Daily Life Environmental Impacts Need Attention

18th September 2019

In this information age with social media playing a major role, video streaming has become a ubiquitous. A former New York Times science writer, Tatiana Schlossberg reports in her book, Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have, that an hour of video streaming emits 0.4 kilogram (kg) of CO2. On an average of 6 hours per person per day usage, annual video carbon footprint is nearly 876 kg of CO2. With urgency and wit she explains that far from being only a distant problem of the natural world created by the fossil fuel industry, climate change is all around us, all the time, lurking everywhere in our convenience-driven society, all without our realizing it. By examining the unseen and unconscious environmental impacts in four areas-the Internet and technology, food, fashion, and fuel - Schlossberg helps readers better understand why climate change is such a complicated issue, and how it connects all of us.

Cost of data has fallen sharply in India by about 95% since 2013. The report 'Digital India - Technology to Transform a Connection Nation' by McKinsey Global Institute said the country is one of the largest and fastest-growing markets for digital consumers, with 560 million internet subscribers in 2018, second only to China. Indian mobile data users consume 8.3 gigabits (GB) of data each month on average. Indians have 1.2 billion mobile phone subscriptions. According to a report the cost of one gigabyte fell from 9.8% of per capita monthly GDP in 2013 to 0.37% in 2017. The GDP data correlation is prepared with so much ingenuity that to a common man digressing of the most critical economic element, environment, is not visible. If we use the same data in Indian perspective, where 566 million smart phone users were reportedly registered, most of them are ignorant about the hidden impacts from an annual video carbon footprint is nearly 496 Ton of CO2. Another related aspect of cell phone usage is that approximately 2 to 6 watts of electricity is consumed when charging. Does this mean 1200 MW to 7200 MW of daily electricity is consumed to charge mobiles in India? If so, the magnitude CO2emission could be 1020 Ton per day to 6120 Ton per day. Furthermore, internet resources also show that if a charger left plugged in without a phone it could consume 0.1 to 0.5 of a watt. It is high time to invoke witty research works in India with transparent reporting so that consumers are aware, who in turn would embrace a sustainable lifestyle. 

Augmenting NHAI Plantation

4th September 2019

Loss of vegetation is one of the inevitable consequences of Highway Development. Therefore, tree plantation is an integral component of all road construction projects. In May 2019 the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) reportedly informed Hon’ble National Green Tribunal that to maintain ecology and environmental balance it has planted around one crore trees throughout the country in the past 3 years. The plantations are an integral part of the national highway projects. Tree plantation is being carried out by NHAI through various provisions of Contract/Concession Agreement or through other agencies. As per the provisions of IRC:SP:21:2009 and National Highways (Plantation, Beautification & Maintenance) Policy, 2015, development of green belts in the form of median and avenue plantation is carried out in available space in Right of Way (ROW). The green highways projects are being implemented by NHAI as per the Green Highways Policy 2015. Post-release of the Policy, NHAI has undertaken plantation drives (Densification / Fresh Plantation) in existing build-operate-transfer (BOT), Hybrid Annuity Model (HAM) and Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) projects. 

Green Highways (Plantation and Maintenance) Policy 2015 does specify an elaborated provision for monitoring of the plantation for a period of seven years. Reporting with regard to the plant survival percent, size and growth are outlined in the Policy. However, the reporting does not include the area of plantation. According to which the authorized representative of the plantation agency shall submit the report as per format with videography. The Regional Officer of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) or NHAI or an authorized representative of these institutions, should carry out the site visit for field verification once every quarter to inspect survival, growth, and size of plantation and maintenance of the same. The interim Quarterly Report is also to be submitted as per the following format within 15 Days from the end of the quarter. According to the provisions, the physical verification and recommendation of RO/MoRTH for the release of the fund in time to meet the expenditure of ongoing and necessary works and continuity are maintained. There is also a provision for an Advisory committee that needs to meet once in a quarter and give its recommendations and advice to the monitoring cell. The ROs of MoRTH/NHAI in the district will be the convener of this committee. Moreover, there are provisions for the engaging agency including start-ups and NGOs through open competitive bidding. 

Between 1st April 2016 and 20thDecember 2018, nearly 3060 km green highway constructed with a cost of Rs. 372.16 crore. During the said period the target of the plantation was 24.05 lakh, against which plantation of 902,682 was achieved, which is nearly 37.5%. NHAI spent Rs. 72.32 Crore and other agencies spent Rs. 48.77 Crore for the plantation drive. The total amount spent was Rs. 121.09 Crore, which stands to be 32.5% of the total project cost. Out of this total expenditure, over 75% that is Rs. 95.16 Crore was spent during 2016-17. NHAI also deposits funds to forest departments for carrying out roadside plantation in compliance of the conditions stipulated by the statutory authorities, while granting permission for felling of trees/ diversion of forest land.

Plantation looks like an operose and expensive part of highway construction. As so much of cost is attributed towards the activity, institutionalizing the position of one Central Advisor, who looks after the entire gamut of environmental activities including the plantation seems to be a better arrangement. The position could further be supported by a group of tree and environmental experts. A provision may also be made to upload all the plantation reports on the website of NHAI in a visible manner. 

Call it Blue Gold or Gem, Water is precious

28th August 2019

Devise policy to display water footprints through a colour code on each product

CPCB & CGWB may ask SPCBs and PCCs to submit annual reports on water consumption in liter per day per unit of production/people/floor area

In furtherance to his address to the nation on the eve of 73rdIndependence Day, in which he cited water for 22 times, Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has in his “Mann Ki Baat” on 25th August 2019 said, “Water, grain and subhashit are the three gems found on earth. Imprudent people call stones as gems. In our culture much glory has been ascribed to food.” Shri Narendra Modi also said in his “Mann Ki Baat”, “That is, if there are no forests, tigers are forced to venture into the human habitat and are killed, and if there are no tigers in the forest, then man cuts the forest and destroys it, so in fact the tiger protects the forest and not that the forest protects the tiger - our forefathers explained this great truth in a befitting manner. Therefore, we need to not only conserve our forests, flora and fauna, but also create an environment wherein they can flourish properly.”

Both the messages are interconnected. Increase in number of Tiger implies a good forest ecosystem, which is essential for the natural water cycle. Importance of water has been so frequently being reminded to Indian nationals probably because the top leadership understands that over several years we have lost water and tigers, both. Tiger conservation has yielded some good results. On the contrary water conservation still needs more attention. India has exhausted 75% of the groundwater reserve barely over last three decades. Despite the fact that India is a water surplus nation, water mismanagement has made it a pressing need of the day. NITI Aayog has developed the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) to enable effective water management in Indian states in the face of this growing crisis. Water problems are different at different location, based on geographical, social and business situations. Sliding the entire responsibility to agriculture would not be prudent. Therefore, there is a need to a simultaneouslydig deeper into the enormity of the problem, the dangers of the proposed solution and the alternative, which is to recognize access to wateron selected line of “Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water”, a book writtenby Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke. 

It is worth reiterating Prime Minister’s slogan “per drop, more crop”. On the same line there should be focus on “per drop, more product”. The last editorial emphasized on the fact that in annual environmental statement, there is a point water consumption in liter per day per unit of production. This point needs to be focused. Audited data per product or per area in case of commercial establishment or liter per day per person in housing sector – needs to be developed. This could be made applicable to industries, business establishments, mining, tourism and even communities and group housing or colonies. This won’t bring too much of additional expenditure too.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the Central Ground Water Board, Ministry of Jal Shakti may take up the matter to formulate a procedure, whereby all the State Pollution Control Boards and Pollution Control Committees come out with water consumption data, on the same line as it is required in case of Hazardous and Other Wastes, Bio-Medical Wastes, and Plastic Waste under applicable provisions. Policy may be devised so that all products should display the water footprints through a colour code on the basis of water consumption. This will help people to identify and opt for less water intensive products.