Vanishing tigers, receding glaciers, an unpredictable monsoon and swathes of deteriorating forests. On the brink of losing some of its priceless wildlife and ecology, the government says India has a superior green record than other nations.
Independent experts are more blunt. “All is not good with the Indian environment," says RK Pachauri, chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned in its reports this year that India is hurtling toward a future of extremes: floods, droughts, intensive rainfall and food insecurity as glaciers that feed our major rivers retreat rapidly. But there is growing awareness about environmental hazards among all stakeholders. It is evident from the public interest litigations being filed by citizens — like the residents of Vasant Kunj in Delhi protesting the permission for construction of a wall, granted without environment clearance.
After a PIL saga in the Supreme Court led to governments in Delhi and Mumbai introducing the clean fuel alternative of compressed natural gas (CNG) for public transport, similar interventions are now taking place in Kanpur, Ahmedabad, Agra and Bangalore.
Air quality has improved, but it still remains within unsafe limits.But wildlife has not been so fortunate. A recent Wildlife Institute of India report estimated that the tiger population in Central India has decreased by 59 per cent since 2002.
In Orissa, the world’s only olive ridley turtle site is under stress from fishing trawlers. A huge loss to marine life has been witnessed off the Gujarat coast from oil spills. “The world’s richest bio-diversity is in India. But, we have damaged it more than conserving it,” says Kanchi Kohli of NGO Kalpvariksh.
Even the Planning Commission said in its approach paper that India’s forest cover has increased but the quality of the green cover has deteriorated. The World Wildlife Fund has put the Indus and Ganges among the world’s 10 most endangered rivers. Major Indian rivers are not even fit to bathe in.
A 2006 Comptroller and Auditor General’s report reflected the government’s callousness too. “The Ministry of Environment and Forest did not enforce the coastal regulation zone notification effectively, resulting in extensive destruction due to industrial expansion.” The new coastal regulation is expected this year.
Climate change is the new challenge. After 2020, India and China will be the world’s biggest emitters of heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming as our economic growth rate whizzes past nine per cent.