As Indians Choke And Animals Die, Ministers Continue Building Factories Over Forests

Every warning was ignored, all threats challenged despite facts, you never cared for any of the cries. Now that hell broke loose on you, run, hide or die, since you’ve hardly got time.

– Mother Nature

2017 has seen a high number of environmental disruptions all over the world. Not so surprisingly, these disruptions have been a product of either human intervention in the natural cycle, or the result of any development oriented dream.

Like many other countries in the world, India is also dealing with hazardous environmental conditions, with little to no consideration towards tackling the situation. Right from the Union Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Forest, Dr. Harsh Vardhan to Chief Ministers of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh,  Rajasthan and even the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) – all of them have placed construction, real estate or thermal power plant projects before the protection of forests, wildlife sanctuaries and citizens.

Being home to some of the most polluted (air pollution) cities in the world (11 out of 20), India also ranks 141 out of 180 countries as far as air pollution is concerned, according to the 2016 Environmental Performance Index.

The recent exposition in Delhi and Mumbai, which continued for months grabbed attention of its citizens and activists, but failed to shake the spirits of Ashwini Bhide and Devendra Fadnavis who are obstinate on building a metro car shed in the Aarey Forest in Mumbai, the last lung of the throbbing city. Activists and environmentalists have been trying to safe the forest for the past three years, but the greed and laziness of the authorities involved has bored its roots deep into the forest and got the much fought against project approved.

The noise pollution caused due to construction had recently grabbed people’s attention when a five year old girl from Delhi complained about the excess noise caused due to the construction of metro stations near her residence. Her plea was disposed by Delhi Metro with remarks that the “grievance can’t be resolved to the satisfaction of a customer.”

Customer? We are citizens of this country for goodness sake! Just because you chose my house to drill outside, does not make me any less of a citizen. Even though the plea appeared in many news reports, no public comment was made on the matter by Mangu Singh, the managing director of the Delhi Metro. The plea was forgotten in days and the construction of metro continues with the same noise pollution.

The NGT Chairperson, Justice Swatanter Kumar asked the North and East Delhi Municipal Corporations to submit updated reports on the status of Ranikhera (located at the border of Delhi and Haryana). As per the report by NGT, nearly four pieces of land at Ranikhera was allotted to Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) to build dumping grounds as the residential areas were being affected due to stench and litter spread all over the place. Apparently, these pieces of land are being proposed for industrial development by DSIIDC, and no actions have been taken by the North and East Delhi Municipal Corporations or by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The Delhi-based think-tank, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has estimated that the power sector alone contributes 60% of the PM (particulate matter), 45% of sulphur dioxide, 30% of nitrogen oxides and 80% of mercury emissions of the total emissions from the industrial sector.

According to Greenpeace India, everything is wrong with the coal based power plants in Delhi and NCR. I doubt it is any different for the ones all across the country. These power plants were supposed to adhere to the emission norms, as directed by environment ministry two years ago. However, they were backed by relaxed approach of the ministry towards them at the behest of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), which sought more time for these plants to install required instruments for meeting those standards. To top the cake with a cherry, CEA even recommended an extension in the deadline (of another five years, from 2017 to 2022) for these plants to adhere to the norms. No comments or assurances have been provided by Ravindra Kumar Verma, the chairperson of CEA on the matter.

The Center for Science and Environment (CSE), in one of its reports, revealed links between air pollution and mental illness. It was also stated that air pollution causes nearly 30% of premature deaths in India and impaired lungs to every third child in Delhi. However, Dr. Harsh Vardhan has openly challenged any death caused by pollution.

The much treasured world heritage (one of the only 38) Western Ghats have been facing severe threats to its flora and fauna due to the impact of human habitat. At the UN climate change conference hosted in Germany, a report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stated that an enormous increase in human population, is the greatest threat to the Western Ghats. The pressure by this increase in population has endangered the ghats to an irreversible amount, thus, the IUCN suggests not underestimating the crisis. Approximately, 50 million people are living in the area. These Ghats traverse the States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Yet, conservation of Western Ghats do not top any government official’s list.

There was also an elephant massacre that was a hard hit for the Assamese people and government. If you were wondering what the elephants were doing near the railway tracks, an official from World Wildlife Fund says that Sonitpur lost 70% of its forests leaving these innocent animals to wander off in the villages. Balipara (where the incident took place) in Sonitpur district is also know to be an elephant corridor (but not anymore I guess) . Five adult elephants and a calf were crushed to death by a train in Assam. The rising cases of human-animal conflict in Assam have been a cause of concern for conservation and wildlife bodies. Due to large scale deforestation for the construction of villages, elephants have lost their natural habitats that had remained untouched till 2014. Forest lands in elephant’s corridor measuring 2k bighas were handed over to Patanjali by the government. As many as 210 elephants have died ‘unnaturally’ in Assam between 2013 and 2017.

A horrifying report from UP states that there are more than 25-year-old power plants in the basin of river Ganga, that are polluting the river due to technical hindrance. The NGT has repeatedly directed the CPCB to physically examine the sites and submit real time status. No such report has been submitted by the Center yet. One such power plant which has been causing the most trouble is Aparna thermal plant, located in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh. The NGT said that despite repeated directions, the correct information regarding the thermal power plants causing pollution, hasn’t been provided to it. S.P. Singh Parihar, IAS officer and elected chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board, and Yogi Adityanath, who is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has shown no concern over the subject, deeming it as just a passing affair.

All these natural conservation fights put up by environmentalists and citizens are abandoned by the residents of that environment itself. It’s time that all citizens rise and ask for their rights to live in a healthy and safe environment. As for the government, it’s high time that they stop turning a blind eye towards the citizens’ health and life, because they cannot fool people every five years. I do not see my ‘ministers’ even tweeting about it, forget about speaking about these issues out loud.

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