India’s growth story is the stuff of legends. An impoverished young democracy, born in religious bloodshed, sustained as one for decades whilst remaining the most diverse nation on earth. Then, in the early 1990s, India made the historic (and inevitable) decision to liberalise its economy and embrace the free market. Since then the country has improved by leaps and bounds on most social indices and growth parameters.
However, this has not been without adverse consequence. India’s rapid growth has been at the expense of marginalised communities and increasing economic inequality. The biggest casualty of the country’s rapid growth has been the environment.
The environment is everything. It is where we live, where we work, what we breathe, what we eat, what we rely on for everything.
India’s track record on the environment remained dismal from 1947 to 1995. It was only after 1995 that the country’s leaders took environmentalism seriously.
India faces serious threats from a deteriorating government given its status as a developing country. Being a low-lying peninsula with several major population centres along its long coastline, the sub-continent is particularly prone to the effects of climate change. Rapid industrialisation and the IT boom has led to unprecedented levels of urbanisation that have put a heavy strain on India’s natural resources. Pollution – of all kinds – has emerged as a serious problem, with air pollution in particular ruining the health of millions every year.
A dwindling forest cover has been largely stabilised – in fact, thanks to a combination of activist campaigning, judicial activism, and government intervention, the forest cover has increased by 7% in the past two decades. Similarly, efforts to preserve wildlife and endorse renewable energy have paid off impressively.
But the overall picture remains grim. Soil pollution and water contamination have affected countless lives, with tribal and poor Indians being the most affected demographic. Furthermore, open defecation, poor sanitation, loss of natural habitats for flora and fauna, death of indigenous varieties of crops, and population explosion have added to the worries of activists and the government.
For these issues to be addressed, we should make sure that environmental problems are at the forefront of debates in our country – which is not the case as it stands. Let us learn and spread the word about the alarming situation our cities, towns, villages and wilderness are in.
Here are a few issues that we should talk about – not only on World Environment Day, but every day.
Being a developing nation, India is more vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to its dependence on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture and forestry. Poor infrastructure, lack of financial resources further result in it having a low financial adaptive capacity.
The nation is vulnerable to the immediate socio-economic effects of climate change. More detail here.
Pollution – Air, Land, Noise, Water
According to the World Health Organisation, India loses more than a million lives each year to air pollution.
India has overtaken China when it comes to air pollution, as per the analysis of the international environmental NGO Greenpeace. Simply put, Indian cities are becoming more polluted than Chinese cities.
When it comes to land pollution, as Chhavi Agarwal wrote, nearly all pollution is land-based, and India’s record in the same is dismal to say the least. Mineral abuse and release of toxic material into the ground have caused major soil degradation and erosion while also contaminating crops and fields – often irreversibly.
Noise pollution is a major problem in India. The average level of noise pollution generally exceeds the permissible limits in several cities of the country, including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai.
The government of India has rules & regulations against firecrackers and loudspeakers, but enforcement is extremely lax. Despite increased enforcement and stringency of laws now being practised in urban areas, rural areas are still affected.
Another major environmental issue in the country is water pollution. The largest source of water pollution in India is untreated sewage. Other sources of pollution include agricultural runoff and unregulated small scale industry. Most rivers, lakes and surface water in India are polluted in varying degrees.
Forestry in India is a significant rural industry and a major environmental resource.
India is one of the ten most forest-rich countries of the world along with the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, United States of America, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Australia, Indonesia and Sudan. Together, India and these countries account for 67% of total forest area of the world. India’s forest cover grew at 0.22% annually over 1990-2000, and has grown at the rate of 0.46% per year over 2000-2010, after decades where forest degradation was a matter of serious concern.
As of 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates India’s forest cover to be about 68 million hectares, or 22% of the country’s area. The 2013 Forest Survey of India states its forest cover increased to 69.8 million hectares by 2012, per satellite measurements; this represents an increase of 5,871 square kilometers of forest cover in 2 years. However, the gains were primarily in northern, central and southern Indian states, while northeastern states witnessed a net loss in forest cover over 2010 to 2012.
Urbanisation in India began to accelerate after independence due to the adoption of a mixed economy, which gave rise to the development of the private sector. Urbanisation is taking place at a faster rate in India. Population residing in urban areas in India, according to 1901 census, was 11.4%. This count increased to 28.53% according to 2001 census, and crossing 30% as per 2011 census, standing at 31.16%.
According to a survey by UN State of the World Population report in 2007, by 2030, 40.76% of country’s population is expected to reside in urban areas. As per World Bank, India, along with China, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the United States, will lead the world’s urban population surge by 2050.