“If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.” – Wangari Maathai, renowned social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize
Environmental pollution is the greatest global crisis created by man. It is one of the most serious problems faced by humanity and other life forms on Earth in the present times. Millions of people that live in eight different nations are at serious risk of developing ailments like respiratory diseases and cancer. The reason? Because they reside in the globe’s 10 most polluted places.
According to a report in 2019 by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), pollution is the largest environmental cause of premature death on the planet, leading to about 15% of all deaths. India leads the world in pollution-linked deaths with about 2.3 million fatalities, followed by China (1.8 million) and Nigeria.
The Government of India has taken some serious steps and measures in the past few years to address the grave issues of air and water pollution, and improper waste disposal. Some of these include assessment of ambient air quality, introducing cleaner/alternate fuels, incentivizing hybrid/electric vehicles, comprehensive amendments to various Waste Management Rules, banning the burning of leaves and municipal solid waste, biomass, and promoting e-rickshaws, carpooling, lane discipline and vehicle maintenance.
Others consist of formulating new standards for prevention and control of pollution from industries, preparing action-plans for sewage management and restoration of water quality, implementing National River Conservation Plan, setting up sewage treatment plants, building low-cost sanitation facilities, spreading education, encouraging community participation, and so on.
Promoting awareness among the public and mobilizing their participation for the conservation of the environment through tasks such as recycling, saving water and electricity, and growing trees are very necessary strategies in our quest to limit pollution. What better way than to start with the younger generation of the nation?
Under the National Green Corps (NGC) initiative, started in 2001–02 by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC), about 1,00,000 schools have been identified as Eco-Clubs, with 30,00,000 students actively participating in different environmental protection, conservation, and pollution prevention activities.
The program has a cascading effect in sensitizing the society with its diverse activities viz., organizing rallies and street theater at public places to spread information on environmental issues, tree plantation, cleanliness drives, constructing water-harvesting structures, practicing paper recycling, promoting proper garbage disposal, propagating personal hygiene habits, encouraging eco-friendly practices (e.g. non-chemical pest management), stall-feeding of animals to protect overgrazing of pasture land, and spreading awareness on the use of renewable energy for meeting local needs, in the long list of many others.
With the slogan “One Step Towards Cleanliness”, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, launched this mission on October 2, 2014. The aim was to accelerate the efforts towards having universal sanitation coverage and achieve a Clean India by 2019 as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary.
With its two sub-missions, Gramin (village) and Urban, this Abhiyan focused on improving the general quality of life in rural areas (by promoting hygiene and eliminating open defecation), motivating communities to adopt sustainable sanitation practices, encouraging cost-effective and appropriate technologies for ecologically safe and sustainable sanitation, creating a positive impact on gender and promoting social inclusion by improving sanitation (especially in marginalized communities).
Based on the PM’s call that cleanliness has to be everyone’s business and not only that of the sanitation departments, this effort was designed to have maximum collaborations between the Central Government, State Governments, local institutions, semi-government and private agencies, corporates, NGOs, faith organizations, media and the rest of the stakeholders. As of October 2, 2019, the country has progressed from 38.7% to 100% proper sanitation stage, depicting a significant influence of this 5-year program.
Started by the Government in June 2014, the objectives of this program include effective reduction of pollution, conservation, protection, and rejuvenation of the national river, the Ganga in a comprehensive manner.
The entire work process has been divided into: Entry-Level activities (for immediate impact); Medium-Term activities (within 5 years); and Long-Term activities (within 10 years of time frame). Some of the pillars of this plan consist of creating sewage treatment capacity, river-front development, river-surface cleaning, biodiversity conservation, afforestation, industrial effluent monitoring, and public awareness.
Moreover, under the Ganga Gram category, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDWS) has identified 1,674 Gram Panchayats situated on the banks of this river in five states. It has given funds for the construction of toilets in these villages so that the inhabitants do not pollute the Ganges. A consortium of seven IITs is engaged in the preparation of the Ganga River Basin Plan and 65 villages have been adopted by 13 of these institutes to be developed as model villages.
An article published in The Hindu in 2018 talks about a yellow team of masked and gloved waste-pickers who empty the bins, remove uneaten food and separate wet and dry wastes on the Delhi railway station when the trains come to a stop there. As trains pull away, a group of green uniformed cleaners with brooms in hand, descend on the littered tracks to sweep them clean.
The dry waste is segregated into over 12 categories for recycling. The wet waste is composted with the help of an organic waste composter and an aerobic pit compost processor. Untreatable waste is taken to the landfill. Also, various audio-visual clips, posters, and slogans are circulated to motivate the passengers to keep the railways clean.
According to the World Health Organization, more than half of the cities with the worst air pollution are in India. As an effort to combat this situation, the Government in 2019 released a five-year plan to prevent and mitigate air pollution in the 102 worst-affected cities of the country by 20–30%. This plan outlines several actions and their timelines (applicable at the central, state, city, and village levels) seeking to curb industrial, vehicular, and thermal power emissions and reduce the pollution generated from burning firewood and crop residue, brick-production, construction, and other related activities by 2024.
One of the objectives of this plan asks the city authorities to establish early alarm systems to identify the traffic congestion zones. This would help in allowing commuters to seek alternative routes. Other crucial points include enforcing bans on open burning of biomass and vehicle-tires, retrofitting the diesel vehicles with particulate filters, and implementing the new Bharat-VI emission norms for vehicles (from April 2020) and thermal power plants (by December 2022). Moreover, the air pollution monitoring network will expand countrywide from 703 to 1,500 stations by 2024. Along the roads and highways, mechanized sweeping and plant vegetation filters will be introduced.
The United Nations (Environment) recognized Narendra Modi for his bold environmental leadership at the global level and presented him as the Champion of the Earth Award 2018.
Encouraged by Modi, the country has pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022. He understands that climate change poses a grave existential threat to the world and emphasizes that the green economy is what is needed in the present and will flourish in the future. Under his leadership, India has installed 300 million LED light bulbs, 40 million clean-burning cookstoves in its homes (hence, addressing the problem of indoor air pollution), and became the world’s fourth-largest producer of solar power and the fifth largest producer of renewable energy.
During the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, Modi highlighted the crucial points which are a part of India’s robust action plan to stringently address the problem of climate change and participate in saving the Earth. The different activities, plans, and programs, introduced in the past few years by the Government of India, are starting to show significant results and hopefully, will have a strong impact in relation to global environmental action.
The 400-acre campus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, has been designed to preserve the environment. Apart from effective waste management, the institute has undertaken several other initiatives, such as maximum rainwater harvesting, low-energy sewage treatment plants, solar panels, water heaters, organic farm, self-shading buildings, passive cooling systems, onsite use of eco-friendly materials, limited vehicular movement, pedestrian-friendly pathways, etc. The campus development is based on low resource consumption and maintenance costs, and sustainability is a core feature of its masterplan.
IIT Gandhinagar is the first in the country to receive a 5-star rating from the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment for Large Developments (GRIHALD). Recently, it was also ranked 4th in the ‘Residential University – All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE)’ category at the third edition of the Swachhata Ranking Awards 2019.
As an active supporter and participant of the Prime Minister’s campaign to eliminate the use of single-use plastics from India, the institute has strongly discouraged the purchase of items in plastic bags. Customized paper and cloth bags have been made available to its community members for shopping. It also launched the Green Bottle Campaign, which promotes reusable bottles for serving water and other beverages.
The future plan includes an efficient tackling of the low-grade non-recyclable wastes viz., wrappers of eatery packets, and tetra-packs. The institute is also focused on educating the visitors, internship-students, project assistants, and staff to promote the idea of a zero-waste community. Through these initiatives, IITGN is doing its bit and believes that many such national and global contributions together will eventually lead to a more positive impact in combating pollution and protecting the Earth.
The problem of pollution has been deeply rooted within our country (and the world) for a very long period. There are slight improvements but it will require a considerable amount of effort and time for this issue to be properly resolved.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown us a glimpse of clean and green India. The pollution levels have seen a massive dip owing to the countrywide lockdown imposed because of the novel coronavirus disease. The nation has seen a significant drop in vehicular movement and industrial activity, which has led to a surge of fresh air everywhere, a phenomenon not observed in decades. The million-dollar question is: do we need one crisis to rescue us from the horrors of another?
Can we not be vigilant and responsible enough to tackle the problem efficiently ourselves?
Our country has a long way to go in its fight against pollution and saving the Earth. But, we all can do it together. After all, it is about saving lives.
“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact the plans to protect man.” – Stewart Udall, politician, and federal government official