More warning signals on failing environment - GulfToday

More warning signals on failing environment

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

India Climate Change

Visitors are photographed against the background of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

President Donald Trump unwittingly drew the world’s attention to India’s poor air quality in his last election debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden. “Look at India, its air is filthy,” he exclaimed in response to Biden’s attack on his poor record on addressing climate change.

Not that India needed a reminder from abroad about its deteriorating environment. This month Delhi’s air quality index fell continuously for days.

Also, several states experienced flood with recent constructions blocking natural flow of water as the northeast monsoon brought rain.

The National Capital Region, which includes Delhi and adjoining areas of neighbouring states, has been suffering from air pollution for years.

The World Health Organisation, after assessing conditions in 1,650 cities across the globe, had concluded that air quality was worst in NCR. What’s more, as many as 22 of the 30 most polluted cities were in India.

Poor air quality is not just an urban problem here. Another WHO study had found that three-fourths of all Indians were living in places that did not meet national air quality standards. No state had air quality levels recommended by WHO.

According to a 2017 study, one in eight deaths in the country was attributable to air pollution. People in low-income groups and children and senior citizens were most at risk.

The study put the health costs of air pollution at $80 billion.

There has been no comprehensive scientific study to establish the cause of Delhi’s poor air quality.  This leaves room for a blame game based on conjectures.

Motor vehicles were seen as the main source of air pollution at one time. The Supreme Court passed several orders over the years to eliminate polluting vehicles from roads.

More recently, officials have advanced the theory that the main cause of pollution is burning of stubble, particularly after harvest, in the neighbouring states.

A few days ago the Supreme Court ordered the states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to check stubble burning. It also appointed former apex court judge Madan B. Lokur to oversee the states’ efforts in this regard.

The Court’s interventions are aimed at cleaning up the city where it is located.  It must recognise that Delhi’s problem is a part of the larger problem of air pollution all over the country.

That, in turn, is a part of the still larger problem of deterioration of the environment as a whole.

The problem cannot be addressed effectively through stray court orders. It calls for purposeful action by the governments at the Centre and in the states on the advice of people with expertise.

It is now well understood that there is an inherent conflict between developmental needs and environmental needs. One cannot be promoted at the cost of the other.

Only a healthy balance between the two can ensure both economic stability and people’s wellbeing.  

The government must recognise that developmental activity pushed through at the cost of the environment has already caused immense harm.

Steps taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2014 have resulted in dismantling of the systems put in place by earlier administrations to protect the environment and secure the lives of the people.

A set of new Environment Impact Assessment Rules which the government drafted has invited sharp criticism from environmentalists.

Modi’s efforts lifted India in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index to the 63rd position last year from 77th in the previous year.

There was a 13 per cent jump in foreign direct investment (FDI) from $44.36 billion in that year to $49.97 billion in the next. This cannot be taken as an indication of the success of the government’s efforts to attract investment.

Singapore and Mauritius together accounted for nearly half of the FDI inflow. These are countries where Indians park hoarded black money to be brought back lawfully later.

The fact is that the administration’s bid to attract investment is not yielding anticipated results. Potential investors are unlikely to take decisions solely on the basis of the Ease of Doing Business index. They will also look at other material on record such as the South Korean firm POSCO’s decision to drop its plan to set up the world’s largest steel complex in India. Tribesmen living in the area allotted for the project had agitated against it as it posed a threat to their lives and livelihood.

The time has come to formulate a wise strategy to ensure sustainable development.

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