Notes on Environmental Issues, Ecological Preservation, Conservation of Natural Resources in India

1. Introduction

There has been an increasing awareness in recent years that protection of the environment is necessary for sustain­ing the economic and social progress of a country. This awareness was reflected at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, where more than a 100 heads of government adopted a global action plan called Agenda 21 aimed at integrating environmental imperatives with de­velopmental aspirations and reiterated through the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on Environment held in 1997.

The Indian Government's Policy towards Environment is guided by the principles of Agenda 21. The Government of India has issued Policy Statements on:

  • Forestry
  • Abatement of Pollution
  • National Conservation Strategy
  • Environment and Development

The main environment problems in India relate to air and water pollution, degradation of common property resources, threat to biological diversity, solid waste disposal and sanitation. Increasing deforestation, industrialization, urbanization, transportation and input-intensive agricul­ture are some of the other major causes of environmental problems faced by the country.

2. Air Quality

Air pollution, a severe environmental problem in urban areas, can cause chronic and acute respiratory diseases, ventilatory malfunction, heart disease, cancer of lungs and even death. The blood lead levels of persons in Ahmedabad, Bombay and Calcutta have been reported to be higher than the corresponding levels of persons in lead-free gasoline areas. In most of the cities, while the SPM levels are significantly higher than the CPCB Standards, the levels of S02 and N02 are within the CPCB Standards.

3. Water Resources and Water Quality

In India, three sources of water pollution are: domestic sewage, industrial elements and run-off from agriculture.

The most significant environmental problem and threat to public health in both rural and urban India is inadequate access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. The diseases commonly caused by contaminated water are diarrhea, trachoma, intestinal worms, hepatitis etc. Many of the rivers and lakes are contaminated from industrial effluents and agricultural run-off, with toxic-chemicals and heavy metals which are hard to remove from drinking water with standard' purification facilities.

4. Solid Wastes and Hazardous Chemicals

There has been a significant increase in the generation of domestic, urban and industrial wastes in the last few decades, owing to rapid population growth and industrialization. The per capita solid waste generated in Mumbai is 0.20 tonne, in Delhi it is 0.44 tonnes and 0.29 tonnes in Chennai.

5. Land Degradation and Soil Loss

Soil erosion is the most serious cause of land degra­dation. Estimates show that around 130 million hectares of land (45 per cent of total geographical area) is affected by serious soil erosion through ravine and gully, cultivated waste lands, water-logging, shifting cultivation etc. It is also estimated that India losses about 5310 million tonnes of soil annually.

The accumulation of salts and alkalinity affect the productivity of agricultural lands in arid and semi-arid regions, which are under irrigation. The magnitude of water logging in irrigated command has recently been estimated at 2.46 million hectare. Besides, 3.4 million hectares suffer from surface water stagnation.

Fertilizers and pesticides are important inputs for increasing agricultural production. Their use has increased significantly from the mid-60s. Over and unbalanced use of these chemicals is fraught with danger. However, fertilizers and pesticide use are concentrated in certain areas and crops.

6. Forest, Wild-Life and Bio-Diversity

Forests are important for maintaining ecological balance and preserving the life supporting system of the earth. They are essential for food production, health and other aspects of human survival and sustainable develop­ment.

Indian forests constitute 2 per cent of the world's forest area but are forced to support 12 per cent of the world's human population and 14 per cent of world's livestock population. This is sufficient to indicate the tremendous biotic pressure they face. Forests in India have been shrinking for several decades owing to the pressure of population on land for competing uses, such as agriculture, irrigation & power projects, industry, roads etc.

Another concern relating to the state of forest resources is that of bio-diversity and extinction of species. India has a rich heritage of species and genetic strains of flora and fauna. Out of the total eighteen-bio-diversity hot-spots in the world, India has 2, one is North-East Himalayas and the other is the Western Ghats.

At present, India is home to several animal species that are threatened, including over 77 mammal, 22 reptiles and 55 birds and one amphibian species. For in-situ conserva­tion of bio-diversity, India has developed a network of protected areas including national parks, sanctuaries and bio-sphere reserves.

Environment problems and issues received special attention of the Government of India during the beginning of the Fourth Five Year Plan.

As a follow up step, a National Committee of Environment Planning and Co-ordination (NCEPC) were set up in 1972 under the Department of Science and Technology. A separate Empowered Committee was set up in 1980 for reviewing the existing legislative measures and administrative machinery for ensuring en­vironmental protection and for recommending ways to strengthen them.

On the recommendations of this Empow­ered Committee, a separate Department of Environment was set up in 1980, which was subsequently upgraded to a full-fledged Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1985 to serve as the focal point in the administrative structure of the Government of India for the planning, promotion and co-ordination of environmental and forestry programmes.

7. Flora and Fauna

The Botanical Survey of India (BSI) was established in 1980, with its headquarters in Calcutta, is responsible for surveying and identifying plant resources of the country.

The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) was established in 1916, with its headquarters in Calcutta, is responsible for carrying out surveys of the faunal resources of India.

The Forest Survey of India (FSI) was established in 1981, with it headquarters in Dehradun, is entrusted with task of surveying the forest resources of India.

The National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, adopted by Government of India in June 1992, lays down strategies and actions for integration of environmental considerations in the development activities of various sectors of the country, thus paving the way of achieving sustainable development.

11 Biosphere reserves have been set up to preserve the genetic diversity in representative eco-system which are ; Nilgiri, Nanda Devi, Nokrek, Great Nicobar, Gulf of Mannar, Manas, Sunderbans, Similipal, Dibru Saikhowa, Dehong Deband and Pachmarhi.

8. Wetland, mangroves and Coral Reefs

The system of conservation and management of man­groves was initiated in 19§6. The main activities under the programme are survey and identification of problems, protection and, conservation measures like natural re­generation, afforestation, nursery development, education, and awareness programmes and research on various aspects of managrove ecosystems and coral reef. It is an ongoing activity. Review meetings for both research projects and management action plans are periodically held to monitor the progress.

Four coral reefs have been identified for intensive conservation and management. These include Gulf of Kutch, Gulf of Mannar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep. The scheme on conservation and manage­ment of wetland was initiated in 1987.

India is one of the few countries which have Forest Policy since 1894, which was revised in 1952 and then in 1988. The main plank of the Forest Policy of 1988 is protection, conservation and development of forests. In order to operationalize the National Forest Policy 1988, a National Forestry Action Programme (NFAP) is being prepared.

Under the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, prior approval of the Central Government is required for the diversion of forest lands for non forest purposes.

Joint Forest Management (JFM) is being practiced in 21 states of the country.

To help in controlling forest fire, UNDP-assisted Modern Forest Fire Control Projects which was started in 1984 in Chandrapur (Maharastra) and Haldwani/Nainital (U.P), is in operation in 11 states of the country.

At present the protected area network comprises 84 national parks and 447 sanctuaries covering 4.5 per cent of total geographical area of the country.

The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 adopted by all states except Jammu and Kashmir (which has its own Act), governs wildlife conservation and protection of endangered species. An Inter-State Committee has been set up to review the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and other laws. India is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).

Under Project Tiger, launched in April 1973, 25 Tiger Reserves have been set up in 14 states.

The Animal Welfare Board of India, established in 1962 under the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 is an autonomous organization of the Ministry of Environment and Forests working for the cause of animal welfare in the country. Animal Welfare Fortnight is celebrated from 14 January every year.

9. Environment

A notification issued in January, 1994 makes Environ­ment Impact Assessment statutory for 29 categories of developmental projects under various sections such as industrial, mining, irrigation, power etc. The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification was amended in 1997.

Authorities under Environment Protection Act, 1976

A National Environmental Appellate Authority has been constituted to hear appeals with respect to rejection of proposals from environmental angle.

The policy statement on Abatement of Pollution, adopted in 1992, provides instruments in the form of legislation and regulation, fiscal incentives, voluntary agreements, educational programmes and information cam­paigns to prevent and control pollution of water, air and land.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is the national apex body for assessment, monitoring and control of water and air pollution.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests is the nodal agency for the management and control of hazardous substances which include Hazardous chemicals, waste and micro-organisms. The following rules have been notified under the Environment Protection Act (1986): (i) Manu­facture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals, 1989; (ii) Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989; (iii) Manufacture, Use, Import and Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro-organisms/Genetically Engi­neered Organisms 4xr Cell, 1989 and (iv) Biomedical Waste Rules, 1998.

A Crisis Alert System had been established. The sub-scheme entitled 'Industrial Pocket-wise Hazard Analysis' has been in operation since the Eighth Five year Plan.

India is a signatory to the UNEP sponsored convention on Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes which was adopted at Basel, Switzerland by 126 governments of the world in 1989.

The Central Ganga Authority (CGA) established in 1985, lays down the policies for works to be taken up under the Ganga Action Plan (GAP). With the approval of the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) in 1995, the CGA has been recontituted as the National River Conservation Authority (NRCA) and the Ganga Project Directorate has been redesigned as National River Conservation Direc­torate (NRCD).

The Ganga Action Plan, Phase II has been merged with the NRCP through a government resolution.

The National Wasteland Development Board (NWDP) established in May, 1985 was bifurcated into a new Department of Waste Land Development and a National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board (NAEB) in 1992.

An Environment Information System (ENVIS) was set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forest in 1982 as a decentralized information network for collection, storage, retrieval and dissemination of environmental in­formation.

A new scheme, Paryavaran Vahini, was launched in 1992-93 to create environmental awareness and to ensure active public participation by involving the local people in activities relating to environmental protection. Paryavaran Vahinis are proposed to be constituted in 194 selected districts all over the country which have a high indicence of pollution and density of tribal and forest population.

The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) was set up in New Delhi in 1978, is concerned with the promotion of non-formal education in the area of environ­ment and conservation.

10. Fellowships and Awards

Indira Gandhi Paryavan Puraskar: Started in 1987; consists of 1 lakh rupee, a silver trophy and a citation.

Indira Priyadarshini Vriksamitra Award: Consti­tuted in 1986 but started giving in 1993; 12 awards; each award carries a medallion, a citation and a cash of Rs. 50,000.

Mahavriksa Puraskar: Started in 1993-94 by NAEB; award consists of Rs. 25,000, a plaque and a citation.

Rajiv Gandhi Environment Award for Clean Technology: Started in 1993.

Paryavaran Evam Van Mantralaya Vishist Vaigyanik Puruskar: Instituted in 1992-93; 2 awards; award of Rs. 20,000 each.

Pitambar Pant National Environment Fellowship Award: Started in 1978 to encourage research in envi­ronmental science.

11. Five-Year Plan and Environment

Environment protection requires both preventive and curative measures. The strategy for environmental protec­tion in the Five Year Plan- relies much on initiative and interventions through policies and programmes of different sectors, notably, Health and Family Welfare, Transport, Rural Development, Energy, Agriculture, Fertil­izers and Chemical etc.

In persuance of the suggestions made by the Honourable Supreme Court of India for a separate Plan allocation for environmental protection of Taj Mahal in the context of a Civil Writ Petition in September 1996. the Central Gov­ernment has made an allocation of Rs. 300 crore during the Five Year Plan on a 50:50 matching basis with the state government to cover the estimated cost of Rs. 600 crore to implement various schemes relating to uninterrupted power supply to the industrial units of Agra, construction of Gokul and Agra barrage and improvement of drainage and sanitation in Agra city, all in the context of environment protection of Taj.

It has been decided to provide Rs. 50 crore during 1997- 98 from the Budget of the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the aforesaid purpose.

The Plan proposes the preparation of statistical data base and reports on the status and the trends in environmental quality with reference to air, water, soil and noise and depicting them on Atlas. It is also proposed to prepare a Zoning Atlas for industries in states.

The Plan envisages regeneration of wasteland to release pressures on the forest and standardization of the definition of wastelands, assessment of their magnitude and their development by a re-orientation of the policy of 'open access' to 'common property resources'.