Published on 28/05/2012
As I start to write, I am reminded of an old proverb, probably Japanese. It says that “A Ship is safest in the Harbor, but it is not meant for that purpose”. This then will be the undertone of what I wish to say today. Life is meant to evolve and develop and development does bring both positive and negative impacts. This does not mean that we cease to develop. I would at this stage, also like to remind that “GOD” is the greatest creator of all – and that even in his creations there is not a single thing that does not give off waste. So what do we do if waste generation is imminent in development? “HIS ALMIGHTY” has a wonderful world. A world where he has willed, as an option, that the waste of one becomes the raw material for another. This then should be the solution, an ecosystem in which the various components develop in perfect symbiosis – giving and taking – and sustaining each other. A development which is sustainable and strictly so.
Man evolved as a part of nature, living in harmony with nature until he learnt to tame, to tame vegetation, to tame fire and to tame animals. This gave him a power not felt by his ancestors of a million years. Furthermore, in his quest for development he then went on a murderous (I would rather say – suicidal) assault. The effects were evident – a small percentage distributed the lions share and the majority of population was left to rot. Population grew uncontrollably. The growth in human members has been stupendous and blasphemous. While it had taken half a million years for modern man to reach a population of one billion, the next billion was added in 80 years (1850-1930), the third billion was added in 30 years (1931-1960), the fourth billion in 15 years (1961-1975) and we have exceeded 7 billion on March 12, 2012. Poverty, disease, squalor, slums, air pollution, water pollution are things which more than half of humanity is sharing its bed with. Resources are dwindling. A high demand for goods and services both basic and those perceived as essential in the present social web coupled with limited resources has resulted in deteriorating social and cultural values. Thefts, murders, kidnappings, corruption and suicides are the order of the day. This is not the social structure that we had dreamt of. Humanity is on the path of insecurity, socially, culturally and environmentally. Families have broken down and so have values. The pressures of living are telling.
The present population pressures in the country (1.21 billion) and on our state of U.P. (199 million) are tremendously high. It is high time that we again realize that our resources are finite. We have to therefore think seriously of our growing numbers if we want to climb to the upper reaches of the hierarchy of needs, to the realms of improved infrastructure, social and emotional security, fulfilled environmental objectives, health etc . As population grows additional resources are applied to provide for basic necessities; improvements in living conditions and in environmental quality then become a secondary priority. A hungry man will think only of bread and to expect him to think of the country is a fallacy. In a system then that is poor and hungry, thoughtfulness for the country is anybody’s guess.
The first thing therefore that comes to my mind in trying to improve the environment for the state is to reduce poverty and population. Nothing can be achieved without it.
Rural Urban Migration
Migration to urban areas is a reality and a necessity .It is avicious cycle of migration and infrastructure development – one leading to the other and then causing cities to bulge and burst.More than 22% population in U.P. lives in cities. We have to therefore produce quality villages and market them, not as the packing but as the product. A marketing that is strengthened through sincere intentions, good example setting and high standards by people whom the state looks forward to in its endeavour of total commitment to social welfare.
We may also like to see that the west centric development in our state is more evenly distributed and the existing infrastructure of cities in Eastern and other underdeveloped areas of U.P. should be studied in terms of their environmental strengths and weakness and the availability of resources so that future development could be planned accordingly.
Environment and Energy Audit
We had carried out a study on the Distilleries of Uttar Pradesh some years back. The study had focused on the environmental performance and had laid considerable emphasis on performance with regards to resource consumption. It was observed that there was no uniformity in resource consumption per unit production capacity and a majority of distilleries were wasting precious resources like Water and Power. We further found that if the bad performers try to emulate the good performances, the sector could save atleast Rs 100 crore a year in resource use only. We felt that with the same resource consumption, productivity could be made to increase by optimizing and periodically auditing the manufacturing processes. There is a provision of environmental and energy audits. This could be strengthened in the state and monitored at the highest levels. It will either save resources or increase productivity – both ambrosia to state suffering from underdevelopment.
The criticality of water as a resource in human development needs no reiteration. U.P. is endowed richly in terms of ground water resources. The present groundwater availability in the state is 7.01 million ha.m out of which 4.88 million ha.m is being utilized every year. With nearly 75% of irrigation in U.P. being based on ground water and an over exploitation due to unregulated extraction for agricultural, drinking water and industrial use, the groundwater resources are diminishing fast. Out of the 820 development blocks in U.P., 215 were overexploited in 2009. The groundwater situation in urban areas is also grave. Triggered by the vast expanding population, drying rivers and ponds and needs for urbanization the problem is bound to aggravate. Although provided in the National Water Policy and the draft model bill circulated by the Central Government, U.P. still does not have an authority working under the control of the State Government which would have a right to notify areas where it is deemed essential to regulate ground water. Presently the Central Ground Water Authorityhas the mandate. Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have adopted the Model Bill in some form or the other. U.P. has still to make legislation and empower the state to have a check on groundwater as a resource.
Wetland Conservation is very important to groundwater and surface water recharge. Drying of rivers is also a result of vanishing wetlands. The fast depleting wetlands need to be protected and rejuvenated at all costs. Action plans needs to be drawn up for this and other measures like check dams etc for augmenting ground water recharge.
Urban Infrastructure and Forestation
In our quest to provide urban infrastructure we are constantly usurping prime agricultural land for industrial and other development needs. Land is a precious resource. The policy guidelines for siting of industry prescribed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, as early as 1985, provided that Prime agricultural land shall not be used for industrial purposes. It is of severe environmental consequence. It is estimated that by 2030 nearly 60% of the global population would live in cities with the developing countries accounting for 80% of this population. India’s urban population is expected to rise from 300 million to over 700 million by 2050 with more than 70 cities having a population of more than one million. This would put a demand on housing and other infrastructure and will need land. I have been suggesting over years and have incorporated the same in the draft environmental policy for the State Government that we should have something akin to the ‘Compensatory Forestry’ scheme where 02 times the number of trees is planted for every tree cut. We had suggested that prime agricultural should not be used but if acquisition of prime agricultural land be found imperative than the developer/project proponent should be asked to rejuvenate two times the area of degraded land to be made available by the state. I do not see any major problem. The same has been included in the Land Acquisition Bill 2011 as put up in the Lok Sabha. It says that ‘wherever double crop irrigated land is acquired under sub section (2), an equivalent area of cultivable wasteland shall be developed for agricultural purpose.’ This could be important and a much needed step to be taken by the State Government. The State Government may also like to prescribe the State Environment Policy.
Climate Change will impact U.P. also. A draft action plan for Climate Change has been drawn up by U.P. For a concerted action, this needs to be finalized. It touches on housing, forestry, energy, water. More than 20 States have already drawn up their action plan.
Due to infrastructure requirement, most development has and is occurring near cities. This is putting huge constraints on land, water, forest, waste assimilation and other resources.
Forest land has been ruthlessly consumed for development activities in the past. Forest cover in U.P. is much below the desired norms, the quality is also not good and the trends have also not been noticeably healthy. Recorded forest cover is decreasing. The gap between recorded forest cover and actual forest areas need to be bridged. The rationale of considering plot sizes of more than 1 Ha in the estimation of actual forest cover may need to be examined as there may be considerable land areas of less than I Ha under plantation in this state. Forests serve as one of the most important sinks for Carbon Dioxide – an important green house gas. U.P. is required to have at least 20% of its land area under forest/tree cover which is presently just about 9.01%. It will require well meaning, focused and interdepartmentally coordinated efforts to achieve this figure of 20%. It may also involve large scale greening in this area. The Department of Environment, some years back, had made development of green belts, mandatory for development projects. This initiative has not been assessed for its achievements. An inventory of such plantations needs to be carried out. Green belts are extremely important in mitigating air and noise pollution. Degraded lands may also need to be recovered for tree and other biomass cover.
Environmental Quality and Regulation
Air and water quality deterioration are established beyond doubt. Most of the surface waters are polluted and unfit for use. Ground waters at places have been found to harbor toxic, carcinogenic chemicals. The Pollution Control Board has been entrusted with the responsibility of regulating discharges into air and water. Standards have to be complied and permissions taken. Most polluting activities like biodegradable wastes, toxic and hazardous wastes, hazardous chemicals etc. have been included. The Board in U.P. is almost 35 years old. It is unfortunate that like most of the other Boards in the country, the Board has only been able to focus on 10 to 15% of the total pollution load- that caused by industry. May be the State Pollution Control Board could draw up plans for controlling non industrial pollution sources and step up regulation in this regards. Local Bodies and transport sector which may cause 70 to 80% of the pollution are not being able to give priority to waste management. Local bodies may need to review their compliance status and ensure compliance, if we have to revive our rivers and urban environment.
The Government of India has made it mandatory for specified development projects to seek “Environmental Clearance” from the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India under the Environment Impact Assessment notification of 2006. (Environment Protection Act 1986) A State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority has been constituted in U.P. and is functioning at the Directorate of Environment. Building and large construction projects and area and township development projects are included in the said notification. It includes both the private and federal developers. For a long term sustained planning, master plans need to do an EIA and to avail of this clearance also. While appraising projects, waste management is an important issue and the appraisal authority goes into each aspect of waste management in detail. It also ensures that the proposals have adequate provisions and liquid effluents, air emission, noise, biomedical wastes, hazardous and municipal solid wastes, e-wastes etc are contained to the prescribed standards. These are then specified as conditions to the clearance. The appraisal committee also concerns itself with water management, waste water recycling to reduce freshwater consumption and minimized effluent discharges. The involvement of the clearance process has been successful in regulating the raw water consumption from 135 litre per capita per day to 85 liters per capita per day in case of urban domestic water use. Most projects are asked to reuse their treated effluents in dual plumbing, air conditioning, horticulture etc.
Conservation of fertile top soil, rain water harvesting, compulsory green belts, energy savings (most projects plan a 10 to 20% savings), solar lights, solar water heaters, corporate social responsibility, wetland conservation, parking, traffic movement, rehabilitation and many other environment related factors are considered while granting clearances and suitable conditions imposed. The State is likely to witness an immense environmental improvement if all these conditions are judiciously complied with.
The Clearance process also prescribes that the stipulated conditions have to be followed before commencing operation and six monthly process reports submitted. This is weak at the National and State Level both. The mechanism for post clearance environment monitoring is not clear and needs to be strengthened if the Environmental Clearance is not to be considered as a mere piece of paper. The Department of Environment through the Directorate of Environment has to play a very important role here (the Secretary Environment is empowered to take action on non-compliance) and a six monthly white paper could be published in the public domain.
This is one process which if monitored strictly will improve the environmental quality of the State immensely.