History of apathy of major political parties towards environment:
In the past as India steadily faced environmental deterioration, ecological decline and depleting water reserves; the country’s main political parties campaigning for elections have all but ignored environmental issues which were utmost crucial to whole of India’s population and this omission has resulted in so many alarming problems which now India faces. We Reap What We Sow. In 2014, World Health Organization confirmed that India’s capital, New Delhi, has the most polluted air in the world, according to data reported by 1,600 cities in 91 countries.
Also India being one of the most polluted country in the world with half of world’s 20 most polluted cities in India. The World Bank estimates that environmental degradation costs India 5.7 percent of its annual gross domestic product, and causes a quarter of the country’s 1.6 million deaths among children each year.
Past trend has been that main national political parties competing in the elections have published manifestos that touch on the environment, but say little about major problems such as worsening pollution or projections that the country will have only half the water supply it needs by 2030 or how lack of Waste Management mechanism and adequate landfills is turning cities and villages into garbage dump yards.
Let’s all get united and ask for our environmental rights:
Punjab Legislative Assembly Elections are going to be held on March 4, 2017 and all the major political parties have started coming up with their election manifestos, covering all the populist measures under the sun to make it look like all rosy pertaining to the needs of the common man.
The population of Punjab was 2.77 crores as per Census of India, 2011 with population density of 550 km2 (highest in Ludhiana, followed by Amritsar), 2.98 crores (Census 2012) and it is estimated to touch 3 crores in 2017. Thus, as the population increases, urbanization and industrialization will increase and take its toll on the already burdened ecology and environment.
Thus we, at KIB, on behalf of people of Punjab and India on the whole, have come up with a Questionnaire addressed to each major political party contesting Punjab 2017 Assembly Elections (With copies marked to President of India, Central and State Election Commission, PMO) to understand how they intend to solve below mentioned environmental issues in Punjab if they get elected to power:
Please tick the options (Yes or No) and/or answer in complete sentences.
1. Although Punjab is known as the Land of Five Rivers, there are locations where water is scarce and women have to fetch clean water from as far as 3 Kms. In the Malwa belt of Punjab, the water table is low; the water is brackish and contaminated with pesticides.
Even the districts of Moga, Muktsar, Sangrur, Bhatinda, Ferozepur, Faridkot have been facing similar issues and Abohar, Talwandi Sabo, Pathankot, Fazilka, Malout, Muktsar, Hoshiarpur, Mudki, Malsingh wala, Buladewala, Shekhu, Bagha, Garhshankar are the worst-affected areas.
Though, RO plants were set up in some of the villages, the villagers were charged Rs. 60 per month. Thus, unable to pay for water, poor villagers continued to drink water contaminated with uranium, radium, thorium etc. with the result that this region is badly hit by cancer. On the other hand, technologists insist that RO technology is not good for purification of this kind of water.
Are there any plans to augment and/or improve clean water resources in the above-mentioned districts/locations of the state?
Yes | No
If yes, how do you plan to do it?
2. Waste Segregation & Management is of utmost importance since improperly stored waste causes enormous health, safety and economic problems. We simply cannot bury or burn our waste in dump yards as it causes pollution (air, water, soil, land) and precious resources depletion. The major issue being “segregated waste collection” from homes as per Punjab Model MSW Plan – 2014 followed by their proper disposal.
Does your party plan to work on this across Punjab and by when this would get implemented?
Yes | No
If yes, how does your party plan to implement the same if given a chance to govern the State?
3. Municipal Solid Waste generation in Punjab is 4300 MT per day (Source: PPCB, 2015). By 2031, the waste generated is expected to rise to approximately 5000 MT per day (Source: TERI, 2015). Almost all the MSW in the state is disposed in unscientific disposal facilities.
Two Solid Waste Management (SWM) plants are fully functional in the state, one Municipal Solid Waste treatment plant at Village Waryana, Kapurthala Road, Jalandhar and other at village Pandori Mehtama, Sham Churrasi, Distt. Hoshiarpur. Under Punjab Model MSW Plan – 2014, State has been divided into 8 clusters for SWM facilities (collection, transportation, segregation, processing) of which only 4 clusters (Mohali, Bhatinda, Ludhiana, Jalandhar) have got environmental clearances for selected Engineered Sanitary Landfill Land.
Given the amount of waste generated and current status, by when all the Landfills in 8 clusters would get operational? Would these be sufficient to handle all the garbage generation?
Yes | No
If yes/no, what is your party’s agenda on this?
4. E-waste generation in Punjab was 11788 tons in 2012 and would rise to 18216 tons by 2021 as per a recent study by ENVIS Centre, Punjab. PPCB has 14 authorised collection centers, 1 producer and 1 dismantler to take care of E-waste.
Do you think that it should suffice given the demography, population of state and the amount of e-waste generated? How do you plan to collect e-waste from households?
5. Recently, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) and Volunteers raised a temporary barrage on the Kala Sanghian drain in Jalandhar to divert the sewage flow towards a sewage treatment plant in Basti Peer Daad.
Since it was built in a tizzy, the residents have complained that the polluted water is flowing into the Chitti Bein drain (tributary of Sutlej river) and found the water to be contaminated with heavy metals. The recently built STP (processing capacity of 50 millions litres daily) in Basti Peer Daad (Jalandhar) has been designed to cater the needs till 2025; however it is unable to meet even the present day requirements.
If raised to power, how do you plan to check these grave issues since most of the rivers are getting polluted beyond remediation?
6. Air pollution is a huge issue of concern in India including Punjab at present. Various reasons for this worsening situation are – huge number of vehicles, construction activities, fuel adulteration, agricultural fires etc.
Do you have any plan to control air pollution in different ways?
Yes | No
If yes, how do you plan to do that?
7. Industrial city of Khanna is among the world’s 20 most polluted cities. Though the officials claim a reduction in the air pollution levels, the particulate levels PM10 always seem to be beyond the standards of 100µg/m3. The residents complaining of respiratory illness has been rising steeply. This proves that the authorities do not take actions against industries, which are polluting the atmosphere.
How do you plan to monitor this and take action against the violating industries?
8. Agricultural fires are deliberate in Punjab as farmers have this perception that it results in removal of pests and convert crop residues from previous season’s harvest into fertilizing ash. Punjab burnt 80% of its rice residue in 2012.
This is a major source of air and soil pollution. Since particulate matter and smoke travel long distances, it becomes one of the major sources of air pollution in neighboring states of Haryana and Delhi also during winters.
Despite several Court Orders banning stubble burning and instituting fines for violators, not much action has been taken for strict enforcement. In 2015 and 2016 only 16 and 8 prosecutions were made respectively against violators. Public awareness and educating the farmers about the ill effects of the above mentioned problem seems to be the best solution in sight but they also have to be provided with alternative environment friendly technologies to manage crop residue.
Does your party intend to tackle this problem?
Yes | No
If yes, what actions are you planning to tackle this pressing issue?
9. The heart of Punjab’s industries is in Ludhiana followed by Jalandhar. Textile, manufacturing, leather, rubber and sports goods constitutes major share of industries there. Smaller industries do not follow prescribed rules for effluent disposal and polluting the rivers with dumping of their effluent wastes.
Does your party intend to work on this issue?
Yes | No
If yes, how do you plan to do this?
10. According to Punjab’s Water Supply and Sanitation Ministry, 75% of rural population has access to public toilets while rest of the population will have the same by October 2017. However still a large segment of rural population do not use public toilets and in many cases have demolished them.
What plans you have to spread awareness against open defecation and by when Punjab can be declared an open defecation free state?
11. The safai karamcharis in the State work in pathetic conditions with no protective gear and no insurance cover for their health.
Would your party work for their betterment if given a chance to govern the state?
Yes | No
12. National Green Tribunal (NGT) has announced a fine of 10,000/- per default for people who litter in public places/ roads in Delhi. NGT has also ordered to slap fines on vegetable vendors and slaughterhouses that throw wastes in public places.
Are you planning to take similar initiatives on this front?
Yes | No
If yes, what would be the key steps/initiatives?
13. How do you plan to spread awareness among the masses regarding environmental, sanitation and cleanliness issues?
How do you plan to educate people in rural areas?
How do you plan to educate housewives regarding waste disposal?
14. Four-laning of Jalandhar-Barnala highway proposal to boost Punjab-Haryana road connectivity has seeked to clear 160 hectares of forest area which includes felling of 22,700 trees. It is also proposed that the forest department would plant more than 10 times the number of uprooted trees and Public Works Department would bear the cost of the felled trees.
Do you think new plantation of trees would be strictly enforced?
What is the status of the project now and how would you ensure new plantation of Trees as is proposed?
15. Major wetlands in Punjab are Harike, Kanjli, Ropar and Nangal. These wetlands are inhabited by diversity of flora and fauna including some rare and threatened plants and animals..
The major threats looming on these wetlands include the following:
• Severe problems of siltation in the reservoir leading to shrinkage of wetland area.
• The disturbance to the resident and migratory birds, illegal fishing and poaching of wildlife.
• Accidental outflows of pollutants from industries located in the vicinity affects water quality of wetlands.
• Inflow of pesticides and fertilizers as run off from agricultural fields and sewage from towns also affects water quality of wetlands.
• Invasion and growth of weeds in the wetland area is also a cause of concern.
• Lack of cooperation from people due to their ignorance about wetland values and functions.
How do you plan to conserve these wetlands if votes to power?
Credit: Thanks to Neha Agarwal for special inputs. She has done her MS in Environmental & Water Resources Engineering from IIT Madras and B.Tech in Biotechnology from HIT (W.B.)
About the Author :
Vishal Sethi has corporate experience of more than 15 years in leading IT & telcom companies till ‘Keep India Beautiful’ happened to him. He is dedicated to ‘Keep India Beautiful’ on full time basis. Vishal has authored three books apart from blogging on different issues. He firmly believes in community wellbeing and has been associated with community causes since his university days. He is passionate about environment and issues related to society & youth.
*The article was originally published online in “Keep India Beautiful” blog in The Times Of India.