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Gaps in the goals of Sustainable Environment

The world celebrated Environment day a few days ago, and the need to go green and clean energy substitute was reinstated by experts and environmentalists. The need to prioritize the environment and keep development plans aligned is a consequential dilemma. However, the utilitarian approach is— sustainability. A sustainable environment is to secure a clean, green and healthy environment with peoples’ participation to support higher and inclusive economic growth through sustainable utilization of available natural resources. 

Recently, NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog released the third edition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) India Index. The top spot on the Index is retained by Kerala with the highest score i.e. 75 on 100 among all the states and Union territories of India. It is followed by Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu with a score of 74. The third place is occupied by Andhra Pradesh.

On Thursday, NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog released the third edition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) India Index and Dashboard 2020–21. Retaining the top spot on the Index this year too, Kerala has scored the highest i.e. 75 on 100 among all the states and Union territories of India. It is followed by Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu with a score of 74. The third place is occupied by Andhra Pradesh. Bihar has been placed at the bottom this year with a score of 52 out of 100.

In the Index released annually by NITI Aayog, Government’s think tank. The SDG index is a vision that tabulates the progress of various states and union territories based on several parameters like social, economic, and environmental. 

“The report reflects on the partnerships we have built and strengthened during our SDG efforts. The narrative throws light on how collaborative initiatives can result in better outcomes and greater impacts,” Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog about its significance.

As per the results, the overall growth of the country in sustainable goals development has improved by six points. It is 66 this year as opposed to 60 last year. States which have gained maximum as compared to their previous positions are Mizoram, Haryana, and Uttarakhand. They have shown an increase of 12, 10, and 8 points, respectively.

What are the goals of the Sustainable Environment?

According to the Niti Ayog, the 2022–23 goals include the following

Air pollution:

  • Bringing down PM2.5 levels in Indian cities to less than 50. 
  • Creating 175 GW of renewable energy generation capacity. 
  • Eliminating crop residue burning. 
  • Ensuring the coverage of all households with LPG for cooking. 

Solid waste management:

Implementing effectively the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. 

Water pollution:

Encouraging industries to utilize recycled/ treated water to the extent possible and ensuring zero discharge of untreated effluents from industrial units. 

Ensuring Aviral and Nirmal Dhara in the Ganga, Yamuna, and other rivers. 

Forestry

  • Increasing the forest cover to 33.3 per cent of the geographical area, as envisaged in the National Forest Policy, 1988. 
  • Improving the quality of existing forests. 
  • Encouraging Farm Forestry.

The Current Scenario

The current status of the environment parameters are grim and the goals seem distant to achieve with the prevailing condition. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has identified 302 polluted river stretches on 275 rivers. In order to meet the challenges, the government has launched the National Mission for Clean Ganga. The total polluted riverine length is 12,363 km. Moreover, Indian cities face a high risk of air pollution. The detrimental factors in the rise of air pollution are rapid industrialization, high urbanization, increased use of vehicles, uncontrolled burning of crop residue and emissions from coal power plants and brick kilns, etc. The status of forests is decisive in achieving sustainable environmental management. In March 2018, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released the Draft National Forest Policy, 2018. The 1894 and 1952 versions of the forest policy widely focused on the production and revenue generation aspects. The National Forest Policy of 1988, for the first time, focused on environmental sustainability. The new National Forest Policy seeks to increase the sustainability of forest management in India. The latest ‘India State of Forest Report (ISFR 2019) released on December 30, 2019, revealed that the total forest and tree cover of the country is 807,276 square kilometres (which is 24.56 per cent of the geographical area of the country) compared to 802,088 sq km (24.39 per cent) in ISFR 2017. As per the report, “forest cover” includes all tree patches which have a canopy density of more than 10 per cent and an area of one hectare or more in size, irrespective of their legal status and species composition.

However, it is important to note at this point in time how that pandemic has been a boon for the environment cursing the humans for its disastrous negligence towards nature. Without a shadow of a doubt, it is conclusive that climate change, the fury of nature in the form of natural calamities, is frequent now. 

With rapid urbanisation, solid waste generation and its treatment is a grave concern as well. Over 377 million urban people live in 7,935 towns and cities, in 2016, the government had estimated an annual waste generation of 62 million tonnes in the country, including 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste, 0.17 million tonnes of bio-medical waste, 7.90 million tonnes of hazardous waste and 1.5 million tonnes of e-waste. Of this, between 22 and 28 per cent was processed and treated.

Solid Waste Management is one of the basic essential services provided by municipal authorities in the country to keep urban centres clean.

A prominent contributor to air pollution is the practice of burning crop residue, particularly in North India. It is important to come with alternative economical methods of disposal and convince farmers to end the practice. The other prevalent factor is the ignorance amongst people towards the environment and the hazardous repercussions of negligence. The lack of awareness of the ill effects of pollution thwarts pollution control efforts. This makes it difficult to bring about the behavioural change that is critical to fighting pollution. Furthermore, the lack of stringent actions against the violators is also missing and the ‘Polluters should pay for the pollution’ principle is not effectively implemented. Agro-forestry is impeded by regulatory restrictions. Besides, efforts should be made to align biodiversity conservation and maintenance of healthy habitats for wildlife with sustainability goals.

To ensure a sustainable environment it is crucial to switch to clean energy and produce 40 per cent of cumulative power generation capacity by non-fossil fuel-based by 2030. New national missions on wind energy, waste-to-energy and coastal areas should be developed. The National Water Mission should be re-designed for efficient water resource management. Similarly, the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture should be redesigned to increase agricultural productivity and contribute significantly to achieving the vision of doubling farmers’ income by 2022–23.

An efficient strategy to counter solid waste management, it is necessary to ensure the remediation of contaminated sites, safe disposal of hazardous substances, protection and restoration of ecosystems through stringent enforcement of relevant Acts, implementation of specific schemes, generation of awareness, stakeholders’ participation and application of best practices. 

The air pollution concerns will require continued efforts on the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to be made to prevent any slippage back to cooking using solid biomass. Initially, the scheme aimed to distribute 50 million LPG connections to BPL households by 2019; however, the target has been increased to 80 million households. Recently, while presenting the Union Budget 2021, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the extension of the PM Ujjwala Scheme to cover 1 crore more beneficiaries. Emission and effluent standards for industries need to be revised and effectively implemented. 

Water pollution can be tackled by installing sewage treatment plants of adequate capacity suitable locations to make rivers pollution-free. Wastewater discharge from industrial units into rivers and other water bodies should be reduced to zero. 

In the culmination of air, water and soil management is it mandatory to promote afforestation aggressively through joint forest management (peoples’ participation) and the involvement of the private sector. Highly deforested forests and wastelands in the country could be leased out to the private sector for specified periods for afforestation.

 Public land available along railway tracks, highways, canals, etc., should be used for greening India. Further, the re-stocking of degraded forests needs to be accorded priority.

There are numerous other small steps that can be taken like switching off lights and fan when not necessary, walking or cycling to nearby places, planting trees at your neighbourhood, turning taps off when not in use. It is equitably the responsibility of the citizens as much as it is the policymakers and government to contribute to a sustainable environment. Only then the gaps towards the sustainable environment be filled — with you, me and everyone together pledging to conserve the environment and moving towards a sustainable environment.

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