Friday, October 31, 2014

Segregation of Waste at Home: Our Greatest Contribution to Swatch Bharat

Ever since the Prime Minister Narender Modi has launched Swatch Bharat Mission to  accomplish the vision of 'Clean India' by 2 October 2019, it has been taken up very enthusiastically by people of all walk including media. The importance of sanitation in one’s own life and its impact for community and environment does not require any further elaborations. However the bigger question here is sustainability of this programme over a period of time which Mr. Modi is expecting  from all of us.

The main thrust areas under this programme aimed at are public places, institutions, Bus Stands, railways stations, parks, streets and roads to name a few, which we Indian keep filthy and full of garbage and waste of all the kinds. Keeping all such places neat and clean is the responsibility of Local bodies (Municipalities /Corporations/Nagar Panchayats) as per Municipal Solid Waste (management & Handling) Rules 2000 with regulatory and monitoring responsibility to State Pollution Control Boards.

In India per capita average municipal solid waste production varies from 0.21 to 0.50 Kg per day and for approximately 388 million Urbanites the solid waste generation is expected to increase from 34 million tonnes (2000) to 83.8 million tonnes ( 2015) and 221 million tonnes in 2030. Keeping the average composition of Waste in view (app 50% organic, 8-10% paper, 7-8% Plastics and rest others) at least half of the waste generated can be safely put to composting, pelletisation etc., while the plastics and paper can be used for reuse and recycling.

As per the studies carried out by Central Pollution Control Board(CPCB) , the compliance of handling of waste by local bodies  right from collection, segregation, transportation to processing and disposal is not very encouraging. In fact there is no well-established official system in place to ensure collection and disposal of recyclable and biodegradable -waste in Municipalities and much of which depends on financial condition of ULBs, initiatives both at political and executive level apart from and access to technological interventions. It is also true that there are few good examples of efficient and scientific waste management by local bodies, which need to be replicated throughout the country.

So how far it is correct to blame our municipalities for this state of affairs?

A small initiative at individual level in this direction can contribute significantly. Segregating biodegradable waste like food items, vegetable waste etc., from non-biodegradable or recyclable waste mainly papers and plastics at individual level not only reduces the burden of waste disposal to local authorities but will help to improve the rapidly degraded sanitary conditions of our streets and garbage dumps of towns.

Maintaining two bin systems (one for bio-degradable or compostable waste and other for recyclable waste) at Society level with active cooperation of Resident Welfare Societies is the need of hour.

Sincere attempts and actions to reduce the quantum of garbage by segregation at home will surely go a long way in waste management initiative and assist in contributing significantly towards Sanitation campaign.

Lets start something…

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hudhud Cyclone and Tree Cover:Lesson for Future

The Trees  which provide innumerable goods and services for the mankind specially for the protection of environment and  considered as a strong component to counter the vagaries of nature like drought, flood, climate change etc have sometime fall short of  required expectations  as witnessed  in the recent havoc caused by Cyclone Hudhud which devastated the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa on 12th October this year. Touching a speed up to 180 Km/hour, the cyclone   devastated majority of coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh taking lives of 46 people and affecting around 30 Lakhs families.

Apart from loss of lives and properties, the green cover of Visakhapatnam for which the Corporation even got awards previously also got the dubious distinction of becoming instrumental in more damages to building and other infrastructure leaving apart the loss of vegetation itself 


In most of the literature on forest regeneration and  management practices there is a mention of  wind break/ shelter belt system  consisting of tress of various species planted across the speed direction of the wind  for the purpose of  suppressing  or reducing  the high winds speed and controlling the ill effects however the recent experience of Hudhud damage has now re opened  the  dimension of forestry management which was hitherto  not  given much importance in tree plantation specially  in urban areas. This is the issue of tolerance of different tree species towards the natural calamity like cyclone.

As per rough estimates of Visakhapatnam officials, approximately 78000 trees (nearly 70 %) were got uprooted in the cyclone. Species like Delonix regia (Gulmohar), Peltophoram( Yellow Flame Tree), Tababeua, Samania saman( Rain  tree),Acacias, Jacarandas and Eucalyptus  were prominent which got uprooted/ damaged in the Vishakhapatnam city itself in the recent cyclone.

This considerable reduction of green space  is going to reduce the capacity of Urban Forests of Visakhapatnam and other towns to mitigate  the ill effects of environmental degradation including   global warming  apart from the aesthetic beauty  of the City however  the loss can also  be taken as opportunity by City Planners  and Urban Foresters to revise  and rewrite the planning for afforestation  programme  duly giving space to  factors like cyclone  tolerance capacity , root system etc apart from other silvi-mechanical aspects   . The simple rule that can be made applicable for selection of species is to avoid  fast growing trees and those  having shallow root systems and select slow growing, having high wood density,dense crown and native trees with deep and profuse  root system like Jamun(Syzygium ), Palms , Mango and  Ficus  to name a few. Giving more priority to areas like beaches and open places having adequate soil and moisture  for future planting will also be helpful as the trees in these habitats will tend to grow more vigorous and strong due to availability of more space and deep  soil.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ecological Footprint and Bio -Capacity: Accounting of Non-tangible environmental services:

Increased awareness about environmental issues including global warming, deforestation, pollution etc have resulted not only  in depth analysis of these issues but also motivated the researchers to devise methods to quantify  the services provided by the nature. In contrast to economic indicator or GDP  , the latest tools for measuring  ecological values of various services have facilitated  to accord more  priority to  the environmental sector for policy makers and  administrators to tune their interventions in order to make them more sustainable and eco friendly.

These two measures are Ecological footprint and Bio- capacity and also called as "EF" and "BC" in short.

The ecological footprint(EF) is a measure of the load imposed by a given population on nature. In other words it is the area of the earth which is  required to  meet the levels of resource consumption  on sustainable basis including waste discharge by that population.

Bio-capacity (BC) in simple words means the   biological productive capacity of a resource. (e.g. agriculture land, pasture, forest, productive sea).

Both the Ecological Footprint and bio-capacity are measured in terms of global hectares (g ha), which represent a hectare of land with average productive bio-capacity.

In other words  EF and BC are equivalent  to the economic concepts of demand and supply. When used together, they form the EF/BC accounts. EF/BC accounting is frequently referred to only as EF accounting.

The EF/BC accounts are formed by combining the EF and the BC, thereby turning the approach into a more complete accounting tool for natural  resources. The algebraic difference between BC and EF is called Ecological Deficit, if it is negative or Ecological Reserve if it is positive.

In 2008, the Earth’s total bio-capacity was 12.0 billion gha, or 1.8 gha per person, while humanity’s Ecological Footprint was 18.2 billion gha, or 2.7 gha per person. This discrepancy means it would take 1.5 years for the Earth to fully regenerate the renewable resources that people used in one year.

Global Foot Print networks has assessed the trends in Ecological foot print and bio capacity per person between 1961 & 2008 which is shown below.

The major issues concerning both the EF and BC are that while the increasing GHG emissions and other environmental problems  causing  increasing  global temperatures, climate change, land  degradation and ocean acidification putting enormous  stresses on biodiversity and ecosystems. This   affects the bio-capacity of the earth very badly.  Same time the increased exploitation of resources for burgeoning population is increasing the EF at an unprecedented rate. The more is the gap between the EF and BC ,more we are near to exhausting  our  resources and collapse of ecosystems due to this overshoot i.e., shortfall in earth’s biological capacity  to meet the consumption demands of all humanity. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Poor productivity of Indian Forests: Who is to be blamed?

Nearly 23 % of the geographical areas in the India in under forest cover. The conservation of these valuable resources has attained greater importance due to their role is carbon sequestration, climate amelioration and ecological security apart from traditional tangible benefits of timber, firewood, fodder and other Non-timber forest produces.

But if we see the productivity of Indian Forests it is found that the Indian forests are having very very poor productivity. Against the global average productivity of 2.1 million m3/hectare/ year, the productivity of Indian Forest is only 0.7 million m3/hectare/ year.

There are numerous reasons for this low productivity which may range from faulty management, poor planning and implementation, policy changes to lack of investment etc., and to some extent the blame goes to the Forest administrators/managers. However there are few   major factors causing enormous loss to forest resources and its capacity to produce more thereby affecting the productivity like anything.

 Two major factors among these are:

1. Unregulated grazing:

The cattle population in India was 350 million in 1950 which has been reached   to 520 million at present. At least  50% of this population ( 260 Million) depends on the forests for grazing which is mostly unregulated and free in many of the Indian States  which affects not only the regeneration of forest species but also affects the soil quality due to trampling and compacting of soil which  makes the soil more  prone to erosion. It is also confirmed in one of the studies that 78% of forests in India are subjected to heavy grazing, illicit felling etc. The problem is getting worsened every year due to increase in livestock population.

2.Fuel Wood Collection:

Nearly 50% of the demand of fuel in rural India is being met from the adjoining forests. The annual demand of fuel wood is estimated nearly 250-300 million m3. The recorded supply of firewood from Indian forests is only 17 million m3 and there is huge gap of approximately 260-270 million3 of fuel wood excluding the recorded supply. So from where this huge demand gap is being met?  It is only the adjoining forest areas which are subjected to continued extraction of fuel wood on a regular basis adding further miseries to the already degraded state of forests. 

So who should be blamed for this? The fuel wood dependent increasing population having no alternatives of energy sources or forest managers who are having meager resources and poor policy support for appropriate interventions…..

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are exclusively mine and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency/government.)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Why do massive tree planting programmes fail ?

Tree planting or afforestation activity is considered one of the most effective ways to counter the multifarious challenges  of environmental degradation. Every year starting from 5th June ( World environmnt day ) we start chanting and advocating the need of tree planting for the environmental protection and amelioration. The month of July (first week) has been earmarked  for the planting  programme in India which is also called as Van Mahotsava (tree festival ). 

I remember  during last 3-4 years there had been enormous activities centering around tree plantations in the name of planting record number of trees in a day, few million tree planting programmes etc. taken up by Corporations /State Governments/organisations. It is yet not known whether all these good numbers of trees planted  have survived ? There is need to take up some realistic  survey or  study to ascertain the efficacy of these ambitious programmes of tree planting.

Let me take a very conservative estimate of even 1 Million or 10 lakhs plants  if survived fully  will cover about an area of 1000 hac ( considering the spacing of 10 met X 10 Met). So even at this conservative tree planting there should have been an increase of 1000 hac every year outside forests but in reality this is not the case.

It is  observed and reported many times  that  most of these programmes of tree planting are not yielding  required results.

There may be many local or specific issues responsible for failure of planting programme but following are few main reasons. 

1.Considering plantation programme as one day activity. 
2.Lack of comprehensive planning  specially regarding  maintenace and protection of plants.
3.Use of substandard seedlings and faulty planting technique.
4.Ignorance and lack of knowledge about site quality including soil type where planting is proposed.
5.Treating the programme as one day affair and not according genuine  priority for environmental protection.
6.Lack of particpation of local prople or communities thereby missing  the opportunity of owning the programme by themselves.
7.Lack of genuine political will and support( including financial )from the Governmment.
8.Non- involvement of other Government departments and treating tree planting  as only the programme of forest deprtment.

The above reasons may or may not be correct in case of tree planting or afforestation prgrammes being umdertaken by the State Forest Departments.

I am sure we can improve the result of sucess of tree planting considerbaly if some of the above mentioned factors are taken care and addressed properly.

Few tips for a successful tree planting  are given in my previous post .Tips for tree planting

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Being well informed and highly aware doesnt necessarily gurantee environmental conservation and protection ?

The latest   poll conducted by the Washington Post and Stanford University about the environmantal issue  has  many interesting findings

1.60% of the participants  say weather patterns around the world have been more unstable in the past three years than previously, a perception that’s changed little since 2006. Nearly as many also say average temperatures were higher during the past three years than before that.

2.55 percent say a “great deal” or “good amount” can be done to reduce future global warming however  atthe same time, 60 percent of those polled say it will be extremely or very difficult for people to stop it.

3.More than 70 percent Americans oppose policies that would rely on tax increases on electricity or gas to change individual behavior, while 66 percent favor tax breaks to curb greenhouse gas emissions. 

4.People don’t see a lot of downside for taking action to stop global warming as only  12 percent say that the things people would do to help stop it would make their own lives worse.

Similarly in another study, conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication , 75% of Americans supported the need of regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant to cause green house effect. More than 60 % of them also expected the US to cut its CO2 emissions by 90 % (by the year 2050) and supported protecting the environment even at the cost of reduced economic growth.

It  is  a known fact the USA is the  largest  consumer  of the resources of the World and having  largest national economy. It  has also a class and society which is highly sensitive and aware regarding the ongoing environmental problems.In such a state of affairs  this should have been an added advantage  for the socities in developed countries including USA  to take  certain concrete  steps at individual level as a remedy to this problem? But in reality this is not the case.So what are those factors  which pull them back from being an active citizen to take the individual step towards this problem ?Is this the fear of little compromise with  their  highly luxurious life style and heavy consumption or  in other words the fear of losing  so called happiness or comforts  from  materialistic world due to  more access to resources ?  

Its yet to elucidate  as to why the people  become a moot spectator and avid comenetator towards these  alarming environmental problems ?

Back home in India we too are occupied with multiplicity of issues and problems.

There is a distinct classs of have nots  (underpriviledged in the sense of access to resources) for whom the prime matter is  to make  both ends meet and their efforts and actions for their livelihood affect  the natural resources  badly besides making them unsustainable.Any intervention in this direction is possible only by providing alternatives to them.Though in many of the instances it has been  proved that the communities who are dependent on the natural resources have devised and preserved their own ways and means to utilize these resoutrces on sustained basis. Its only the web of ever increasing demands of populations that has affected the whole dynamics of balance between man and nature.

Then there comes the middle class with little or more access to resources but that too is  engaged in dilemma of changing survival strategies  and same time busy with improving the happiness levels albeit at the cost of money. Since they also have  also equal right to develop and flourish it may not be wise to expect a change from this quarter .

Finally we have the elite or rich among poors, the class which is shining with the improved GDP and adding to its numbers every year  in the form of millionairess  and billioneres. This class has both the capacities and abilities ( awakened mass) to contribute towards the environmental problems like our American brothers but the biggest question is again when and how?

So what should we expect from ourselves ? 

At least a  small action to start with  as each conservative or recycling action we take, we reduce the impact of Man's negative action on the environment .As  Gandhiji's  said "  "Be the change you wish to see in the world." instead of  waiting for  the Government or  Organistaions  to act?

Thursday, July 12, 2012


“They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.” ― Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Brothers Karamazov)
Of late there has been enormous focus followed by some genuine and concrete actions towards conservation of natural resources for the posterity. The approach of sustainability mainly towards exploitation of resources is not only the  need of the hour but has to be given top priority right from contribution/action at individual level and even compromising  personal satisfaction or little of our greed. One of such non- traditional approaches is the path of enoughism - a concept based on less spending and rational or controlled buying by the consumer. In other words enoughism is just opposite to the Consumerism – a concept based on increasing consumption of goods.
There are diverse and strong point of views both for and against the consumerism. One of the strongest points supporting the consumerism lies in its capability to provide immense happiness and feeling of possession.
Continued development of human knowledge which resulted into improved technological interventions has not only facilitated the delivery of diverse goods for daily uses albeit at a very fast rate of exploitation of resources  but also helped to provide an immense services for  the mankind. A report of the World Watch, 1989 estimates that world’s people have consumed as many goods and services since 1950 as all the previous generations put together.  This has same time allowed the businesses to grow and economies of the Nations to proliferate like anything. The darker side of this has been the degradation of environmental conditions and scarcity of resources especially nonrenewable ones.
The developed countries having witnessed the best of material growth have now started to explore the alternatives and ways for the conservation of resources. Enoughism is now becoming the talk of the town and one of the approaches towards this.
India with its rational approach towards the utilization of resources has been the crusader for the environmental conservation since times immemorial. The biggest living example of this was Mahatma Gandhi who was known for his simple life style and contained needs (a simple dhoti and a wooden sandal) .Mahatma Gandhi like a practicing environmentalist realized the importance of environmental problems and sustainability which we are facing today. That’s why he cautioned us to be careful about the use of resources which are sufficient only for the needs of the human beings and not for the greed. 

It has been now realized that though there have been the availability of greater choices and access to vide range of goods due to economic growth but this does not necessarily brings more happiness. In such a case the practice of grading the Nations based on the economic parameter like GDP is nothing but a step to maintain the economic preferences duly according less priority to issues like environment and social well-being. Considering the farsighted goal of sustainability of resources, the blind adoption and support of materialistic approach can only be ephemeral in long run. The conventional approaches of conservation of resources have not been really very effective due to various/ obvious reasons and major one being the  step motherly treatment and lackadaisical attitude among policy makers and planners .  Entry of other non-conventional interventions like enoughism and moderating our life style which may not be easy to follow but once adopted have the real and log lasting solution for a sustainable life style.
Let’s resolve today by taking a pledge that we will moderate our consumption and will allow our inner conscience to act instead of being influenced by marketing gimmicks of advertisers. Let happiness not be judged and weighed by what you possess physically.