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Indian Environmental Challenges: Impact & Solutions
The rapid economic development has undoubtedly changed the life of millions of Indians but there is no element of doubt that it has also polluted the environment in which more than billion Indians live. It is true that rapid economic growth is the only recourse available to pull out the millions of Indians from the quagmire of poverty but while pushing for the growth, planners must also ensure that this growth is sustainable and doesn’t have negative impact on the air we inhale, food we eat and the water we drink.
While the urban areas are characterized with the deteriorating air quality and rivers polluted with disposal of untreated sewage and industrial waste, rural areas and other hinterlands are also not immune to the pollution. In rural areas too, quality of land is degrading with high use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Near extinction of vultures from the country is an extreme example of what chemical drugs can do to the flora and fauna around us.
According to a study by World Bank, environmental degradation costs India around USD80 billion per year which amounts to around 5.7% of the GDP. An environment survey of 178 countries ranked India at 155 and at the bottom among BRIC nations. Survey also found that out of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, 13 are in India. The biggest problems in India highlighted by the World Bank report are - air pollution, the degradation of crop lands, pastures and forests and poor water supply and sanitation.The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines environmental degradation as “the reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives, and needs”.
Impact of Degrading Environment
The impact of environment degradation is a slow and consistent which keeps ticking like a time bomb and explodes bringing large amount of miseries. The flash floods and landslides of Uttarakhand in 2013, where more than 6,000 people were believed to have died, was because of the combination of heavy rains, deforestation and unchecked development in the old river bed.
The melting of glaciers in Himalayas due to global warming is cited as the main cause of droughts and floods in the northern India. In the coastal areas also, increasing pollution has reduced the density of phytoplankton which ultimately affected the fish populations in the region directly affecting the livelihood of Indian fishermen.
In Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, the green revolution was ushered at the cost of acute level of ground water depletion. While illegal sand mining in the riverbeds is inviting the wrath of rivers, mining for minerals in the mountains in is causing degradations and denudation of mountains resulting in landslides. Discharge of wastes into the rivers is affecting the aquatic life of the rivers.
Laws like Environment Protection Act, Forest Act, Wildlife Protection Act, etc, were legislated in India within 30 years of independence but the problem of environment degradation has aggravated today and many see these laws as mere creation of bureaucratic hassles in the way to development.
These laws could bring result only if awareness is created among the public and it is concerned about the quality of environment it is living. In order to inculcate the importance of environment among the young minds, the Supreme Court of India in 2003 directed that environment education should be made compulsory subject in school education. In the long run, this would definitely help in making public accountable for the protection of environment. In the short run, many small endeavours would culminate in the big results.
For instance, introducing mass rapid transit systems like metro trains, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors in urban areas will help in curbing the pollution from automobiles. Making cycling and carpoolinga habit in urban areas will too reduce traffic congestion as well as pollution.
Every city situated at the bank of river should have a sewage treatment plant and industries discharging untreated waste into the rivers should be fined heavily. For energy, government should promote the renewable energy projects which are sustainable and cheaper in long run. All the new projects should be implemented with environment in mind like new buildings must be certified as energy efficient and should have solar panels.
The smart city project contemplated by the government should have zero impact on environment. And last but not the least; government should focus on green growth which is needed to promote the sustainable growth and reverse theprocess of environmental degradation and natural resource depletion.
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