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The Overall Scenario in the Country can Presently be Termed as Good

Interview with Dr. Prodipto Ghosh, Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests

What is the overall scenario of Environment & Forests in India at present?
The overall scenario of Environment & Forests in the country can presently be termed as good. The concerns relating to Environment & Forests are well recognised by all concerned including the Government, industry sector and the public at large. Every effort is being made to integrate the environmental concerns into the developmental process and address them suitably so as to minimise the adverse impacts on environment. The 2003 assessment shows that forests cover (20.64%) and tree cover (3.04%) together constitute 23.68% of the country’s geographic area.

At this time Environment is a matter for long drawn discussion. General public have not at all taken any interest over this matter. What measures have been adopted by your Ministry to grow awareness among the common people about Environment?
Enhancing environmental awareness is essential to harmonise patterns of individual behaviour with the requirements of environmental conservation. We feel that awareness involves not only internalisation of environmentally responsible behaviour but also enhanced understanding of the impacts of irresponsible actions. The environmental education and training scheme of the Ministry is precisely meant for environmental awareness under the scheme various programmes are conducted every year for creating environmental awareness both through non-formal activities as well as through formal education system. While the programmes like National Environmental Awareness Campaign (NEAC), National Green Corps (NGC), use of Electronic Media etc. fall in the non-formal sector, the Ministry’s initiative of taking up a pilot project for strengthening environmental concept in the school curriculum and the linked Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) programme use the formal education system for conveying the message.

In modern life, the importance of electricity is indispensable. Coal and mineral oil are uses as fuel to produce electricity. On one side, the stock of coal and mineral oil have been reducing day-by-day resulting which the balance of nature and human civilization are diminishing and the pollution is increasing tremendously on the other side. What is your opinion in this matter? 
It is well recognised that developmental activities have their impact on different components of environment. The generation of power is known to have its impact on natural resources in terms of their consumption, air and water pollution, land degradation, flora and fauna and human health. However, these impacts could be mitigated to a considerable extent by adopting appropriate environment management plan. Use of cleaner fuel like natural gas/LNG, washed coal and adoption of cleaner technologies and energy efficiency would further help in mitigating the adverse impacts on environment.

Air, water, river and canals are polluted due to industrialisation. As a result, the poor and illiterate people suffer from various diseases. On 5th June, the “Environment Day” has been observed with great pomp and grandeur. In that ceremony many NGOs have participated. But the importance of the ceremony is not at all felt in the minds of the general public. What action has been taken by your Ministry in this regard?
Realising the trend of pollution in various environmental media like air and water, soil etc., Ministry adopted policy for abatement of pollution, which provides multi-pronged strategies in the form of regulations, legislations, agreements, fiscal incentives and other measures to prevent and abate pollution. To give effect to various measures and policies for pollution control, a number of steps have been initiated which include stringent regulations, development of environmental standards, control of vehicular pollution, spatial environmental planning including Industrial Estates, preparation of Zoning Atlas etc.

To make general public aware of the environmental issues and concerns, the Ministry is undertaking various awareness schemes. For creating awareness amongst the general public, National Environment Awareness Campaign has been launched. NEAC is a multi-media campaign, which utilises conventional and non-conventional methods of communication for disseminating environmental messages to a wide range of target groups. Diverse target groups encompassing students, youth, teachers, tribals, farmers, other rural population, professionals and the general public from all over the country are involved for organising/conducting awareness raising activities. These activities could be seminars, workshops, training programmes, camps, padyatras, rallies, public meetings, exhibitions, essays/debates/paintings/poster competitions, folk dances and songs, street theatre, puppet shows, preparation and distribution of environmental education resource materials etc.

More than hundreds sponge iron factories have been set up in West Bengal only to show the progress of industry in our country. As a matter of fact, those factories are causing pollution, especially air pollution, in regular ways. Livelihood of general public is affected tremendously. But the State Pollution Control Board does not pay any heed to this affair. What is the cause of it? Have any step been taken by your Ministry in this regard?
Currently forty sponge iron units are operating in the State of West Bengal. The coal based sponge iron units are critically air polluting with high level of particulate emission from rotary kilns, raw material handling section, cooler discharge and product separation unit. WBPCB has informed that all the sponge iron units in West Bengal have installed air pollution control system in the form of Elector Static Precipitator (ESP) in rotary kilns and Bag Filters for arresting particulate emission from other unit operations. Further, two units have installed either Bag Filter or Ventury Scrubber as air pollution control system for rotary kilns. Inspite of the units installing air pollution control equipment, there are complaints regarding air pollution from the units as the units some times do not operate their emission control system, especially during the night time.

The West Bengal Pollution Control Board is seized with the problem and conducts regular surprise raid even during the nighttime with District Collectors and Police Personnel. Defaulter units are dealt with imposition of Pollution Cost, Bank Guarantee and even issuance of Closure Order with disconnection of electricity. Recently, the State Pollution Control Board has commissioned a project for developing software controlled interlocking system between the operation of the rotary kiln and its emission control system. Trials for such system have been conducted in two sponge iron units. It will be ensured that all units install such device ensuring continuous operation of the emission control system.

People in some parts of West Bengal are conscious about the Environment. They vehemently objected against pollution. They have complained that the West Bengal Pollution Control Board is indifferent about the control of pollution district wise. Though many industries are polluting the environment regularly but the PCB does not take any action against them. Does your Ministry will keep their mouth closed over the matter?
It is a fact that there are public complaints regarding air pollution from sponge iron units in West Bengal. The reasons for such deficiency has been explained in question “5”. But the State Pollution Control Board is trying to ensure that the pollution remains within the permitted level. The details of PCB’s action have already been discussed in the preceding question.

Human civilization rests on natural wealth. To prevent the destruction of human civilization, balancing of nature and civilization is must. Pollution not only affects the general health of the human beings but also makes the erosion and destruction of natural wealth. What steps do you feel necessary to make a proper balance of nature and human civilization?
The proximate drivers of environmental degradation are population growth, technology and consumption choices and poverty, leading to changes in relation between people and ecosystem and development activities such as intensive agriculture, polluting industry, and unplanned urbanisation.
Maintaining a healthy environment is not the state’s responsibility alone, but also that of every citizen. A spirit of partnership should thus be realised throughout the spectrum of environmental management in the country. While the state must galvanise its efforts, there should also be recognition by each individual-natural or institutional of its responsibility towards maintaining and enhancing the quality of the environment and thus making an appropriate balance between nature and human civilization.

In remote areas/tribal based areas, the smuggling activities on one side and the question of survival on the other compel them to wash out the forests regularly. There are laws for protecting the forests and the protectors of law are also in existence. Even then, lakhs of tree are being cut every day. Will the slogan “one tree – one life” be only on the signboard?
There is no denying that with the ever-increasing demand on the forests resource for goods and services, the forests are under tremendous biotic pressure. But it is not correct to presume that lakhs of trees are being cut every day. However, there could be stray incidents of tree felling. Despite so much of pressure on the forests in India, we have been able to maintain a reasonably good forest and tree cover of the country. In fact, the tree and forest cover has increased from 23.03% in 2001 to 23.68% in 2003. The total forest and tree cover of the country comes out to be 778,229 Km2 in 2003 assessment against 757,010 Km2 in 2001. Thus, there is an increase of forest and tree cover by 21219 Km2, which is 0.65% of geographic area as compared to 2001 assessment.

Considering the crucial role, forests play in ecological stability, socio economic well being and development of a country, the Ministry of environment and forests is committed to achieve the goal of 33% of the land under forests and tree cover by 2012 as per the National Forest Policy, 1988.

“Water” is the other name of “life”. Today water pollution has turned into a serious shape in cities as well as in villages. The rivers and canals are being polluted by the wastes coming out of the industries in towns. Village people are cultivating with the help of polluted river-water. The pond-water or river-water is being polluted by bathing of ailing people, washing of clothes, toileting on the edges etc. on regular basis. Various types of diseases and diseases due to infection are increasing. The balance in nature and environment is decreasing every day. How do you think proper to solve these acute problems?
India’s freshwater resources comprise the single most important class of natural endowments enabling its economy and its human settlement patterns. Each of these has a unique role, and characteristics linkages to other environmental entities. The following comprise elements of an action plan for freshwater resources:

Promote integrated approaches to management of river basins by the concerned river authorities, considering upstream and downstream inflows and withdrawals by season, pollution loads and natural regeneration capacities, to ensure maintenance of adequate flows and adherence to water quality standards throughout their course in all seasons.
Consider and mitigate the impacts on the river flora and fauna and the resulting change in the resource base for livelihoods of multipurpose river valley projects, power plants and industries.
Consider mandating the installation of water saving closets and taps in the building byelaws of urban centres.
Take explicit account of impacts on groundwater tables of electricity tariffs and pricing of diesel.
Promote efficient water use techniques, such as sprinkler or drip irrigation among farmers. Provide necessary pricing, inputs and extension support to feasible and remunerative alternative crops from efficient water use.
Support practices of contour bunding and revival of traditional methods for enhancing groundwater recharge.
Mandate water harvesting in all new constructions in relevant urban areas, as well as design techniques for road surfaces and infrastructure to enhance groundwater recharge.
Support R & D in cost effective techniques suitable for rural drinking water projects for removal of arsenic and mainstream their adoption in rural drinking water schemes in relevant areas.
Set up a legally enforceable regulatory mechanism for identified valuable wetlands to prevent their degradation and enhance their conservation. Develop a national inventory of such wetlands.
Formulate conservation and prudent use strategies for each significant catalogued wetland, with participation of local communities, and other relevant stakeholders.
Take explicit account of impacts on wetlands of significant development projects during the environmental appraisal of such projects.
Develop and implement, initially on a pilot scale, public-private partnership models for setting up and operating effluent and sewage treatment plants. Enhance the capacities of municipalities for recovery of user charges for water and sewage systems.
Enhance reuse of treated sewage and industrial wastewater before final discharges to water bodies.
Enhance capacities for spatial planning among the State and Local Governments, with adequate participation by local communities, to ensure clustering of polluting industries to facilitate setting up of common effluent treatment plants to be operated on cost recovery basis.
Promote R & D in development of low cost technologies for sewage treatment at different scales.
Take explicit account of groundwater pollution in pricing policies of agriculture inputs, especially pesticides and dissemination of agronomy practices involving their use.

Have your Ministry taken any long-term scheme to keep the ‘Environment and Forests’ healthy? If already taken in hand, please aware us in details?
The objective of keeping environment and forests healthy is well supported by a set of legislative and regulatory measures, aimed at the preservation, conservation and protection of the environment. Besides the legislative measures, a National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992, National Forest Policy, 1998, a Policy Statement on Abatement of Pollution, 1992 have also been evolved. A National Environment Policy, 2005 is in the process of being finalised. Various schemes being implemented by Ministry of Environment & Forests are aimed at conserving and protecting the natural resources and improving the quality of environment.

Besides, various Policies, legislative instruments have also been developed and are implemented. It inter-alia includes:
The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974,
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981,
Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

Standards have also been notified for emission and discharge into different mediums from various types of industries and processes. The focus of the forestry management has also shifted from State-controlled production to sustainable management with people’s participation in the past two decades. As on date, all 28 State Governments have adopted JFM as their key policy relating to conservation and development of forests. In order to support JFM programme, the Ministry is implementing National Afforestation Programme (NAP) Scheme. Annual Report of the Ministry gives an account of all the schemes both long-term and short-term being implemented by us to achieve the goal of healthy environment and forests.

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   RNI No. WBENG/2008/27737
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