Pollution, plastic waste leading to environment degradation

With the best intentions in the world and focus on clean India on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, October 2, and several days around it, how is it that it has lost its primacy so soon? The Prime Minister went to Gujarat and spent a lot of energy by joining groups carrying brooms.

Is environmental degradation the number one problem the world faces, but is there much that the human race can do something about it in the near future? Short-term solutions are being worked on it, but no fast track technology could possibly be devised that would curb human ways that increase the level of pollution.

The population of the world is well above 7 billion and is likely to cross 8 billion in a couple of decades. The amount of plastic waste being released and dumped underground or on the ground, into rivers and water bodies as well as oceans and seas is likely to exceed the quantity of fish by the year 2050, according to an international expert.

Is it a fact that India is the most thickly populated country of the world? India has 1.3 billion people inhabiting it. Is that the key reason that cleaning up India, its plains, its forests and water bodies is a Herculean ordeal? That issue is rarely, discussed or brought to the fore.

China, twice the size of India, already has a population of 1.5 billion. It also faces key issues of environmental pollution and is a signatory of the Paris Accord on environmental issues, as is India. But America, the greatest polluter of the world is seeking to withdraw from the Paris Accord under President Trump.

Both India and China have thickly and thinly populated areas as is the case with nearly all nations. Russia’s size is six times as far as the land mass goes, but large parts such as Siberia and some of the coldest regions of the world form part of it. Its population is only 110 million. The USA, more than twice India’s size has 310 million people, but Canada, as large as the US, if not larger, has 25 million people.

In this scenario, there is no doubt that the upcoming elections to the Gujarat Assembly were and are on the Indian Prime Minister’s mind; and the political implications of it in his home State are considerable. No doubt, he has succeeded in taking the Narmada waters to what was once the parched city and district of Rajkot. It has now become quite a big city; it hosts a few international cricket matches every year.

Is it backward no more? Is it prosperous now? Is it clean, thanks to the people and local administrators? No pictures or videos need be searched. There would be clean official localities or those of the rich, but of the hoi polloi, perhaps, the less said the better.  But with all the focus on industrial investment of Gujarat, in spite of huge floods just a few weeks ago, preceded by severe drought in parched lands, has the deluge swept away the filth? Has the big drought dried up all the messy filth and left the State disease free? Or is it the same story all over India, city after city, village after village?

Has Dharavi, possibly the world’s biggest slum and in Mumbai, improved one little bit after decades and decades, prior to and since India became independent, but not free from excessive disease, starvation, heat and dust as well as deluge? Do these questions need an answer in view of the fact that that negativity prevails and will continue for aeons to come?

The most recent focus has been on toilets in town and country. Tens of thousands of them are reported to have been built. People have been barred from using open spaces as toilets have been provided; people not using the toilets are fined or even convicted. But how many toilets have water supply? Is it 50 per cent of them or 75 per cent which have water? No precise figures are available. But even one-fourth having no water would leave an enormous mess. But the authorities could justifiably claim that the scheme being very recent, there are bound to be hassles and they cannot be overcome overnight.

The Jamuna has already been declared a dead river in Delhi, the national capital, thanks to the uncontrollable industrial and human waste flowing into it round the clock. Is the holy Ganga far behind? It could not be. Yet the Sangam in Allahabad and the ghats in Varanasi are among the holiest places of bathing with its smelly and filthy waters.

According to a report, 1,000 children die of diarrhoea in India every day because of use of highly polluted water; that makes it 365,000 deaths of children in a year. How many adults also die of the same disease? That would have to be calculated. But the numbers are bound to be large. But could the health authorities do anything about it?

There are hundreds of water reservoirs in India after dams have been built to supply drinking water, but mainly to generate electricity and irrigate farms. Many river beds have been diverted to use for construction activity and pipelines have been laid from the hinterland of Maharashtra to supply drinking water to Mumbai. The result is that the rural areas have no water left either for drinking purposes nor for farms, now dried up.

In spite of the ban on burning of paddy hay in Punjab and Haryana, the practice continues unabated as news channels relay photographic evidence from video cameras. Have the local authorities been able to stop burning it although the quality of air is greatly polluted. The National Green Tribunal issued orders to stop smoke spreading, no but to no avail.

The Supreme Court had earlier allowed the sale of fire crackers for Diwali, but on October 8, it reversed the order and banned their sale in the National Capital Region. Shopkeepers who had paid licence fees to sell crackers are protesting, but the ban is generally being welcomed. Elsewhere in the country, the crackers may face no curbs.

 

Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.