Time Bomb Ticking

Time Bomb Ticking

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According to the State of Environment Report India 2009,


• In India, an estimated 146.82 Mha. area suffers from various forms of land degradation due to water and wind erosion and other complex problems like alkalinity/ salinity and soil acidity due to water logging. The varying degrees and types of degradation, stem mainly from unstable use and inappropriate land management practices. Loss of vegetation occurs as a result of deforestation, cutting beyond the silviculturally permissible limits, unsustainable fuel-wood and fodder extraction, shifting cultivation, encroachment into forest lands, forest fires and over-grazing, all of which subject the land to degradational forces. Other important factors responsible for large-scale degradation are the extension of cultivation to lands of low potential or high natural hazards, non-adoption of adequate soil conservation measures, improper crop rotation, indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides, improper planning and management of irrigation systems and extraction of groundwater in excess of the recharge capacity.

• Over the past fifty years, while India's total population increased by about three times, the total area of land under cultivation increased by only 20.2 per cent (from 118.75 Mha. In 1951 to 141.89 Mha. in 2005-06). Most of this expansion has taken place at the expense of forest and grazing land. Despite fast expansion of the area under cultivation, less agricultural land is available on per capita basis.

• The current practice of shifting cultivation in the eastern and north-eastern regions of India is an extravagant and unscientific form of land use. According to a recent estimate, an area of 18765.86 sq. km. (0.59 percent of the total geographical area) is under shifting cultivation. The effects of shifting cultivation are devastating and far-reaching in degrading the environment and ecology of these regions. The earlier 15–20 years cycle of shifting cultivation on a particular land has reduced to two or three years now. This has resulted in large-scale deforestation, soil and nutrient loss, and invasion by weeds and other species. The indigenous biodiversity has been affected to a large extent. As per the statistics, Orissa accounts for the largest area under shifting cultivation in India.

• Per hectare consumption of fertilizers has increased from 69.8 kg in 1991-92 to 113.3 kg in 2006-07, at an average rate of 3.3 per cent. There is excessive use of urea and a bias against micronutrients. As against the desirable NPK proportion of 4:2:1, the average use of urea now is 6:2 and 4:1. The Steering Committee of the Planning Commission has observed that “because nitrogenous fertilizers are subsidised more than potassic and phosphatic fertilizers, the subsidy tends to benefit the crops and regions which require higher use of nitrogenous fertilizers as compared to crops and regions which require higher application of P and K.” The excessive use of urea has also affected the soil profile adversely

• The total tree cover of the country has been estimated as 91,663 sq. km. or about 2.79 per cent of the country's geographical area. Between 2003 and 2005, the total forest cover had decreased slightly by 728 sq. km. The states, which have shown a decline in the forest covers, are Nagaland (296 sq. km), Manipur (173 sq. km), Madhya Pradesh (132 sq. km) and Chhattisgarh (129 sq. km). There has been a significant loss of forest cover in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (178 sq. km) because of the Tsunami. 

• The total forest cover of the country, as per the 2005 assessment, is 677,088 sq. km. which constitutes 20.60 per cent of the geographic area of the country. 

• Burning of wheat and rice straw and other agricultural residue has also contributed to loss of soil fertility, apart from causing air pollution. Open field burning of straw after combine harvesting is a common practice in states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in order to ensure early preparation of fields for the next crop. Punjab alone produces around 23 million tonnes of rice straw and 17 million tonnes of wheat straw, annually. This straw is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. However, instead of recycling it back into the soil by mulching, it is burnt in the fields. This raises the temperature of the soil in the top three inches to such a high degree that the carbon: nitrogen equilibrium in soil changes rapidly. The carbon as CO is lost to the atmosphere, while nitrogen is converted into a nitrate. This leads to a loss of about 0.824 million tonnes of NPK from the soil. This is about 50 per cent of the total fertilizer consumption in the state.

• Excessive soil erosion with consequent high rate of sedimentation in the reservoirs and decreased fertility has created serious environmental problems with disastrous economic consequences. In India, the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Kosi rivers carry huge amounts of eroded soil in the form of heavy silt, which deposits as sediments on the river bed. While soil erosion by rain and river in hilli areas causes landslides and floods, deforestation, overgrazing, traditional agricultural practices, mining and incorrect siting of development projects in forested areas have resulted in exposing the green cover to severe soil erosion. Ravines and gullies account for 4 Mha. of land erosion. 

• In India, erosion rates range from 5 to 20 tonnes per hectare, sometimes going up to 100 tonnes per hectare. Nearly 93.68 million hectares are affected by water erosion and another 9.48 million hectares are affected by wind erosion annually in India. Thus, erosion leads to impoverished soil on one hand, and silting up of reservoirs and water tanks on the other.

• In India, 228.3 Mha. of geographical area comprises arid (50.8 Mha.), semi-arid (123.4 Mha.) and dry sub-humid regions (54.1 Mha.). Western parts of Rajasthan and Kutch are chronically drought affected.

• Total vehicle population of India is more than 85 million (about 1 percent share of the world). The increase in vehicles, as well as the presence of other motorized forms of transportation (taxis, autos, trains, buses, etc.), will contribute to the already existent large amount of vehicular emissions. The worst thing about vehicular pollution is that it cannot be avoided as the vehicular emissions are emitted at near-ground level.

• Air borne emissions emitted from various industries are a cause of major concern. These emissions are of two forms, viz. solid particles (SPM) and gaseous emissions (SO2, NO2, CO, etc.).

• The power sector is a major consumer of coal, using about 78 per cent of the country's coal production. Coal-fired thermal units account for around 62.2 per cent of total power generation in the country. India's heavy reliance on coal explains the country's relatively high carbon intensity level. Coal production through opencast mining, its supply to and consumption in power stations, and industrial boilers leads to particulate and gaseous pollution.

• In 2006-07, India had encountered 495.54 million tonne/ year of total absolute emissions of CO2 from the power sector. However, the contribution of India to the cumulative global CO2 emissions is only 5 per cent. Thus historically, and at present, India's share in the carbon stock in the atmosphere is relatively very small when compared to its population.

• The household sector is the second largest consumer of energy in India after the industrial sector. National Family Health Survey-3 (NFHS-3) found that 71 per cent of India's households use solid fuels for cooking and that 91 per cent of rural households also do the same. According to National Family Health Survey-3, more than 60 per cent of Indian households depend on traditional sources of energy like fuel-wood, dung and crop residue for meeting their cooking and heating needs. Burning of traditional fuels introduces large quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere, when the combustion is complete, but if there is an incomplete combustion followed by oxidation, then CO is produced, in addition to hydrocarbons.

• There is a great deal of variation in the prevalence of TB according to the type of cooking fuel the household uses. It ranges from a low of 217 per 100,000 residents, (among households using electricity, liquid petroleum gas, natural gas, or biogas), to a high of 924 per 100,000 (among households using straw, shrubs, or grass for cooking). High TB prevalence is also seen amongst households using agricultural crop residue (703/100,000) or other fuels (755/100,000).

• Agriculture remains central to the Indian economy and therefore, receives the greatest share of the annual water allocation. According to the World Resources Institute (2000), 92 per cent of India's utilizable water is devoted to this sector, mostly in the form of irrigation. 

• In 1995, the Central Pollution Control Board identified severely polluted stretches on 18 major rivers in India (World Bank 1999). Not surprisingly, the majority of these stretches were found in and around large urban areas.

• The geogenic contaminants, including salinity, iron, fluoride and arsenic have affected groundwater in over 200 districts spread across 19 states. Studies have shown that long-term intake of fluoride can cause tooth decay and crippled bones. Arsenic can cause skin cancer and skin pigmentation.

• Water pollution is a serious problem in India as almost 70 per cent of its surface water resources and a growing percentage of its groundwater reserves are contaminated by biological, toxic, organic and inorganic pollutants. 

• Studies on the Ganga River indicate the presence of chemicals such as HCH, DDT, endosulfan, methyl malathion, malathion, dimethoate, and ethion in levels greater than those recommended by the international standards

• High levels of fertilizer use has been associated with increased incidence of eutrophication in rivers and lakes in several of India's most important water bodies, such as the Hussein Sagar in Hyderabad and Nainital in Uttar Pradesh.

• The Central and State Pollution Control Boards have identified 1,532 'grossly polluting' industries in India, although almost none of the industries comply with the emission standards (World Bank 1999).

• The domestic sector is responsible for the majority of wastewater generation in India. Combined, the 22 largest cities in the country produce over 7,267 million litres of domestic wastewater per day, of which slightly over 80 per cent is collected for treatment (CSE 1999)

• Annual production of solid waste in India has been estimated to be 2,000 million tonnes (MOWR 2000).

• Coupled with these incongruities and aberrations in land use, the unsound development strategies have led to increasing threats to biodiversity resources by way of illegal encroachment of 0.07 Mha. of forest, cultivation of 4.37 Mha. and diversion of forest for river valley projects (0.52 Mha.), industries and townships (0.14 Mha.), transmission lines and roads (0.06 Mha.) and an additional 1.5 Mha. for miscellaneous purposes (TERI, 1999).

Rural Expert

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