, which is one of the major constraining factors in our efforts to realise the full potential. According to a report submitted by the parliamentary standing committee, in order to achieve the target of 100 GW of solar electricity capacity by 2022, India should have had an installed capacity of 32,000 MW by 2017-18. But as of January 31, 2018, the country only had a capacity of 18,455 MW in just four years — this is over 20,000 MW a year and appears difficult to achieve.
Irrespective of the disappointing outcome of the Madrid summit, as a responsible nation with high prestige in the international arena, India does not have the luxury of a half-hearted approach towards this vital area. The phenomenon of global warming has to be seen as a global warning.
(Writer: kk paul; Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Maybe leaders do not like being lectured by a teenager but the world cannot afford failure
Another year of UN-sponsored climate talks and another year of stagnation where nothing was achieved. Yes, 2019 will go down as the year when a Swedish schoolgirl stood up to global leaders and told them to feel some shame but the latter, rather leaders of the world’s most important countries when it comes to climate change, have brushed her away. There have been record wildfires in Australia and the US, heatwaves in Europe, droughts in South America and rapidly shrinking ice levels at the Poles. It was believed that compromises and contingency plans would have been put into place at Madrid but after days of smashing heads together, nothing was achieved. The Paris deal of 2015 offered a framework for a new carbon market under the UN, but the details had not been worked out. Under it, those who have no choice but to pollute a bit would be free to trade carbon credits with developed countries. With no agreement reached, events like “Extinction Rebellion” in London, which brought the city to a standstill, are meaningless.
Partially, this is due to the Right-wing, nationalist turn the world has taken politically. Strongmen from our own Narendra Modi to Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and now possibly Boris Johnson are not ready to compromise on their nations and liabilities. After all, fighting climate change is an expensive business and nobody wants to foot the bill. It has become a game of passing the responsibility on and telling the other guy what to do. For some Westerners, it is about countries like India and even those in the African continent which are forced to put off their dreams of development “for the sake of the planet.” None of the countries will utter a peep to their own people, whose vast consumption outweighs that of many Indians. It is true that there has been a dramatic rise in global carbon levels over the past few years, thanks to China, but was it wrong on its part to haul hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty? India’s moral imperative is first and foremost to end hunger and starvation and ensure that no child is left behind. Unfortunately, this will have an environmental cost, one that this country will pay dearly due to rising sea levels. Yet, India will have to make some compromises if it is to reduce the extent of climate-induced suffering. There has been a pivot towards huge investments in renewable energy and exploring new technologies but this needs the developed world to be less hypocritical.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
Good governance is not just about absence of corruption; it is also about effective decision-taking. People are wanting to see such examples from their elected leaders
Imagine this. It’s winter time once again. Post-Diwali, people in the northern plains of India are expecting air pollution to worsen from stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and western UP. But nothing of that sort happens. No stubble burning and so no spike in air pollution levels. Nobody knows why. Then a few months later, a scholar, researching on the issue, reveals it all in his TED talk on good governance. He reports how the Chief Ministers of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and UP had come together and took upon themselves to tackle this menace. They co-created a fund and entrusted it to an agency that would fast-track search for a solution. The entrusted agency hired the best and the brightest brains in the country and got them to focus on the issue. A few months later, a multi-disciplinary team came up with a few good uses of crop residue. They developed a few applications of crop residue, studied their market potential and also developed a business model around it. In doing so, they not only created a value proposition but also a potential for employment. A few entrepreneurs were roped in to produce and sell those products/applications. As a result, crop residue now commands a price. Farmers have now started selling crop residue for money instead of burning it. All this sounds amazing, isn’t it?
What’s even more amazing is that the State Governments did so quietly, away from public glare. Not seeking credit or scoring a point over each other’s political parties. Come elections and the incumbent political parties will have a chance to narrate this “success” story to its people and “win” their hearts (and votes too!). This may all sound surreal but this is the spirit needed in solving any development problem. This is the spirit behind good governance. In reality, however, what we are seeing is not good governance but dirty politics. Instead of finding a solution to the problem at hand, State Governments are using this problem to show each other in a bad light. Having failed to take any corrective action on time, they are now resorting to symbolism: the Punjab CM has written to the Centre asking for its intervention; the Delhi CM has played a “victim card”, distributed masks and initiated the odd-even scheme; the Haryana CM has announced incentives for anybody reporting stubble burning in the State and so forth.
Nothing stops State Governments from joining hands in finding an effective solution ahead of the problem that shows up every year with striking regularity. It’s well within the capacity of any State Government to find a solution, even if nobody is cooperating. The Punjab Government, for example, could have easily taken the lead in cracking this problem in its jurisdiction, one that didn’t require huge resources. All it needed was a little foresight and a commitment to finding a progressive solution. But it failed to seize the opportunity. In doing so, it also missed a chance to contribute to uplifting the sagging image of its political party at the national level.
Seeing the lack of seriousness of States, the Supreme Court (SC) had to finally intervene. It announced, among other measures, a complete ban on stubble burning. It noted that in case of any violation of the ban, the entire administrative machinery — from the top to the bottom — would be held accountable. With the SC order coming in, people can heave a sigh of relief. They can be rest assured that some meaningful action would happen. But this relief is only temporary as the problem of stubble burning itself lasts for no more than a couple of weeks. While the air pollution is most acute during the period of stubble burning, it remains a silent killer almost round the year and, therefore, needs addressing too.
It is a known fact that pollution levels in the National Capital Region (NCR) remain unsafe for the most part of a year. It’s created by a host of other factors, notably vehicular emission, dust from construction and demolition of buildings, burning of garbage and dry leaves, and emissions from industrial activities. An effective strategy is needed to deal with each of these sources of pollution. In devising and implementing such a strategy, State Governments of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh need to work closely with the national government and municipalities in a non-partisan manner. But this isn’t happening.
What’s indeed happening is that those in power want to be seen doing something about it without necessarily dirtying their hands. Controlling air pollution is a messy affair. It also entails taking some harsh measures. Some of those measures may not go down well with the public and may prove to be un-populist. Governments generally hate taking such measures. Their emphasis is on seeking credit, scoring a point, even if they deal only with a part of the problem instead of the whole. Governments are happy “educating” the people of what is within their control and what is not. Their conduct is not entirely surprising though. But State Governments need to realise the changing political landscape in India and the rising expectations of people from their elected representatives. Governments are elected not only for “educating” the public but also for finding an effective solution, regardless of what it takes. Good governance is not just about absence of corruption; it is also about effective decision-taking. People are wanting to see examples of good governance from their elected leaders and the political parties they represent.
Despite these underlying changes, it’s unlikely that the governments in the NCR region will follow through all the measures necessary to control all the sources of air pollution. As a matter of fact, when administrations at different levels are affiliated to different political parties, they start working at cross-purposes instead of working collectively in solving any problem. Nowhere is this seen as clearly as in the NCR; and no other problem illuminates this so well as the problem of air pollution. The SC needs to ensure that the administrations in the NCR deal with the problem of air pollution, comprehensively and effectively.
It is worth reminding that air pollution is not the only problem affecting the NCR. It’s no secret that NCR is a badly managed region. Examples abound of glaring failures of the administration at all levels: farm animals meandering freely on roads, obstructing flow of traffic; huge parking space crises co-existing with mis-managed parking spaces; new encroachments and illegal structures getting built every day but the authorities refuse to take cognisance, let alone taking action; management of city traffic lacks application of even basic thinking of traffic segregation and so forth. The reason for these, and a host of other problems, is a systemic failure of administrations to work in tandem with each other. Actually, this is what SC needs to address. How?
If the SC can provide a framework guidance on how the administrative authorities at different levels are supposed to conduct and coordinate with each other, it will have dealt with the root cause of most problems facing the city dwellers. This is particularly needed when different levels of administration are ruled by different political parties. Further, any guidance to ringfence technical issues from political interference would be a significant move forward. After all, cities are complex systems that need to be operated efficiently, which requires some degree of technical sophistication. Cities cannot become “smart” unless the administrations become “smart” – that is, unless they take decisions in a professional manner.
Writer: Rajeev Ahuja
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Environment change summits have become annual high-visibility events where discussions and debates are held and pledges are taken by countries, but thereafter it is business as usual
Delhi’s trial by pollution is akin to a trial by fire for all the citizens, especially the elderly and children. The days are exceedingly smoggy and sunlight is disappearing among various layers of harmful pollutants in the atmosphere.
The state of the environment today in Delhi is the result of our actions and inactions, both. While various anthropogenic actions are stoking the pollution levels in our lives, inaction in taking concrete steps to limit and stem the spiralling pollution levels is only worsening matters. The problem of inaction in containing pollution levels and if possible reversing climate change in the process is a serious matter that is now pushing our environment into an irrecoverable tailspin.
Apart from man-made reasons for pollution, the fact that humans are not taking serious and effective action is damaging the environment more and strengthening the devastating effects of climate change.
The glaring deficiencies in action arise when climate-related pledges are undertaken but seldom executed in all seriousness. This aspect of the fight against climate change has come out in a recent report titled the Truth Behind the Climate Pledges, released on November 5 by the United States-based Universal Ecological Fund. Fundación Ecológica Universal (FEU-US) is a partner of the older Argentinian organisation with the same name. The report disclosed that during the course of the research, it was found that almost 75 per cent of the 184 pledges made by various countries under the Paris Agreement were insufficient to slow climate change.
The report classifies pledges, which commit to reducing 2030 emissions by over 40 per cent compared to 1990 levels as “Sufficient” and 20-40 per cent reduction pledges as “Partially Sufficient.”
Pledges with mitigation targets under 20 per cent or those with conditional commitments, where the country is implementing at least 50 per cent of the pledged mitigation actions from their own resources, were deemed “Partially Insufficient.” Those with no targets for absolute emission reduction and those which rely on international financing more than 50 per cent of their mitigation actions were deemed “Insufficient.”
The fact that the report’s research could not find a majority of the pledges being “sufficient” or better still more than “sufficient” is a cause for concern because the state of the environment in the face of rapid climate change needs more than “sufficient” efforts to make a positive difference.
The only countries that could qualify for carrying out their pledges in a sufficient manner were 35 in number. Out of these 35 nations, 28 belonged to the European Union and seven were other nations.
While the pledges of 12 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and North Korea were deemed partially sufficient, pledges made by eight other countries were deemed partially insufficient. The rest of the pledges, totalling 125 largely- developing countries with the US being a notable exception, were deemed insufficient.
This shows the wide disparity in efforts and how seriously these pledges are being taken and followed up. But there is a different kind of disparity at work here, too. The EU and the USA, with their share of high historic emissions and being developed nations, have financial and other resources as accumulated wealth at their disposal and as a result are able to do much more to mitigate climate change on the same platform. This advantage the developing nations do not have. As a result, there is glaring disparity between what the developing world can achieve against their pledges and what the developed world can showcase as efforts taken under their pledges.
The international community must recognise this imbalance and set out to find a formula that empowers all to take equal measures and actions. Climate justice also demands that historically rich emitters must shoulder a substantially higher share of that burden to reduce climate change.
India, in its role as an emerging economic power, must highlight and champion the cause of the inequitable conditions at the global climate change mitigation forum. As a part its effort, the Indian leadership must make a strong case of how the developed nations must come forward in not only doing more than the developing world to slow down climate change, but must also assist the emerging nations on advisory and resources support wise and help fight the advance of climate change.
Climate summits have become annual high-visibility events where discussions and debates are held and pledges are taken but thereafter it is business as usual.
This has to change and India can and must become the catalyst that brings about this awakening and change because a pledge taken has to be kept, especially if it is taken for mother Earth.
Writer: Kota Sriraj
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Amazon forest blaze is fast blocking sunlight and enveloping the entire north-western region of Brazil with thick smoke. Brazil must understand the global importance of these evergreen forests. It is not simply Brazil that is affected, but the entire planet
The extraordinary blaze engulfing the Amazon forest, popularly known as the “Lungs of the Planet”, is at the centre of global attraction with many trying to reason out the root cause of the forest fire that militates against the war on climate change.
Of several reasons doing the rounds, two popular ones are that the forest fire in the Amazon may be caused by the dry season which runs from July to October. These fires may occur naturally because of events such as lightning strikes. But others believe that they are the results of farmers and loggers clearing lands for crops or grazing. Herein the activists add that anti-environment rhetoric of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has strongly encouraged forest clearing operations. On the other hand, Bolsonaro has accused NGOs of starting the fires themselves to tarnish his Government’s image.
The Brazilian space agency, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), says its satellite data shows 85 per cent increase in fires on the same period in 2018. In fact, the official figures show more than 75,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year, the highest number since 2013. According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), a part of the EU’s earth observation programme, the smoke has been travelling as far as the Atlantic coast. The fire has brought black smokes to Sao Paulo, more than 3,200 km from the Amazon. What is worrying for the international community is that these fires are releasing a huge amount of carbon dioxide, equivalent of 228 megatonnes so far this year, highest since 2010. They are also emitting carbon monoxide beyond the coastlines of South America. Further, the Amazon basin, home to about three million species of plants and animals and one million indigenous people, is critical for fighting global warming as it can absorb millions of tonnes of carbon emissions each year.
But with the burning of these precious forests, the carbon they store will be soon released into the atmosphere and hence, the rainforest’s capacity to absorb carbon emission will be fast reduced.
Primarily, tensions have arisen between France and Brazil in the latest round of G7 talks after French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that fires in the Amazon basin amounted to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority at the G7 Summit. Bolsonaro immediately responded by saying Macron’s statement is a manifestation of his “colonialist mentality”. Later, the G7 group of industrialised nations announced a $20 million assistance package aiming to provide it to the Amazonian nations such as Brazil and Bolivia, primarily to pay for more firefighting planes. But unfortunately in the whataboutery, the chief of the staff of Bolsonaro appreciated the offer and asked the same resources to be used for reforesting Europe. This has stirred up a hornets’ nest between France and Brazil.
Interestingly, the Constitution of Brazil describes the Amazon as “national treasure”. So it should be treated accordingly and every inch of it must be saved and preserved. Besides, amid global concerns for saving the Amazon, one must note what “principle of non-regression”, one of the basic tenets of the international environmental law, enunciates. This principle lays down that some basic legal rules should be non-revocable in the common interest of mankind. Thus, once a legal regime is set and protection is granted, essentially, there should not be a question of tempering with such rules. And ironically, this global environmental dictum is clearly reflected in the “Right to Healthy Environment”, guaranteed by the Article 225 of the Brazilian Constitution.
The Article says, “All have the right to an ecologically balanced environment… and both the Government and the community shall have the duty to defend and preserve it for future for present and future generations.” So why does Brazil need to be told that the Amazon is an integral part of its heritage and this forest must be saved? All Brazilians are well aware and it has a democratically elected regime that must take enough to safeguard the “lungs” of earth.
What might drive the Brazilian Government to open the rich Amazon is to create wealth for the country? And this is driven by years of recession and high unemployment. Indeed, Brazil has witnessed the worst ever political and economic upheaval during the time of both the predecessors of Bolsonaro, namely Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer. Of course, when the ordinary Brazilians have chosen a right-wing President like Bolsonaro, the expectations are high as to see a change in the current economic downturn.
Succinctly, mining and other economic activities in the Amazon are not the answers to arrest Brazil out of the economic gloom. Simply to say, mining operations offer a little economic benefits to the locals. Instead, such operations, attract large number of outsiders that leads to deforestation, violent conflicts on land rights and finally, adding mercury pollution to nearby rivers.
This blaze might torpedo a huge trade agreement between the South American nations, including Brazil, and the European Union (EU), which took nearly two decades to come to the current stage. Over the last four decades, this verdant rainforest has witnessed one of the record high deforestation. This huge Amazonian blaze is fast blocking sunlight and enveloping the entire north-western region of Brazil with thick smoke. The states of Northern Brazil such as Roraima, Acre, Rondonia and Amazonas are badly affected by the inferno. Meanwhile, the Amazonas, the largest province of Brazil, has declared a state of emergency.
And in such a situation, Bolsonaro’s mere hard-hitting statements would not work. Rather his administration must display strong public actions in the form of sending more fire-fighters and soldiers to tackle the situation. Blaming either the international media or the opposition forces will not douse the fire. It’s time to act and save the planet.
Precisely, Bolsonaro is not solely responsible for the current mess in the Amazon. But then he has made the situation worse by weakening the environment agency, opening of the Amazon to mining, farming and logging, and finally, pounding on the NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs) working in the field of conservation. Also what has added fuel to the fire is that the extreme pressure from the agricultural lobby in Brazil. This lobby is very strong and as a result, it is absolutely easy for it to break the once powerful environmental protection system existed in the country, between 2005 and 2014.
Going by the records, one can rightly state that massive moves towards deforestation came up in the last five years when Dilma Rosseff and Michel Temer were in power.
During the time of Temer, he removed the protection status of the National Reserve of Copper and Associates, a national reserve much larger than the size of Denmark.
This reserve forest, called “Renca”, covers 46,000 square kilometres. It is widely believed that it contained rich reserves of copper, gold, iron ore and other important minerals. With this policy, nearly 30 per cent of the Renca was made open for mining operations by the Government. Besides, environmental hazards, the Renca also provided home to a number of indigenous ethnic communities who were not much exposed to the outside world till then.
But, the rate of deforestation has accelerated in the first few months of Bolsonaro’s presidency. Simply to blame right-wing Bolsonaro may not put an end to the blaze in the Amazon as fires are also rampant currently under a Left-wing populist regime in Bolivia as well.
Beyond the political gimmicks and blame game played by the G7 leaders in its last conclave, the international community needs to see that the Brazil Government takes immediate measures to curb the raging fires in the Amazon.
At the moment, the UN and many other international organisations are expressing concerns and urging responsible players to act swiftly. But that is not enough. The top priority should be placed on building a buffer against all the tipping points across the Amazon and bringing an end to massive emissions emerging from the fires.
So it is not just protection of the Amazon, but also concrete policies to be laid down for reforesting the entire zone on war-footing. And for this, Brazil must ensure that more finance comes on its way of both resettling the locals and reforesting the region.
Hence just saying no to the financial aid offered by the G7 may not support the rebuilding efforts of the Bolsonaro Government. Much beyond all these, the Government and international environmental agencies must listen and align their policies to the indigenous groups and reverine communities living in around the Amazon. Also Brazil must understand the global importance of these evergreen forests. It is not simply Brazil that is affected, but the entire planet.
(The writer is an expert on international affairs)
Writer: Makhan Saikia
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Given the boom in the e-commerce sector, it is crucial for the Government to fram relevant laws that help in regulating the use of packaging and shipping materials.
E-commerce companies are one of the least studied and under-reported generators of plastic and non-plastic waste. In 2017, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a study to estimate the environmental impact of online shopping in the US. To the dismay of the EPA and the American public in general, it emerged in the study that the US e-commerce packaging accounted for 30 per cent of solid waste generated in the country.
On the other hand, India’s burgeoning e-commerce packaging industry was worth $32 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow to about $73 billion by 2020.
Flipkart, for instance, does around eight million shipments every month. Given this scale of online shopping, it is surprising that there are no official estimates available nor studies conducted to assess the amount of e-commerce packaging or the disposal of waste, as no organisation has bothered to investigate the same. E-commerce packaging and the disposal of waste have huge environmental costs. This is due to multiple layers of packaging which are made of plastic, paper, bubble wrap, air packets, tape and cardboard cartons that accompany the usual online shopping product delivery.
While most of these packaging materials are recyclable, India’s abysmal record indicates that a large portion of these materials will end up clogging our drains and landfills. The problem of excessive packaging has been exacerbated due to the growth of priority customer services that place a premium on ultra-fast delivery which do not allow for consolidated delivery of packages. This is leading to multiple individually packed deliveries, thus increasing the generation of waste. In addition to increasing waste, the trend of excessive packaging is poised to cause considerable loss of forest cover, as wood pulp remains the main raw material for making packaging cardboard.
For instance, around 85 million packages are shipped in India each year, and the cardboard used would roughly equate to more than 70 million trees being chopped. Moreover, the toxic chemicals used in the production of these packaging materials are bound to affect human health as they enter our food cycle.
Many e-commerce companies use a possible carcinogen called Styrofoam, which is used as a common filler. Long-term exposure to even small quantities of Styrofoam can cause fatigue, nervousness and sleep disorders. Vinyl chloride, which is used to manufacture PVC, can severely impact the central nervous system, causing headache and dizziness. Long-term exposure to vinyl chloride can result in cancer and liver damage. Yet, the Government is not doing enough to undertake the required studies to establish this link and then take corrective measures.
Given the booming e-commerce activity, the Government must frame laws that can govern and regulate the most sensitive parts of the e-commerce process, such as e-commerce packaging. At present, there is no law in India that regulates e-commerce packaging. It is clear that there is an urgent need for the creation and stringent implementation of the same. Such a law must be grounded in the doctrine of Extended Producer Responsibility, which mandates that the producer of the waste shall be responsible for its end-of-life recycling and disposal. The EPR doctrine is a proven doctrine that has resulted in some of the highest recycling rates in the world.
The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, state that producers of packaging products, such as plastic and corrugated boxes, must take up the responsibility of collection, recycling and disposal of such waste in accordance with environmentally sound principles. Further, the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2018, place the responsibility of recycling and collection of plastic waste on the producers, importers and brand owners who introduce the material in the market.
Any law that aims to regulate e-commerce packaging must address critical issues. First, standard packaging rules akin to those Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011, must be framed and enforced. Second, the law must regulate the method and materials used for e-commerce packaging based on scientific and environmentally sound principles. Companies must invest in smaller and more sustainable, environment-friendly packaging. This will automatically reduce packaging volumes as well as costs.
At the same time, e-commerce companies must factor in three different aspects of sustainability to ensure sustainable packaging — those of reduction in the amount of packaging materials used; increase in the recyclability of the packaging materials; and increase in the use of recycled packaging materials. They should also explore the possibility of implementing buy-back policies, or even provide customers with the choice to choose more sustainable methods of packaging. A carefully drafted law and genuine cooperation among stakeholders, including e-commerce companies, consumers and local municipalities can ensure that the law is successfully implemented. The recent extension of Maharashtra’s plastic ban to e-commerce companies is a welcome step and one whose implementation could hold valuable lessons for other States.
While it is understandable that sturdy packaging materials must be used to reduce damage to products in transit and during handling, but excessive use of plastic and other materials is environmentally unsustainable. Optimisation and innovation hold the key to a sustainable packaging revolution. Online shopping companies must also bring down their carbon signature, which is created by their humongous diesel guzzling transport fleet. Instead, the Government must set up regulations under which these companies must mandatorily use renewable energy-driven commercial vehicles to affect their deliveries. This will bring down the pollution levels.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
Writer: Kota Sriraj
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Children from a children’s parliament in Thane are taking small responsibilities to spread environmental awareness and bring a positive change in society.
Rohini Richard Marri remembers her early teenage years, when she was 13 and used to cross an area filled with contaminated sewage water on her way to school every day in Uttan village, Thane. She and many other children contracted rashes on their legs on a regular basis because of the dirty water and complained to their parents. The sewage water had also started getting merged with the water of a well where people washed clothes and utensils. But no action was taken to clean the area despite many reportings of the problem.
Later, Rohini and a group of other children discussed the matter at a children’s parliament and in their school. They decided to take things in their own hands. With the help of a teacher, Rohini penned a petition letter to the local municipality with signatures of 50 children. The letter asked the municipal authorities to immediately clean the gutter. “We also wrote that if no action was taken, the children themselves would get on ground to clean the gutter, but bore no responsibility if any harm came to them,” says Rohini, adding that within three days, workers had arrived to clean the area. The children also informed their neighbours to not litter the streets and dispose garbage only in designated municipality bins to avoid such contamination.
Reflecting on her actions, Rohini says that if adults had intervened, the authorities would have still responded. “But since nobody was willing to step forward, the children decided to do something on their own. We were eventually appreciated for our actions,” she says. Even though Rohini’s parents were not convinced that the authorities would pay heed to the children, “they did not stop me. It took a matter of some time and they were impressed with my confidence. They felt that I had become capable of raising my voice against the wrong and for justice. They are now encouraging my younger brother to attend the children’s parliament too.”
Today, Rohini leads the children’s parliament, which was started by the Centre for Social Action (CSA) in 2010. She had joined the group in 2012. She says, “Initially, I thought this was a place to come and play. But in the parliament, we began realising our duties and responsibilities and that children do play a huge role in bringing about a change in our society. We learnt about what is wrong and needs to be spoken against. We made sure we preach what we learnt and also make others follow it, irrespective of their age since elders need to realise certain issues too and act accordingly.”
Rohini prefers the children’s parliament over her school because she feels that only bright and expressive children manage to progress in school, whereas in the parliament, everyone is given a chance. “I feel more confident. I also dress neatly and comb my hair before attending the parliament which I would not do earlier. I feel more responsible here,” she says.
Two years ago, the parliament tried to take action against an alcoholic man in the village who would beat his wife and children. The kids would also be irregular in school. Roshni, their tuition teacher and 30 children from the parliament visited the man’s house and warned him not to hit his wife and children, else they would approach the police and take forward the case legally. According to the teacher, the trick worked. “The man does not beat his children anymore. And now, they are becoming regular to school as well.” The children’s parliament had also conducted awareness visits to a police station, a local post office and an orphanage.
Rohini loves to go out with her friends and play. But recently, her parents have started asking her to stay put and study. “We tell them that as children, it is our right to play,” she says and her otherwise serious and thoughtful face breaks into a smile. Now that she is an adult, she notices that her mother treats her differently. “Earlier, I would be ordered to not miss tuitions and study. But now, my mother says that I must decide what I want to do,” she says, agreeing that the rights of a child and a recently-turned adult are different. Parents start allowing them more space as they start growing up and become mature adults. Their own rights and decisions are also taken into consideration rather than directly imposing something on them. She also thinks that humans are born with intrinsic rights.
Rohini has an aptitude for Mathematics and wants to teach the subject for which she plans to enrol in a teaching course. What are her marriage plans? Are her parents asking her to consider getting married now that she is 18? “No. I will marry later. In our community, girls marry at 27-28 years of age,” she says.
Writer: Urvashi Sarkar
Courtesy: The Pioneer
At present, India’s figure stands at nearly 134 crore while China is inhabited by nearly 140 crore. Which means in another two years, India will overtake China
A rapidly growing population is a stupendous national problem. Therefore, the suggestion of yoga guru Baba Ramdev to disenfranchise those having more than two children may sound preposterous but at least has raised a crucial issue, that of a demographic dividend quickly becoming a demographic slag. He has also suggested that such people should be deprived of other Government facilities to send a strong message to others to effectively control the fast-growing population of India. Whatever the nature of his suggestions, unless fresh restrictions are imposed, then India will soon surpass China to become the most populous nation in less than five years.
At present, India’s population stands at nearly 134 crore while China is inhabited by nearly 140 crore. Which means in another two years, India will overtake China. There is no denying that urgent and aggressive steps such as strict control policies and linking their observance with incentives are urgently needed to control the population. Until and unless the Government goes for some effective measures to adopt a comprehensive population policy, all attempts at economic progress and recovery will be a damp squib because the country will not be able to bear the burden of the burgeoning population. The population of the United States (US) stands at 33 crore but its landmass area is 9.834 million square km, making the density of the population 35 person per square km.
According to a UN survey, India will soon become the world’s most populous country as its population is predicted to surpass that of China within the next decade. It is expected to continue to grow until mid-century, reaching an estimated 1.68 billion in the 2050s. But an important piece of evidence tells us that population growth will come to an end: The number of children in India peaked more than a decade ago and is now falling. But the effects of a boom will haunt us for the next three decades at least.
If we study patterns of population change since 1950 and the UN’s projections of population by age bracket, then we would see that the number of children under the age of five (under-5s) peaked in 2007; since then the number has been falling. The number of Indians under 15 years old peaked slightly later (in 2011) and is now also declining. These are landmark moments in demographic change. Still India’s population will continue to grow as a result of “population momentum” — the effect often referred to by Hans Rosling and Gapminder as the “inevitable fill-up” when young generations grow older. Reaching “peak child” anticipates the later “peak population.” The number of children has peaked; the total population will follow and reach its peak in four decades.
India’s landmass area is 3.287 million square km and the density of its population is 382 per square km. Let us see the density of population of some other countries: China (152 per square km), Canada (four people) Russia (8.4 people), England (259), Germany (227), France( 118) and Italy (201). Even in Pakistan, the density of population is 251 per sq km, which is much less than India. Except for Bangladesh (1,120 per square km), all other neighbouring countries have less and lighter burden of population. In Sri Lanka, it is 325, in Nepal it is 201 and in Myanmar it is almost one-fourth of India ie, 95.
Our neighbour China has adopted a very harsh population measure of a one-child policy, which mandated that the vast majority of couples in the country could only have one child. This was intended to alleviate the social, economic and environmental problems associated with the country’s rapidly growing population. But the policy itself is now being relaxed in view of the skewed gender ratio and a growing geriatric population.
In India, however, it was a very liberal policy of “hum do aur humare do” (we two and ours two) adopted by Sanjay Gandhi during Emergency. Its timing and implementation were wrong but the policy was certainly commendable. Regrettably, successive Governments have thrown the child away with the bath water. Australia is a continent which is over twice the expanse of India — its population is less than 2.50 crore. An example is given in jest, which is also a fact, that the number of children born every year in India is equivalent to the population of Australia. But jokes cannot be appreciated when the burden on resources becomes unbearable. No country can then think of making any progress.
With increasing population, India is already at the receiving end of infrastructural pressure. More houses, hospitals, educational institutions, roads, parks and space for offices, manufacturing units, factories and other establishments will be needed. Construction of buildings will certainly need more land, which will ultimately eat into agricultural and forest areas. This can cause enough damage to the flora, fauna and the environment.
When you have more people to feed and less soil for farms, then howsoever scientific method of agriculture and dairy farming you adopt, there will always be a crisis of food and milk. One cannot expect to provide enough food and milk to the entire population. The demand for food will double in the year 2050 and even if India manages to feed its expanding population, its growth may not be ecologically sustainable. In India, the global demand for water in 2050 is projected to be more than 50 per cent of what it was in 2000.
We are already at the receiving end of malnutrition and further compromising national health may end up stressing hospitals and compounding the disease burden. This resource crunch is India’s biggest decelerator.
UN experts have also pointed out how India’s rate of urban population growth will climb because of migration and especially youths seeking jobs. “By mid-century, half of India’s population, about 830 million people, is expected to be urban dwellers, which will challenge government capacities to provide basic services and infrastructure. About one-fifth of the population lives without electricity,” wrote Joseph Chamie, the former director of the UN population division and Barry Mirkin, former chief of the UN’s population policy section, in a research paper in 2017.
“Healthcare also lags with about half of Indian children reported to be undernourished. About two-thirds of them are immunised for diphtheria/ pertussis/tetanus, compared to nearly all in China. Tuberculosis in India accounts for over a quarter of reported new cases worldwide, the highest of any country. Another public health challenge: the lack of sanitation facilities for more than half of India’s rural population,” they concluded.
It must be understood that a law on population control, if it is made, will be applicable to not only one community but for all sections of society. It is really very surprising that a senior advocate in the Supreme Court has come out with a bizarre logic, which does not have any leg to stand upon. He has said that more than a hundred Members of Parliament have got more than three children, does it mean that they should be debarred from participating in the elections? There is no need to tell that no such law can have a retrospective effect and it has been settled by the Supreme Court in Golak Nath case. So, there cannot be any fear to anybody on that count. Moreover, this is a suggestion which should be discussed by Parliament in detail. For test studies have predicted an increase in cases of desertion and bigamy, neglect and death of female infants, cases of pre-natal sex determination and induced abortion of female foetus, child given away for adoption as fallouts of possible legislation.
A consciousness has to be brought about, either by increasing the awareness of the people with a sprinkling of some punitive or coercive measures, which are bound to boomerang in a democracy like India. They can be successful only in authoritarian regimes like China, not in India. We do have existing policy and initiatives but there is no doubt that there has to be drastic enforcement.
(The writer is Advocate on Record at the Supreme Court of India)
Writer: Parmanand Pandey
Courtesy: The Pioneer