En­vi­ron­ment on Ven­ti­la­tor

In the name of de­vel­op­ment, we are treach­er­ously mis­us­ing and abus­ing the na­ture to an ex­tent where even in­ter­ven­tion of court has failed to stop dam­ages be­ing done to the na­ture

The Day After - - COVER STORY - By ASit MANo­hAr

It’s that time of the year when pol­lu­tion in In­dia’s cap­i­tal be­comes un­bear­able, courts up­set peo­ple by re­strict­ing Di­wali fire­crack­ers, and the en­vi­ron­men­tal au­thor­i­ties threaten dra­co­nian steps like ban­ning cars.

This is also the sea­son for hand-wring­ing over the prac­tice of burn­ing crop residue in states of Pun­jab and Haryana, when soot blows to­ward the city. Sci­en­tists es­ti­mate last fort­night, one-third of the Delhi Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion’s over­hang of harm­ful par­tic­u­late mat­ter, el­e­ments finer than a frac­tion of a hu­man hair, were de­rived from stub­ble burn­ing.

In­clud­ing the cap­i­tal re­gion, In­dia is home to nine of the world’s 10 most­pol­luted cities. Beyond the health risks, the smog cri­sis threat­ens to erode com­pet­i­tive­ness just when the coun­try is start­ing to boast of rapid im­prove­ments in its ease-of-do­ing-busi­ness rank­ings.

No mat­ter how hard the au­thor­i­ties try to dis­cour­age pri­vate ve­hi­cles, shut down coal-fired power plants, or curb con­struc­tion and heavy in­dus­try, Delhi’s air qual­ity stands no chance as long as 30 mil­lion tons of paddy stub­ble goes up in flames over 15 to 20 days. In late Oc­to­ber and early Novem­ber, pol­lu­tion al­ter­nates be­tween very poor and se­vere.

The prob­lem is typ­i­cally iden­ti­fied as one of ex­pen­sive tech­nol­ogy and scarce labour: Mech­a­nized har­vesters gen­er­ate a large vol­ume of stub­ble and straw. This stuff is use­less as cat­tle feed, but if left un­treated it uses up the ni­tro­gen in the field and re­duces yields of the next crop, which is wheat.

A $1,900 Happy Seeder that plants wheat while mulching the paddy stub­ble isn’t cost-ef­fec­tive for small farm­ers. Gather­ing up the residue is also prob­lem­atic. Ru­ral labour in pros­per­ous Pun­jab in­creas­ingly con­sists of mi­grants who re­turn home to cel­e­brate Di­wali. Burn­ing the waste seems like the most log­i­cal so­lu­tion to farm­ers, even though the vil­lagers them­selves are blighted by pol­lu­tion.

The is­sue goes deeper than tech­nol­ogy and la­bor, though. Paddy isn’t a nat­u­ral crop for the Pun­jab re­gion. It guz­zles too much wa­ter, and an over-re­liance on ground­wa­ter (Pun­jab has more tube wells than farm­ers) has been rapidly de­plet­ing aquifers. But In­dian pol­i­cy­mak­ers want farm­ers to grow wheat and rice in or­der to feed a large and grow­ing pop­u­la­tion with­out hav­ing to rely on im­ports.

It was only in the 2000s that the sever­ity of a bur­geon­ing wa­ter cri­sis was un­der­stood. Since 2008, the Pun­jab gov­ern­ment has de­layed sow­ing of rice by set­ting a manda­tory start date. This

year, it was post­poned by an­other five days to June 20 to save 2.4 tril­lion liters of wa­ter. But later paddy sow­ing means even greater pres­sure af­ter the har­vest to clear the fields for wheat, and that’s made Delhi’s Oc­to­ber-Novem­ber air pol­lu­tion even more con­cen­trated, spoil­ing Di­wali cel­e­bra­tions.

Put an­other way, Delhi’s air pol­lu­tion is at least partly a wa­ter cri­sis in dis­guise. Wean­ing Pun­jab’s farm­ers off rice would be next to im­pos­si­ble, and given the pri­macy of food se­cu­rity, politi­cians won’t even se­ri­ously try. But it’s time to rec­og­nize that half-hearted mea­sures such as forced de­lays in sow­ing have en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic costs that also must be weighed.


Ther­mal power plants in In­dia have been ma­jor power gen­er­a­tors and they use coal as its fuel which emits huge amount of fume that dam­ages the en­vi­ron­ment at larger ex­tent. We have al­ready wit­nessed that in the case of Badarpur Power Plant that was fi­nally shut down. But, on one hand the gov­ern­ment of In­dia shut down the Badarpur Power Plant while on the other hand it an­nounced to in­cept an­other Power Plant in Khurja, Ut­tar Pradesh. This de­ci­sion, forced to chop-off near a mil­lion of trees in Khurja and once the­p­ower plant would be­come op­er­a­tional, it would do the same dam­age that Badarpur Power Plant did in Delhi-NCR. So, coal-based ther­mal power plant dam­ag­ing the ecol­ogy needs an ur­gent ad­dress by the cen­tral and state gov­ern­ments.

Coal-based ther­mal power plants are likely to suf­fer due to the twin is­sues of lower power de­mand from dis­tri­bu­tion com­pa­nies and coal avail­abil­ity. How­ever, the broad out­look is pos­i­tive for wind en­ergy, so­lar power and trans­mis­sion sec­tors, re­search agency In­dia Rat­ings says.

“For coal-based ther­mal power, non­pit head plants are fac­ing ir­reg­u­lar coal sup­ply, lead­ing to a high risk of declar­ing avail­abil­ity lower-than-re­quired per nor­ma­tive level,” the agency said, ad­ding the com­pe­ti­tion in the short-term mar­ket is likely to in­ten­sify if there are de­lays in ad­dress­ing these is­sues and the ab­sence of long-term power pur­chase agree­ments.

In­dia Rat­ings main­tained a fore­cast of sta­ble out­look for the wind en­ergy sec­tor due to a di­ver­si­fied port­fo­lio of big­ger de­vel­op­ers, suf­fi­cient buf­fer in the form of debt ser­vice cov­er­age ra­tios, sta­bi­liz­ing re­ceiv­able days and grid avail­abil­ity in some of the windy states.

The agency said out­look is pos­i­tive for the so­lar power sec­tor backed by sta­ble oper­a­tions, reg­u­lar pay­ments from most coun­ter­par­ties and man­age­able con­struc­tion risk, es­pe­cially for the ca­pac­ity com­ing up in so­lar parks.

Ac­cord­ing to In­dia Rat­ings, power trans­mis­sion projects con­tinue to ex­hibit high project avail­abil­ity. “In­ter­state projects ex­hibit sta­ble re­ceiv­able pe­riod, while ex­po­sure of in­trastate projects to sin­gle coun­ter­party risk con­tin­ues as a ma­jor credit risk,” it said.

An­a­lysts also fore­cast sta­ble out­look on the over­all trans­port in­fra­struc­ture sec­tor in­clud­ing toll roads, an­nu­ity roads, hy­brid an­nu­ity model (HAM) projects and air­ports.

While HAM projects have en­abled the re­vival of pri­vate par­tic­i­pa­tion, there is some pres­sure on the fi­nan­cial clo­sure

front, as lenders, es­pe­cially pub­lic sec­tor banks are go­ing slow on fi­nanc­ing these projects on ac­count of lack of ap­petite and lend­ing freeze on many of these lenders.

On the trans­ac­tions front, the agency ex­pects un­der con­struc­tion HAM projects to gar­ner a rea­son­able share in the ac­qui­si­tion mar­ket. Ris­ing do­mes­tic in­ter­est rates and fall­ing ru­pee (for dol­lar­de­nom­i­nated bonds) are damp­en­ing the in­ter­est of in­fra­struc­ture com­pa­nies in the bond mar­ket.

In­dia Rat­ings ex­pects stronger re­new­able en­ergy projects with mod­er­ate op­er­a­tional his­tory, strong coun­ter­par­ties and sta­ble spon­sor to be able to tap funds from the bond mar­ket on a stand­alone level, with­out ex­ter­nal guar­an­tees or pool­ing of cash flows.


As men­tioned above, to achieve de­vel­op­ment we have treach­er­ously butchered our forests as we did in Khurja, UP. Ac­cord­ing to the World Wide Fund for Na­ture, we are los­ing 130,000 square km of for­est cover ev­ery day. An­other study by the Cen­ter for Global De­vel­op­ment shows that if the loss of vege­ta­tion con­tin­ues un­abated at this rate, forests cov­er­ing an area nearly the size of In­dia will be de­stroyed by 2050. This rapid loss of nat­u­ral for­est across the world is in­creas­ingly con­cern­ing.

The sit­u­a­tion in In­dia is no dif­fer­ent. In­dia has been try­ing to achieve its tar­get of keep­ing 33 per­cent of its ge­o­graph­i­cal area un­der for­est cover for decades, but the 2017 State of For­est re­port shows that it is still strug­gling to get above 22 per­cent. In­dia has seen rapid de­for­esta­tion in re­cent years, pri­mar­ily due to its fo­cus on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment data, 14,000sq km of forests was cleared to ac­com­mo­date 23,716 in­dus­trial projects across In­dia over the last 30 years. While mar­ket-friendly re­forms have suc­ceeded in pulling mil­lions of In­di­ans out of poverty, econ­o­mists say a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion is not reap­ing the ben­e­fits of eco­nomic growth.

From the colo­nial era to postin­de­pen­dence years, the for­est poli­cies of In­dia were pri­mar­ily fo­cused on com­mer­cial forestry and ex­clu­sion­ary con­ser­va­tion. This ap­proach changed only with the Na­tional For­est Pol­icy (NFP) of 1988, which ac­knowl­edged for the first time the role for­est-dwelling com­mu­ni­ties should play in sus­tain­able for­est man­age­ment. Rather than fo­cus­ing on eco­nomic ben­e­fits forests could pro­vide, the NFP 1988 built a strong case for eco­log­i­cal se­cu­rity and con­ser­va­tion of bio­di­ver­sity through a par­tic­i­pa­tory model.

Since then, In­dia en­acted sev­eral im­por­tant pieces of leg­is­la­tion to rec­og­nize the tribal pop­u­la­tion’s right to self­de­ter­mi­na­tion and to guar­an­tee tenurial rights to for­est-dwelling com­mu­ni­ties, such as Pan­chayat (Ex­ten­sion to the Sched­uled Areas) Act of 1996 and Sched­uled Tribes and Other Tra­di­tional For­est Dwellers (the For­est Rights)Act of 2006.

While it was ex­pected that In­dia will con­tinue to im­ple­ment for­ward-look­ing poli­cies to strengthen the frame­work of com­mu­nity forestry and se­cure eco­log­i­cal se­cu­rity, the In­dian gov­ern­ment has now drafted a new pol­icy aimed at re­vamp­ing the NFP 1988. It turns this prin­ci­ple on its head and pro­poses to open up the for­est to the pri­vate sec­tor and pro­mote pro­duc­tion forestry.

In the garb of ecosys­tem se­cu­rity, cli­mate change and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, the draft is ex­tremely re­gres­sive. The cur­rent draft pol­icy ap­pears to be a non­nego­ti­ated agree­ment that does not have the po­ten­tial to ben­e­fit all of the many stake­hold­ers, par­tic­u­larly, the for­est dwellers and tribal com­mu­ni­ties who are di­rectly de­pen­dent on forests for food, fod­der and liveli­hood.

Bar­ring an ex­tremely meek men­tion of com­mu­nity for­est re­sources man­age­ment, this draft pol­icy not just ig­nores the ex­is­tence of over 200 mil­lion peo­ple who live near a for­est and are de­pen­dent upon it, it sim­ply turns a blind eye to the huge role they play in for­est man­age­ment.

In fact, these peo­ples’ rights have been bun­dled up into a pro­posed mis­sion called Na­tional Com­mu­nity For­est Man­age­ment Mis­sion, which does not lay out any frame­work for the divi­sion of con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties be­tween com­mu­ni­ties and au­thor­i­ties.

This seems a lit­tle mis­di­rected and poorly planned, as even 10 years af­ter the en­act­ment of the 2006 For­est Rights Act, fewer than three per­cent of com­mu­nity for­est rights have been rec­og­nized in In­dia. In con­trast, in Pa­pua New Guinea, about 95 per­cent of forests are un­der com­mu­nity con­trol while in Mex­ico, China, Bo­livia and Brazil, these num­bers are 70, 55, 35 and 13 per­cent, re­spec­tively.


The new draft pol­icy pro­poses a PublicPri­vate Part­ner­ship model and pro­motes pro­duc­tion forestry to meet the mar­ket’s grow­ing de­mand for tim­ber. Ex­am­ples

from Latin Amer­ica, South Asia and Africa point to the con­flicts that oc­cur when com­mu­ni­ties have no rights over re­sources which are di­verted to pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions.

In fact, var­i­ous gov­ern­ment stud­ies, in­clud­ing the one by the erst­while Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, clearly in­di­cates that grant­ing for­est rights to tribal com­mu­ni­ties have po­ten­tial to re­duce con­flicts as it en­sures tenurial se­cu­rity and vests de­ci­sion­mak­ing power over re­sources in the hands of for­est dwellers.

The draft pol­icy does not ad­dress har­mo­niz­ing the dif­fer­ent laws per­tain­ing to forests. To en­hance qual­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity of nat­u­ral forests, the first step is to con­serve them, find ways to re­duce the di­ver­sion of for­est land and to en­sure en­vi­ron­men­tal safe­guards. The gov­ern­ment’s own records show that the largest threat to both forests and peo­ple is land di­ver­sion for min­ing and other in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment projects; over 14,000sq km of forests have al­ready been di­verted.

The crux of the prob­lem lies in the fact that the gov­ern­ment has al­ready signed the UN’s Re­duc­ing Emis­sions from De­for­esta­tion and For­est Degra­da­tion (REDD) pro­gramme and en­acted Com­pen­satory Af­foresta­tion Fund Act 2013 (CAF), which is geared to­wards ag­gres­sive com­mer­cial plan­ta­tion and tap­ping car­bon mar­kets.

The draft pol­icy touches upon cli­mate change, but only at a con­cep­tual level. If the con­cern is about the con­tri­bu­tion of forests to cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion and in­creas­ing their ca­pac­ity to adapt to chang­ing cli­matic vari­abil­i­ties, the strate­gies pro­posed in the later part of the doc­u­ment will sup­port nei­ther.

In­creased num­ber of eco­log­i­cally un­vi­able species will de­stroy the for­est ecol­ogy and the ecosys­tem ser­vices that it ren­ders. In or­der to en­hance the forests’ mit­i­ga­tion ca­pac­i­ties, im­pe­tus should have been given to tree species with greater car­bon se­ques­tra­tion po­ten­tial to in­crease the car­bon stock in forests in­stead of pro­mot­ing species with a low car­bon foot­print to lock car­bon.

A for­est pol­icy should be a broad vi­sion tak­ing into ac­count the var­ied po­lit­i­cal, so­cioe­co­nomic, and eco­log­i­cal con­texts of the coun­try. We can­not re­turn to the colo­nial-era com­mer­cial forestry that will stoke po­ten­tial con­flict through cor­po­rate for­est grabs. Align­ing the needs of the most vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing the tribal peo­ples, should be the pri­or­ity. Any ex­clu­sion­ary mea­sure will sim­ply re­verse the process, which be­gan in 1988.


When it comes to waste man­age­ment in In­dia, noth­ing is quite right. Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board in its re­port which was re­leased in 2009 (af­ter that no such re­port the board has pub­lished) in­di­cates that around 62 mil­lion tons of solid waste is pro­duced in our coun­try ev­ery year, of which less than 20 per­cent or only 12 mil­lion tons are treated. This es­sen­tially means that the re­main­ing 52 mil­lion tons of waste re­main ‘un­treated’ and con­tam­i­nate land or make its way into rivers, lakes and wet­lands. If we don’t take ‘Waste Man­age­ment’ se­ri­ously now then there is no way for In­dia to get it­self out of this dump.

In 2017, The Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (CPCB) has is­sued statu­tory no­tices to mu­nic­i­pal com­mis­sion­ers of 184 towns to en­sure proper man­age­ment of do­mes­tic sewage and solid waste. But no se­ri­ous ac­tion has been taken till now.

An­other ma­jor is­sue is the over­flow­ing land­fills – there is lit­er­ally no space to ac­com­mo­date fresh garbage waste. An ex­pert at the Cen­tre of Science and En­vi­ron­ment says, in­stead of con­struct­ing new land­fill sites, the gov­ern­ment should be re­ally look­ing into in­no­va­tive meth­ods to dis­pose and re­cy­cle its waste. The rea­son why most land­fill sites are over-flow­ing is be­cause the cur­rent waste dis­posal sys­tem is flawed.

Nearly 20 per­cent of meth­ane gas emis­sions in In­dia is caused by land­fills. The trashes dumped in the land­fills are prone to catch­ing fire due to the heat gen­er­ated by the de­com­po­si­tion of waste. Ac­cord­ing to a study done by sci­en­tists at the School of En­vi­ron­men­tal Sciences in Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity, high lev­els of nickel, zinc, ar­senic, lead, chromium and other met­als are part of the solid waste at

land­fills in many metro cities, es­pe­cially in Delhi.


A new re­port from the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme (UNEP) looks at science-based so­lu­tions to air pol­lu­tion in Asia and the Pa­cific re­gion. The re­lease of the re­port comes on the heels of a ma­jor new re­port by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion which says that at least 60,987 chil­dren in In­dia, un­der the age of five, died in 2016 due to causes linked to air pol­lu­tion. Both the WHO and UNEP re­ports were re­leased at the WHO’s first Global Con­fer­ence on Air Pol­lu­tion and Health.

The UNEP re­port has 25 so­lu­tions why they rec­om­mend tack­ling air pol­lu­tion. UNEP says that im­ple­ment­ing these mea­sures would re­sult in a 20 per­cent re­duc­tion in car­bon diox­ide and a 45 per­cent re­duc­tion in meth­ane emis­sions, prevent­ing up to a third of a de­gree Cel­sius in global warm­ing. They es­ti­mate that these mea­sures would help one bil­lion peo­ple breathe cleaner air by 2030.

About seven mil­lion peo­ple world­wide die pre­ma­turely ev­ery year from air pol­lu­tion re­lated dis­eases. The Asia Pa­cific re­gion ac­counts for two thirds of these deaths. In­dia is strug­gling with 14 of the 20 most pol­luted cities of the world, ac­cord­ing to the WHO. Pre­ma­ture deaths linked to air pol­lu­tion in In­dia, ac­count for 25 per­cent of the global deaths.


The UNEP’s re­port has made the 25 so­lu­tions tak­ing into ac­count the di­ver­sity of the Asia and Pa­cific re­gion. Their mea­sures can be cat­e­go­rized into three types.

One set of mea­sures looks at in­creas­ing emis­sion stan­dards for ve­hi­cles, power plants and in­dus­try. An­other set looks at the re­duc­tion in burn­ing of waste and proper man­age­ment of live­stock ma­nure. A third set looks at re­new­able en­ergy.

“The top 25 mea­sures not only rep­re­sent wins for cities and coun­tries look­ing to im­prove air qual­ity, but also pro­vide nextgen­er­a­tion busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties and boost eco­nomic growth,” says the re­port. As an ex­am­ple for this, the re­port cites the case of Mum­bai.

Mum­bai has an­nounced it would push for in­crease the num­ber of elec­tric ve­hi­cles to 500,000 and that Ma­ha­rash­tra would be a man­u­fac­tur­ing hub for elec­tric ve­hi­cles and their com­po­nents.

As con­ven­tional mea­sures, the re­port sug­gests post-com­bus­tion con­trols (this means end-of-pipe mea­sures to re­duce sul­phur diox­ide, ni­tro­gen ox­ides and par­tic­u­late emis­sions at power sta­tions and in large-scale in­dus­try), in­dus­trial process emis­sion stan­dards (es­pe­cially for iron and steel plants, ce­ment fac­to­ries, glass pro­duc­tion, chem­i­cal in­dus­try) and emis­sion stan­dards for road ve­hi­cles, main­te­nance of ve­hi­cles and dust con­trol.

In the sec­ond cat­e­gory of mea­sures, the re­port sug­gests deal­ing with and reg­u­lat­ing agri­cul­tural crop residues, res­i­den­tial waste burn­ing, for­est fires, live­stock ma­nure man­age­ment, ni­tro­gen fer­til­iz­ers, brick kilns, in­ter­na­tional ship­ping, sol­vent use and re­finer­ies.

In the third cat­e­gory of mea­sures the re­port dis­cusses reg­u­lat­ing cook­ing and heat­ing fu­els, power gen­er­a­tion, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency in house and in­dus­tries, elec­tric ve­hi­cles, pub­lic trans­port, solid waste man­age­ment, waste wa­ter treat­ment and Hy­dro Flu­oro Car­bon (HFC) re­frig­er­ants.

In­dia’s place in the global air pol­lu­tion de­bate

Sev­eral prob­lems faced by In­dia and mea­sures taken to tackle pol­lu­tion are cited in the re­port.

In­dia is de­scribed as “leap-frog­ging” in the arena of push­ing to­wards en­ergy ef­fi­ciency tech­nolo­gies “due in part to the on­go­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of in­creas­ingly strin­gent stan­dards on old and new coal­fired power plants”. In­dia’s Na­tional Clean Air Pro­gramme is also cited by the re­port, which has planned to ex­pand the air mon­i­tor­ing net­work, im­prov­ing the dis­sem­i­na­tion of data and pub­lic out­reach, and calls for the pre­ven­tion, con­trol and abate­ment of air pol­lu­tion.

The role of In­dia’s Supreme Court also finds men­tion. “The im­pe­tus for reg­u­la­tory change some­times comes from in­sti­tu­tions out­side gov­ern­ment agen­cies,” says the re­port, cit­ing court or­ders such as the one that shifted Delhi’s en­tire pub­lic trans­port fleet on to com­pressed nat­u­ral gas.

Other In­dian laws that find men­tion in­clude the Air Pre­ven­tion and Con­trol of Pol­lu­tion Act 1981, Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles Bill of 1988, the Auto Fuel Pol­icy of 2002, the Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Pol­icy of 2006, and the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal Bill of 2009.

The re­port also talks about In­dia’s ef­forts to deal with agri­cul­tural residue (where the gov­ern­ment has been ask­ing power com­pa­nies to buy agri­cul­tural waste and con­vert it into biomass pel­lets) and the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to re­duce ni­tro­gen based fer­tiliser us­age (the gov­ern­ment has started an ini­tia­tive for coat­ing ure­an­i­tro­gen with neem oil, a ni­tri­fi­ca­tion in­hibitor that can re­duce ni­tro­gen loss by 10–15 per­cent).

For­est De­for­esta­tion

En­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion at Ya­muna river in Agra, In­dia

Burn­ing garbage dump pol­lu­tion

Traf­fic pol­lu­tion in in­dia

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