World Environment Day: Toxic lakes, high air pollution levels continue to haunt India

Mumbai: While Tesla founder and climate crusader Elon Musk has hailed India’s aim to produce only electric cars by 2030 and has stated that it is the largest market for solar power, on World Environment Day, this is how India really fares:

India reportedly lost 40 per cent of its forest cover between 1880 to 2013. According to government data cited by Hindustan Times, 24 per cent of India’s land is under forest cover and has grown by 5,081 sq km between 2013 and 2015. However, while this is a cause to celebrate, India still has a long way to go where forest protection is concerned.

A large majority of rural dwellers and almost all tribal folks are heavily dependent on forest resources to fulfil their basic amenities. Dependent on the forest for fodder, firewood, herbal medicines and products like honey and gum, the depletion of India’s forests is more than just a call to action for forest dwellers – it’s a life-threatening situation.

To put the growth in forest cover numbers in perspective, northeast India and Andaman and Nicobar Islands are likely to lose 2,305 sq km of forest cover by 2025, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) scientists predicted in a recent study. What’s worse, a Forest Research Institute (FRI) study shows that in 60 per cent of forests are in poor health with inadequate regeneration status, reports the Hindustan Times.

Many believe that this supposed increase in forest cover is only a matter of optics. With higher definition cameras and broader satellite reach, we are being able to cover more ground and this may give a false impression that more lands are being brought under forest cover.

The Government has failed repeatedly in involving the forest communities in conservation practices.Under the ancient colonial era Forest Act of 1927 seeks to penalise locals for using forest produce. However, poaching and illegal logging are still going unchecked. The Forest Rights Act of 2005 attempts to recognise traditional ways of life but its success in doing so is in doubt.

A recent order by the National Tiger Conservation Authority threw environmental activists off balance, by saying that communities living in protected habitats critical for tigers would have no forest rights at all. In the absence of an updated forest policy, there is much room for motivated interpretations. India’s forest policy is about two decades old and there is no new forest policy in sight, reports HT.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the occasion of World Environment Day, tweeted about the need to protect the environment. He had also vowed after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron Saturday to go “above and beyond” the Paris accord to combat climate change.

“World EnviromentDay is the right time to reaffirm our commitment to protecting our environment and nurturing a better planet. We salute the will & determination of all those individuals & organisations working towards protecting the environment. #WorldEnviromentDay,” PM Modi tweeted.

However, in Mumbai itself, waste management and air pollution are extremely concerning. Sand mining and the threat to Mumbai’s mangroves shouldn’t be treated as minor bullet points in the list of environmental concerns.

The nation’s capital, New Delhi, had faced a massive environmental crisis last year post the Diwali celebrations. Blanketed in smog, the city came to a virtual standstill as people complained of rashes and breathing problems.

As it is, Delhi is one of the world’s most polluted cities due to road dust and vehicular fumes and the firecrackers seemed to tighten the noose on Delhi’s atmosphere.

Bangalore, in its own right, recently witnessed a toxic white foam that emerged out of its lakes. Foam from Bellandur lake and Yemlur lake had overflowed onto the streets last year as well.

India needs more than lip service and public awareness campaigns if we are to save our forests and those dependent on them.

In a world that’s increasingly recognising the need for climate change regulations, the woods are our only antidote for the toxicity that is choking the Earth’s atmosphere. As former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had once eloquently put it – “there is no plan B because there is no Planet B”.

Source: Timesnow

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