Airpocalypse: 241 Indian cities highly polluted; 139 violating air quality norms not included in NCAP

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) launched the five-year action plan earlier this month to reduce air pollution by 30 per cent by 2024, with 2017 as base year.

Over 130 highly polluted cities violating the national air quality standards have been left out of the recently launched National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), a new study has revealed. A Greenpeace India report, which identified 139 cities where air pollution level exceeds national standards, said the NCAP is based on limited data from 2011-2015 and that’s why a large number of highly polluted cities have been kept out of its purview. Read more

Grow bamboo, capture carbon

India needs to aggressively promote growing bamboo as it looks to increase forest cover to sequester increasing amounts of carbon dioxide

When plans are drawn up to capture carbon dioxide from the air by increasing India’s forest cover, the native bamboo that is found in profusion across the country, is often ignored. But now, a body of evidence is emerging that shows bamboo captures captures carbon quickly, while it also rapidly rejuvenates degraded lands, restoring soil fertility.

Capturing carbon dioxide from the air is an important way to combat climate change, which is being caused by emission of excess carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Plants use carbon dioxide from the air to manufacture food, so growing plants is the best to do this. Read more

Pollution in India Could Reshape Monsoons

Local emissions over the subcontinent make summer storms more erratic, and may have global consequences.

Over the next decade, more than 400 large dams will be built on the Himalayan rivers—by India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan—to feed the region’s hunger for electricity and its need for irrigation. New ports and thermal power plants line the coastal arc that runs from India, through Southeast Asia, to China. India and China have embarked on schemes to divert rivers to bring water to their driest lands: Costing tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, they are the largest and most expensive construction projects the world has ever seen. At stake in how these plans unfold is the welfare of a significant portion of humanity. At stake is the future shape of Asia, the relations among its nations.

The Indian subcontinent is the crucible of the monsoon. In its simplest definition, the monsoon is “a seasonal prevailing wind.” There are other monsoons, in northern Australia and in North America; none is as pronounced, as marked in its reversal between wet and dry seasons, as the South Asian monsoon. More than 70 percent of total rainfall in South Asia occurs during just three months each year, between June and September. Even within that period, rainfall is not consistent: It is compressed into just 100 hours of torrential rain across the summer months.

Despite a vast expansion in irrigation since 1947, 60 percent of Indian agriculture remains rain-fed, and agriculture employs about half of India’s population. Unlike China, unlike most large countries in the world, India’s population will continue to be predominantly rural until the mid-21st century. No comparably large number of human beings anywhere in the world is so dependent on such intensely seasonal rainfall. In the first decade of the 20th century, the finance minister in the imperial government declared that “every budget is a gamble on the rains”; more than a century later, the leading environmental activist Sunita Narain reversed the terms but retained the substance of the observation: “India’s finance minister is the monsoon,” she declared.

Climate is woven into the fabric of Indian social, economic, and political thought in a way that it is not (or is no longer) elsewhere. In the late 20th century, that claim would have raised hackles among scholars of South Asia; it might still do so today. A fundamental assumption of modernity was that we had mastered nature. The notion of India in thrall to the monsoon would seem to perpetuate a colonial idea of India’s irredeemable backwardness. To emphasize the power of the monsoon would be to portray Indian lives as so many marionettes moved by a climatic puppet master. That is how this story would have been understood a generation ago.

But now, alarmed by the planetary crisis of climate change, a reminder of nature’s power has different implications. This is not a story of geography as destiny. It is a story of how the idea of geography as destiny provoked, from the mid-19th century on, a whole series of social, political, and technological responses within and beyond India.

The South Asian monsoon has effects far beyond South Asia. We know this, at least in part, because of climate research undertaken in India in the 20th century. Sir Gilbert Walker, a pioneer of global climate science, wrote in 1927 that “the climate of India is of special interest, not merely as that of the greatest tropical region in the British Empire, but also because it seems to have been designed by nature with the object of demonstrating physical processes on a huge scale.” That sense of scientific opportunity, combined with the pressing material need to understand the monsoon, inspired a century of study in India. Charles Normand, Walker’s successor as head of the Indian weather service, insisted that the monsoon is “an active, not a passive, feature in world weather.”

Subsequent research has confirmed his view—the Asian monsoon is entwined with many aspects of the global climate. It has an important influence on global atmospheric circulation. The future behavior of the South Asian monsoon has implications for the whole world. Arguably no other part of the global climate system affects more people, more directly.

The breakthroughs in tropical meteorology of the late 20th century shed new light on the scale and complexity of internal variability in the monsoon on multiple timescales—from the quasiperiodic impact of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation system to the tropical-weather fluctuation pattern known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation. In recent years, the focus of scientific research has been on how the effects of anthropogenic climate change interact with the monsoon’s natural variability in dangerous and unpredictable ways.

The most fundamental forces driving the monsoon are the thermal contrast between the land and the ocean and the availability of moisture. Climate change affects both of these drivers of wind and rain. The warming of the ocean’s surface is likely to augment the amount of moisture the monsoon winds pick up on their journey toward the Indian subcontinent. But if the ocean surface warms more rapidly than the land, which appears to be happening in equatorial waters, this would narrow the temperature gradient that drives the winds, and so weaken circulation. Put simply, many climate models predict that the first of these processes will predominate: “Wet gets wetter” as a result of greenhouse-gas emissions. They predict, that is to say, that the moist monsoon lands will see an increase in rainfall.

Mahanadi Study Report released at Raipur, calls for interstate cooperation!

Raipur: At a time when the dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh governments over Mahanadi waters is rife and that is being heard by a Tribunal, participants attending a roundtable held at Raipur to release an important study report on the dispute have urged upon the governments to keep the doors to dialogue open. “It is high time governments of both the states came together to build a cooperation framework to address the issue”, said noted water expert Ranjan Panda, who has authored this study titled ‘Mahanadi: Coal Rich, Water Stressed.’ He was addressing a group of participants including academicians, politicians, civil society representatives, eminent citizens, activists and community members at a roundtable organized by Heinrich Boll Foundation, New Delhi and Mahanadi River Waterkeeper at Raipur today. Read more

In three years, Centre has diverted forest land the size of Kolkata for development projects

The Indian government has diverted over 20,000 hectares of forest area for developmental activities such as mining, thermal power plants, dams, road, railways and irrigation projects in the past three years (2015-’18) across India.

According to the official data revealed by the National Democratic Alliance government in Parliament in December 2018, a total of 20,314.12 hectares of forest land (almost the size of Kolkata) was diverted in three years 2015-2018 (till December 13, 2018). During this period, the ministry had received a total of 4,552 proposals and of those 1,280 (28.11%) got approved.

Under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, forest areas can be diverted by the environment ministry for non-forestry purposes like mining. In lieu of the land, money is collected by the government which is then used by the authorities for afforestation.

But the diversion of forest land for developmental projects has always been a contentious issue and in the past 10 years the opposition to diversion has increased with environmentalists repeatedly alleging that the union environment ministry only works like a rubber stamp clearing whatever projects come to it, seeking diversion of the forest land.

However the ministry officials say this is untrue. “Many proposals are in different stages of approval. Contrary to popular belief, the ministry is very sensitive to giving clearance for diverting forests for non-forestry purposes,” said an environment ministry official on the condition of anonymity.

According to information revealed in the Parliament, Telangana topped the list with 5,137.38 hectares of forest land diverted, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 4,093.38 hectares and Odisha with 3,386.67 hectares of forest area diverted. The three states together account for over 62% (12,617.43 hectares) of the total forest land diverted during the said three-year period.

With close to 70.82 million hectares of forest area, about 21.54% of India’s land is under forest cover.

The reasons for diversion of forest area varied from irrigation, hydropower, road and railway projects to defence, mining, transmission line, schools and wind power projects. Of the total forest area diverted during the said time, the highest amount was diverted for irrigation projects, followed by mining and thermal power plants.

“Proposals for diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 are received in the ministry from the concerned states and UTs [union territories]. The proposals are examined in the ministry [Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change] and after due diligence the proposals are either approved or rejected within the framework of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and its supporting rules and guidelines,” said Indian government’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Mahesh Sharma. while replying to a query in Parliament in December 2018.

According to another set of data of the environment ministry, since the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, nearly four decades ago, a total of about 1.51 million hectares has been diverted for 27,144 projects. To put it in perspective, it means forest land equivalent to over ten times the size of India’s national capital has been diverted in the last four decades for various kind of developmental projects.

Poor monitoring is a worrying factor
Environmentalists argue that they are not against country’s development but against the procedures and poor monitoring of the conditions on the basis of which such projects are cleared.

“Monitoring of conditions on basis of which forest land is diverted is an important factor but it is poorly done. There are enough cases to indicate that India’s environment ministry does not have the adequate wherewithal to monitor the land it diverts and the numerous conditions they put,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, a senior environmental lawyer in the Supreme Court and managing partner of the Enviro Legal Defence Firm.

“The mandate of the ministry is to be the conscience keeper for every piece of forest land and how it is to be protected. Somehow, we have got lost in the money that forest diversion brings! Forest and forest land are actually irreplaceable, let’s explore all alternatives before losing even an inch” he added.

The issue may find a mention in the Parliamentary elections that are scheduled in the first half of 2019. During his election campaign for 2014 polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had highlighted the slow pace of green clearances from the environment ministry and had promised to speed up the process and simplify it.

The NDA government led by Modi did exactly that once it came into power. Since 2014, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has taken series of steps to ease clearance process for the industry as a result of which, by the end of 2017, the average processing time for green clearances came down from 580 days to 180 days. The Modi government has a target of bringing the average time for green clearances to under 100 days.

To speed up the green clearance process, the environment ministry, in August 2018, released standard environment clearance conditions for 25 industrial sectors including major ones like coal mines, oil and gas exploration and hydropower projects. In the same month, the prime minister had also launched PARIVESH (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub) – a single-window online system for green clearances, aimed at further speeding up the system.


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