by Akhilesh K Prasad,
According to the latest report by Greenpeace and AirVisual, 22 out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world were found to be in India. Of these, Gurugram was the most polluted with an average index of 135.8 in 2018, which is three times the level prescribed by the US Environmental Protection as ‘healthy.’
The same report has also suggested that air pollution will cause around 7million premature deaths. In addition, the estimated global cost in terms of labour cost would be to the tune of $225 billion apart from trillions in medical costs.
Economic development is often cited as an excuse for environmental issues. It is suggested that India’s growing population is the primary cause of India’s environmental degradation. However, there are countries like Japan and Singapore with a population density similar to that of India, with much better environmental conditions.
Critics opine that while the government of India lays ample stress on the cause of development, it does little effectively for controlling pollution. Therefore, in effect, the development that we are witnessing may not be of the sustainable variety after all.
The ecological situation in India is nothing short of disastrous. Natural ecosystems are under stress. Roughly 10% of the country’s wildlife is said to be on the verge of extinction. There has been a drastic decline in the agricultural biodiversity in several regions. Half the available water bodies are polluted beyond drinking, often even beyond agricultural use. 2/3rd of the cultivable land has degraded to sub-optimal productivity. Electronic and chemical wastes are being produced at a much higher rate that far exceeds our capacity to recycle or manage. In fact, India is the world’s third-biggest ecological footprint.
The need of the hour is that India brings together development and environment, in a single set of the target without visualising each in isolation of the other. India is a party of the Paris Agreement that brings together all nations for a common cause under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and provides a framework for all countries to take action against climate change.
In keeping with the aforesaid, the government of India has initiated some steps in the direction of environmental protection. As of January 2016, 1593 out of 7685 projects registered by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) were from India. These projects were related to energy efficiency, fuel switching, industrial processes, solid waste management, renewable energy and forestry.
State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC) have also been initiated to create institutional capacities and implement sectoral activities in order to address climate change.
India has also imposed a carbon tax in the form of a cess on coal to discourage the use of fossil fuels. The government has also regularly been increasing this tax. The collection is used to fund clean energy initiatives through the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF).
Despite these measures, India is still struggling to get its act together whereas the same report suggests that China, which was once the epitome of urban air pollution, has drastically improved over the last few years. There is no reason why India should not be able to do the same, provided we have the will.