September 18, 2021

National Pollution Control Day 2020

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Author : Smitha V

The year as it approaches the end, has seen many firsts. One such event took place in the month of July 2020 in Portugal, which recorded its hottest July in 90 years. This coincided with the 3 years long crowd funded maiden environmental petition that has been filed in International Court of Human Rights. The first Climate Change case was filed by 6 Portuguese youth accusing 33 countries of violating their Right to Life by not doing their adequate share in emission cuts to tackle climate crisis in the European court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France. This easily could be dismissed as a Developed World crisis.

At home, India on 25th Nov 2020, 9 years old Licypriya Kangujam, a climate change activist wins the T.N. Khoshoo Memorial award for 2020 constituted by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE).

In between we have Greta Thunberg’s ‘Fridays for Future!’

The wants of the future does not match the objectives of the present that is us. There are more pressing issues plaguing the developing world like poverty, unemployment to name a couple of them. Another contention is, it is our turn to grow the economy, rather exploit the natural resources for self in the name of improving the quality of life. This reminds us of the Sustainable Development Goals – ‘leave no one behind’. What big difference a 2 degree raise in the temperature is going to make? Nothing much indeed, only that when you order an ice cream, you will have to sit in a cold room to eat it too.

Observing the National Pollution Control Day today, Dec 2nd, the idea of improving our quality of life would be clean air to breathe, clean drinking water and chemical free Food to eat and let’s add an ice cream under a tree!

Yes, this is environmentalism, a quest towards regaining the balance in the nature.

Environmentalism is fairly a new concept. Its origin starts with industrial revolution as a reaction to lndustrial Revolution. Since the 18th century, quoting Ramachandra Guha, it has only been more people, producing more, consuming more and excreting more in an exponential manner.

If we consider between 70,000 and 100,000 years ago as the man started migrating and populating the planet and to the 18th century AD start of the first industrial revolution, today we are in the fourth industrial revolution. If you see the time taken for the first one to happen to the subsequent ones, it is indeed in 5G speed! The faster we are improving, the faster the environmental degradation.

When we talk about environmentalism in Indian context, the industrial revolution started in the late 19th century here. So, the first environmental thinking was the intellectual observations by the nationalist leaders, lead by Gandhi who was a precocious believer in sustainable development and warned that if India were to follow the footsteps of British, then we would bare the earth like a locust. We have Meera Behn, Mandeile Slade also warning the impact of hurting the nature in the name of development. And we cannot forget J.C Kumarappa, the first proponent of the theory of Economic permanence, Gandhi’s economist stressing on Sustainable development.

But, post independence was a difficult phase, feeding the poor, work for unemployed was the main priority and of course trying to qualify to the world economic arena, the nationalist leaders heed was set aside. We should remember here that, the industrial progress from 1950 onwards till 1990s was Socialistic state controlled   economy. 1970-80s saw a wave of environmental activism spanning the 2 ends of the country – silent valley in Kerala and the Chipko in Himalayas. This is a social, indigenous mass movement, environmentalism of the poor!  I say ‘is’ because the movement continues with modifications here & there and the style being adopted in many other parts of the country since then. On the regulatory front, The water act, 1974, Air act 1981, and setting up of the central & state pollution control boards.

The first of the judicial activism in environmental aspect was also seen from late 1980s. Ministry of Environment and forests was created in 1985. Environmental Protection Act of 1986 following the Bhopal gas tragedy is comprehensive and the rules pointed out all the requirements for approval to establish an industrial setup.

Post 1991, the famous start of the Economic liberalization, brought in the invasion of the market forces which saw the demand by environmental scientists and judicial activists asking for more regulatory norms which saw the establishment of National Environment Appellate Authority Act in 1997 replaced by National green Tribunal Act in 2010.

The media support has been instrumental in the environmental issues reaching all the quarters of society. One interesting case in recent times has been the ‘Cancer Colony’ case in North East Delhi. Following a media report about the hospital reporting most cancer cases from one locality, High Court of Delhi ordered a survey only to find 300 unauthorized denim and jeans coloring units operating in the Shiv Vihar colony.

The scenario is generally a more corrective approach than a preventive approach. As we have already seen, we have great laws in place but executive, implementation has gaps. The Maradu case in Kerala is a classic example. The apartment complexes on the coast violating the coastal regulation zone being approved by all the required authorities. Then the Supreme Court upholds the Violation and orders demolition. The impact is double here. The amount of carbon footprints is double. But a strong message has been sent.

Not to mention the long list of rivers declared biologically dead – Vapi, Ganga, Yamuna, Sabarmati….

So amidst these endeavors of hits & misses towards economic progress, India today is the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases lead by USA and China.

The permafrost, the layer of ground under zero degrees Celsius for a period of 1 to 2 years is melting, yes water level is rising, lets plan trips to Maldives, Singapore and of course Lakshadweep before they dive into deep-waters but what about these melting resulting in release of microbes unknown to humans like in Corona-types. The more we destruct natural resources, through mining especially; we are exposing ourselves to unknown microbes. It becomes our double responsibility to pause and think about our strategies to tackle the dire issue at hand, as India is home to the largest youth population in the age group of 18-25 years in the world and, we are going to get the maximum brunt from this climate change heat.

So, time to be socially responsible and understand the environment with us inside it not us standing on the periphery.

First step towards being socially responsible is becoming an aware citizen. Understanding what we have and how best we could utilize it to mitigate the risk and prolong our stay on this planet.

Even understanding the bare facts of the regulations will help us in averting the mishaps –  

EIA – Environmental Impact Assessment notification, 2006 – this is a statutory requirement for. What does it do – identifies, and predicts the impact of legislative proposals, policies, programmes, projects and operational procedures of listed activities on the bio-geophysical environment, health and well-being of human beings and interpret and communicate impact information which includes public hearing for public consent to facilitate alternate routes for development, process technologies and project sites.

One classic example of innovation and adopting alternate routes in the development projects is seen in Narmada dam project – where the stalement between the activists, people and govt. was addressed by a 2 engineers who studied and asked the dam height to be reduced by 60 odd meters,  saving 60% of the submergible land.

Where EIA has failed, under the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution, the local bodies, the gram panchayats have been given powers to stop any activity detrimental to the village environment. Niyamgiri case is a torch bearer of the public hearing and upholding of these constitutional rights – rights of the forest dwellers, adivasis. In the Plachimada case where the Perumatty Gram Panchayat shut down the coco cola bottling plant for depleting the ground water and polluting.

After setting up an establishment,  how do I monitor myself – by adopting voluntary international Management standards like ISO 14001 – environmental management system. These standards take care of the environmental aspects and their impacts in internal operations and also with the interested parties like suppliers, neighbors, regulatory agencies and others and keeps the organization to be up to date with all the applicable legal compliance.

The newest trend is the Carbon Footprint calculation.  Understanding my carbon output of all my micro & macro level activities and coming out with alternate better techniques to reduce the carbon footprints.

One more mandatory regulation is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) under Companies Act, 2013. Companies with net worth of Rs.500 Cr and more, turnover of Rs.1000 Cr and more or profit of Rs.5 Cr in a financial year has to constitute a CSR committee and allocate at least 2 % of the net profit calculated for 3 preceding years towards sustainable development activities owing responsibility for the impact of its activities on environment, employees, consumers and communities in the area. ISO standard 26000 is a guideline standard to implement CSR effectively.

Days ahead of us

We have to keep in mind that any impact of all the possible measures we take up to mitigate the environmental risks will take a minimum 30 years to show effect.

Better late than never!! Just as Gandhi said, “Incrementalism is the need”. Let’s see what an individual could do –

Big data days are here. The futuristic AIs would be applied to tackle Climate change – creating fore- warning tools about the impending climate predictions, understand the pollution level and take precautionary measures.

Planting Saplings / replanting the trees – yes, trees are the carbon sinks but again a cumbersome, long term and expensive process. A tree becomes an effective efficient carbon sink as it grows, the older its age, the higher the absorption capacity.

As individuals and institutions, understand that going paperless is not actually saving trees. Smart gadgets are energy guzzlers especially the internet. Quoting Greenpeace France, ‘If internet were a country, then it would be one of the largest consumers of electricity after USA, China and Russia.’

Best Practice –

  • Weed out your inbox
  • Delete unread / unopened mails
  • Type direct URL / website address
  • Avoid – searching by keywords – emits 4 times more greenhouse gases

Organic decay releases methane which is 25% more harmful than CO2. Simple, do not waste food! Consume as much required and prepare a little less than necessary. And please segregate your waste before disposal.

The E-waste especially pen torch batteries, button batteries potential lead, cadmium, beryllium carcinogenic could be dropped in any electronic showrooms, which have a disposer bin which in-turn dispenses it to an e-waste recycler. Your scrap mobile phones and other electronic / electrical gadgets will get you money back if disposed to an approved e-waste handler. They contain precious metals inside. The underlining aspect here is safe scientific dismantling and disposing of e-waste without contaminating the land, air & water.

Sensitizing the young minds – School children. As the forest man of India – Jadav Payeng says, every student will have to plant a sapling and if it grows to a tree, they pass their exams!

This rapid exponential race has been towards improving life mindlessly. The progress cannot be undone; the spirit to excel cannot be quelled but heed to the call of the global scientists urging the people of this world to become reflective. Think before doing!

Ban Ki Moon’s words aptly explains both fights to save the planet for self, “Saving the planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth….these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solution to all.” 

Time to hold hands together vibrating the essence of vasudeva kutubhakam – world is one family in this endeavor!

Time to Green our stories and Change our life!

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