INDIAN HIMALAYAN REGION (IHR) - ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES
The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), occupies a strategic position along the entire northern and northeastern boundary of the country and administratively covers 10 states in their entirety (Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya) and two states partially (the hill districts of Assam and West Bengal), has wide-ranging ecological and socio-economic significance.
- Besides innumerable goods, IHR generates a plethora of services not only for Himalayan inhabitants but also influences the lives of people living well beyond its boundaries.
- Among other services, the region, with its large area under permanent snow cover and glaciers, forms a unique water reservoir that feeds several important perennial rivers.
URBANIZATION IN THE HIMALAYAS - IS IT SUSTAINABLE?
(i) IMPACT - SOLID WASTE
The continued expansion in urban settlements and the influx of visitors, trekkers, and mountaineers in the Himalayan region has started to pose high biotic pressure and concomitant indiscriminate solid waste dumping. As a result, the IHR is getting adversely affected.
(ii) IMPACT - TOWN PLANNING
- Rapid unplanned growth of hill towns, construction activities without a proper plan, general noncompliance with prescribed norms and guidelines, and indiscriminate use of land for commercial outfits/tourist resorts have severely and adversely affected the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas.
- Large-scale land instabilities, drying up of natural water sources, waste disposal problems, and changing socio-cultural values are known impacts of unplanned construction activities.
- Ban on Plastic in HP
Participatory Conservation of Lakes in the Region. The Naini Lake is the sole source of drinking water for Nainital town, an important tourist destination in Uttarakhand state.
- Conservation of Dal lake
(i) Dal Lake a favorite tourist destination attracting thousands of tourists in Jammu & Kashmir state, is also special for the settlement of about 60,000 people within the lake.
(1) The lake is in peril due to anthropogenic pressure and overall deterioration of the surrounding environment,
(2) The lake has been included in the lake conservation program of the MoEF, GOI.
(ii) The Lake and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA), Srinagar, in collaboration with the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) and other NGOs has taken up the initiative for lake conservation through education and mass awareness. The use of polythene carry bags has also been banned in the lake area.
- Assam Hill Land and Ecological Sites Act, 2006
The Assam Hill Land and Ecological Sites (Protection and Management) Act, 2006 to prevent the indiscriminate cutting of hills and filling up of water bodies in urban areas, which had led to serious ecological problems in places like Guwahati.
- Urban Development through JNNURM
“The aim is to encourage reforms and fast track planned development of identified cities. Focus is to be on efficiency in urban infrastructure and service delivery mechanisms, community participation, and accountability of ULBs/ Parastatal agencies towards citizens”.
(iv) Recommendations/solutions for Solid Waste Management in IHR
- Guidelines prohibit indiscriminate disposal of garbage, particularly non-degradable waste.
- Documentation about the varying composition of waste from the hill towns to expedition tops.
- Promotion of techniques such as the conversion of biodegradable waste into bio compost, or vermicompost in place of landfilling, open dumping, or burning.
- Good quality potable water is available at various locations in hill towns so that people can fill their bottles, on a payment basis.
- Awareness and capacity building of the stakeholders.
- There is a need to motivate residents to switch over to a more scientific waste disposal system in a participatory manner.
(v) Recommendations/solutions - Hill Town Planning and Architectural Norms
- No construction should be undertaken which falls in hazard zones or areas falling on the spring lines and first-order streams.
- Architectural and aesthetic norms for the construction of buildings in mountain/hill areas should be enforced.
- Deforestation activities shall not be undertaken unless appropriate measures are taken to avoid such damages.
- An integrated development plan may be prepared to take into consideration environmental and other relevant factors
- In highly seismic areas like the Himalayas, all construction should incorporate earthquake-resistant features
- “Green roads” having channels for the collection of water for irrigation purposes should be made a part of the construction norm.
TOURISM - WILL IT BE REGULATED?
Pilgrimage Tourism in Sensitive Areas
- The Himalayas is known to be a home of saints, the destination of pilgrimage since time immemorial.
- For example, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri- Yamunotri, and Hemkund Sahib in Uttarakhand, Manimahesh, Jwala Devi, Chintpurni, Naina Devi in Himachal Pradesh, and Vaishnav Devi and Amarnath in Jammu & Kashmir, Khecheopalri and other sacred lakes in Sikkim are particularly important destinations.
- Unfortunately, most of these places lack adequate facilities for transport, accommodation, waste disposal, and other amenities for the ever-growing number of pilgrims that visit them every year.
Impact - of Commercial Tourism
- The impacts of tourism on mountain ecosystems and biological resources are of great concern because of the high biodiversity and environmental sensitivity of the Himalayas.
- Cultural identities and diversity in mountain regions are also under threat by the economic, social, and environmental forces associated with mountain tourism.
- Harnessing Religious Sentiments for Conservation - There is immense scope for harnessing the religious sentiments of tourists in the right perspectives of conservation and sustainable management of natural resources in the eco-sensitive Himalayan areas.
- Ladakh Himalayan Homestays - Transforming Local Mindsets towards Snow Leopards« The Himalayan Homestays program fosters conservation-based community-managed tourism development in remote settlements, by gradually building local capacity and ownership.
- Adventure tourism - Immense opportunities for adventure cum ecotourism in the Himalayan region (e.g., Annapurna Conservation Area Project, Nepal; Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve ecotourism approach, Uttarakhand) could be harnessed through community involvement.
- Tourism + art and culture - Linking of tourism with initiatives like Rural Business Hubs (RBH), was introduced in North East region, which envisages the promotion of quality rural products like handloom, handicrafts, agro products, herbal products, bio-fuel, etc., may be considered as yet another aspect of promoting eco-tourism in the IHR.
- Regulated entry - The Government of Uttarakhand has restricted the number of tourists visiting the origin of the river Ganga - Gangotri area to 150 per day.
- Pilgrimage tourism in the Himalayas requires both development and regulation to reduce congestion and resultant pollution.
- Pilgrimage tourism is a kind o 'economy class” tourism in the Indian Himalayan Region. Suitable accommodation and other facilities need to be made available accordingly.
- All existing sites should have adequate provisions for garbage disposal and management.
- An inventory of historical, sensitive, and sacred sites including sacred groves should be prepared and their vulnerability should be assessed.
(iii) Recommendations/solutions - Promoting
- Eco-tourism villages, parks, sanctuaries, and other areas should be identified to establish a primary base for ecotourism.
- Village communities, especially youths, and rural women should be involved in Ecotourism.
- Restrictions on the entry of vehicles and visitors per day/ per group should be imposed in sensitive ecological sites.
- Local art, crafts, cuisines, and dishes should be promoted and made an integral part of the tourist experience to ensure economic benefits to the locals and their cultural integrity/ entity is not lost.
- Best practices on commercial trekking should be imposed on a mandatory basis
SAND MINING IN INDIA - ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
- Sand is an important mineral for our society in protecting the environment, buffering against strong tidal waves and storms, habitat for crustacean species and marine organisms, and used for making concrete, filling roads, building sites, brick-making, making glass, sandpapers, reclamations, and in our tourism industry in beach attractions.
- Sand mining is the process of removal of sand and gravel and this practice is becoming an environmental issue as the demand for sand increases in industry and construction.
- Despite a Supreme Court order that prohibits sand mining without the requisite clearance from the required authorities and places limits on the quantities that can be mined, thousands of tonnes of sand are being illegally mined to meet the rising demand of the construction industry and for extraction of minerals. Let's discuss the scenario of sand mining in India
(i) Economic consequences of sand mining
Revenue loss to the exchequer E.g.: It is estimated that in Noida and Greater Noida alone the loss to the exchequer is about Rs. 1,000 crores, but the impact that sand mining, which is simply put theft of the environment and ecology, cannot even be calculated.
(ii) Environmental consequences of sand mining
- Forcing the river to change its course
- Sand and boulders prevent the river from changing the course and act as a buffer for the riverbed.
- The illegally dredged sand is equivalent to robbing water.
- Sand holds a lot of water, and when it is mindlessly mined and laden onto trucks, large quantities of water are lost in transit.
- Depletion of groundwater tables
- Adversely impacting the habitat of micro-organisms
- Increased river erosion
- Damage to roads and bridges
- Threat to agriculture
- Damage to coastal ecosystem
- Lesser availability of water for industrial, agricultural, and drinking purposes.
- Loss of employment to farm workers.
- Threat to livelihoods.
(iii) Guidelines for Sustainable Sand & Minor Mineral Mining
- Where to mine and where to prohibit mining: District Survey Report for each district in the country, taking the river in that district as one ecological system. Use of ISRO, remote sensing data, and ground-truthing.
- Sustainable mining: Mining out material only that much which is deposited annually.
- Involvement of District authorities in the process: The District-level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DE1AA) is headed by the District Collector. The District Collector is to be assisted by the District Level Expert Appraisal Committee (DEAC) headed by the Executive Engineer (Irrigation Department) is assigned the responsibility of granting environment clearance up to 5 hectares of mine lease area for minor minerals, mainly sand. So district administration, which is the key to assessing the requirement of sand in a district and prohibiting illegal sand mining in the district is being involved directly in environmental clearance.
- Monitoring using scientific tools: Stringent monitoring of movement of mined-out material from source to destination using information technology tools, barcoding, SMS, etc. To date, there is no authentic data on how much sand is being mined, this system will generate real-time data on mined-out sand. The movement of sand is controlled through Transit Permit.
- The monitoring of mined minerals, Environmental Clearance, EC conditions, and enforcement of the Environment Management Plan (EMP) will be ensured by the District Collector and the State Pollution Control Board. The monitoring of enforcement of EC conditions can be done by the Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and the agency nominated by the Ministry for the purpose.
(iv) PALM OIL - ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES AND INDIA’S ROLE IN IT
(a) When forests shrink, so does the home of endangered species
- Palm oil has emerged as the main global source of vegetable oil due to adequate availability, versatility in usage, higher yield, and lower cost, as compared to other vegetable oils. Palm oil is generally sold in the name of vegetable oil.
- Palm oil forms 33% of the world's vegetable oil production mix. Indonesia and Malaysia contribute almost 87% of the production of palm oil, whereas China and India constitute 34 % of imports.
- Global edible oil consumption has grown from 123 Million Metric tonnes in 2007 to 158 Mn MT in 2012. This growth has been fuelled by increased population, incomes, and per capita consumption especially in developing countries like India, Indonesia, and China, etc. Palm oil, at 48.7 Mn MT is the largest consumed edible oil in the world.
- As demand for palm oil increases, substantial tracts of tropical forests are often cleared to make room for large plantations. As per WWF's estimates, the expansion of oil palm plantations is likely to cause four million hectares (more than twice the size of Kerala) of forest loss by 2020.
(b) Applications of Palm Oil
- Food-based applications - Cooking oil, substitute for butter, vanaspati/vegetable ghee, margarine, confectionery, bakery fats, ice cream, coffee creamers, emulsifiers, and vitamin E supplements among others.
- Non-food applications - Cosmetics, toiletries, soaps, and detergents. Oleo chemical industry, as a base material for laundry detergents, household cleaners, and cosmetics.
(v) ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF PALM OIL PRODUCTION
- Deforestation - Substantial tracts of tropical forests are cleared to make room for large plantations to service an ever-increasing demand for palm oil. Studies show that the forest cover on the island of Borneo declined from 73.7 percent in 1985 to 50.4 percent in 2005, while the projected cover in 2020 was 32.6 percent. The loss of forest cover in Sumatra, Indonesia, has also been very alarming.
- Loss of biodiversity - Concerns about biodiversity loss are directly related to the loss of natural forests. In particular, orangutan habitats have been threatened by palm oil production. In 1900, there were around 315,000 orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia. Today, fewer than 50,000 exist in the wild, split into small groups. Climate change - 15% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation, forest degradation, and peat land emissions. As land on mineral soil becomes less readily available, the expansion of oil palm is increasing on peat lands.
- Use of pesticides and fertilizers - Misuse of pesticides and fertilizers is frequently cited as a negative impact of oil palm cultivation. In general, pesticide use is low compared to many other crops, but some chemicals used, pose significant risks to operators and smallholders, and the environment.
(vi) INDIA and OIL PALM
- Indonesian palm oil companies produce palm oil by destroying virgin rainforests and tiger habitats in Indonesia. Indian huge palm oil imports from Indonesia is been accelerating the destruction of the rainforest. India’s palm oil demand destroying Indonesia’s rainforests.
- The expansion of palm oil plantations to meet the global demand for vegetable oils (palm oil usually used in this name) happens at the expense of forests, wildlife, and communities.
(vii) Consumption of palm oil in India
- Palm oil has dominated Indian imports for the last two decades, for its logistical advantages, contractual flexibility, and consumer acceptance change in consumption patterns, availability, pricing, and policy changes. India is the largest importer of palm oil which is also the lowest-priced oil. Palm oil contributes to around 74% (as of 2012) of the total edible oils that are imported into the country.
- Almost 90% of the palm oil imported and produced domestically is used for edible/ food purposes, while the remaining is used for industrial/non-edible purposes. Palm oil is now the single largest consumed vegetable oil in India.
(viii) Palm oil in India - Production
- Despite being the world’s fourth-largest oilseed-producing country, India's share of palm oil production is small, accounting for 0.2% share of the total world produce
- Palm oil production in India has grown at 22.7% CAGR over the past five years in 2011. However, India would continue to be a net importer of palm oil.
(ix) State-wise Palm Oil Production in India
Andhra Pradesh is the leading palm oil-producing state in India contributing approximately 86 % of the country's production, followed by Kerala (10%) and Karnataka (2%). Other palm oil-producing states include Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Goa, and Gujarat.
COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER
- Bees are one of a myriad of other animals, including birds, bats, beetles, and butterflies, called pollinators. Pollinators transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant so it can grow and produce food. Cross-pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world s crops and 90 percent of our wild plants to thrive. Without bees to spread seeds, many plants - including food crops - would die off.
- Bees are not summertime nuisance, they are small and hard-working insects that make it possible for many of your favorite foods to reach your table. From apples to almonds to the pumpkin in our pumpkin pies, we have bees to thank. Now, a condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder is causing bee populations to plummet, which means these foods are also at risk.
- Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a new tag name presently being given to a condition that is characterized by an unexplained rapid loss of a Bee colony’s adult population.
- Sudden loss of a colony’s worker bee population with very few dead bees found near the colony. The queen and brood (young) remained, and the colonies had relatively abundant honey and pollen reserves. But hives cannot sustain themselves without worker bees and would eventually die. This combination of events resulting in the loss of a bee colony has been called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
- Contain no adult bees, with few to no dead bees around the colony
- Contain capped brood
(a) Contain food stores that are not robbed by neighboring bees or colony pest
- Worker bees failed to return to the colony from flight
The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a single smoking gun behind CCD but a range of possible causes, including:
- Global warming
- Varroa mite - parasites - European foulbrood (A bacterial disease that is increasingly being detected in U.S. bee colonies) microsporidian fungus Nosema.
- Stress - The stress of shipping bees back and forth across the country, increasingly common in commercial beekeeping, may be amplifying the stress on the insects and leaving them more vulnerable to CCD.
- Habitat loss - Habitat loss is brought by development, abandoned farms, growing crops without leaving habitat for wildlife, and growing gardens with flowers that are not friendly to farmers.
(ii) How can we Protect Bees?
- Policymakers must take action to protect the bees and other pollinators.
- Farmers must be rewarded for practices that help wild bee populations thrive.
- assistance should be provided to farmers who plan to support a wider variety of pollinators beyond just bees.
(a) Bee research must be strengthened, and must also be broadened to include research on pollinators besides honey bees.
- Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques should be used to minimize pesticide use and risk to bees.
(a) City dwellers can also practice IPM where they live, work, and play to protect our health, water quality, and pollinators.
WILDLIFE (ELEPHANT, LEOPARD, ETC) DEATHS DUE TO COLLISIONS WITH TRAINS
- Such accidents pose a grave danger to wildlife, and the conservation of our national biodiversity.
- Article 48A (DPSP) of the Indian Constitution, it is stated that the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
- Article 51A (Fundamental Duties) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures
- every citizen must preserve, protect and nourish our wildlife heritage, particularly since these animals are helpless in facing the challenge of biotic pressure.
What has to be done?
- Coordination between MoEF and Railways has to be enhanced to ensure the safety of wildlife. Vulnerable patches for wildlife to be identified as wildlife crossing spots, and signage put up to warn train drivers and other railway personnel, to enable them to give directions for trains to slow down their speed in these patches in the normal course.
- Update the list of well-known vulnerable patches for wildlife, and convey them to the Railways. Electronically tag prominent wildlife like elephants, leopards, etc particularly in high-traffic areas, so that wildlife and forest personnel could keep track of their movements, and warn railway officials well in time to enable them to avoid accidents. Once they are electronically tagged, forest personnel could track their movements, and keep them from harm.
- Improvement in infrastructure for forest and Railway staff, such as being equipped with walkie-talkies, constant connection with the control room, etc.
- In prominent wildlife areas, or wherever considered necessary, forest officials should be posted at Railway control rooms to coordinate with railway staff, and informed regarding the movement of elephants, to enable railway authorities to take preventive action, well in advance.
- Strict instructions to all railway and forest field personnel, emphasizing the importance of the protection and conservation of wildlife.
IMPACT OF RADIATION FROM MOBILE PHONE TOWERS ON HUMAN BEINGS AND WILDLIFE
- The surface area of birds is relatively larger than their body weight in comparison to the human body so they absorb more radiation.
- Also, the fluid content in the body of the bird is less due to its small body weight so it gets heated up very fast.
- Magnetic field from the towers disturbs birds’ navigation skills hence when birds are exposed to EMR they disorient and begin to fly in all directions.
- A large number of birds die each year from collisions with telecommunication masts.
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED (GE) TREES
The proponents of the biotechnology industry claim that trees that are genetically altered grow faster and yield better quality wood in extreme temperatures. Thus they are a boon to forestry in dealing with climate change.
(i) Historical background
- The first field trials of GE trees were started in Belgium in 1988 when researchers began to develop poplar trees that were herbicide-resistant and that could grow faster. In 2002, China established commercial GE poplar trees plantation as a strategy to address the issue of deforestation.
- Initially, GE trees were established on 300 hectares, and now China has embraced GE technology on a large scale, integrating this into the forestry sector. Latin American countries like Brazil and Argentina, the forerunners in GM food crops are also working on GE trees to enhance the production of pulp and paper.
(ii) In INDIA
- The first experiment with the genetically engineered tree was with a rubber tree developed by the Rubber Research Institute in Kerala. The GE rubber is better adapted to drought resistance and increased environmental stress tolerance. This will help to establish rubber in nontraditional areas where the conditions are not favorable. Ironically the field trials for GE rubber trees were approved by the then environmental minister (Mr. Jairam Ramesh). Ministry asserted that the genetically modified trees posed a lesser threat in comparison to the food crops.
- This assumption is baseless as the seeds of rubber trees are used as cattle feed, which gets into the food chain through milk. Similarly, Kerala is one of those regions that produce a large quantity of rubber honey from rubber plantations. Kerala, a GM-free state worried about the implications of GE rubber on biodiversity, has voiced its concern about biosafety issues. Now rubber trees are being experimented with in Maharashtra.
- These developments show the predominance of the western forestry science that laysemphasizesests as a commercial entity to produce wood and pulp. Diverse forests were simplified by the removal of multiple species and the establishment of monocultures that had commercial value. The country's landscape is already scarred with millions of hectares of teak and eucalypt monoculture plantations. This approach has had negative consequences for the environment, biodiversity, and the local indigenous people. The same trend will be reinforced with the establishment of GE tree plantations, leading to further devastation of the natural environment and forests.
MOEF BANNED DOLPHIN CAPTIVITY
- The Ministry of Environment and Forests has banned dolphin captivity within India. This opens up a whole new discourse of ethics in the animal protection movement in India.
- The unprecedented decision is particularly significant because it reflects an increasing global understanding that dolphins deserve better protection based on who - rather than what - they are.
(i) Dolphinariums in India
India’s only experience of keeping dolphins was in the late 199 s. Four dolphins were imported from Bulgaria to Chennai’s Dolphin City, a substandard marine-themed amusement show, where they died within 6 months of arrival.
(ii) New proposals
- Several state governments had recently announced plans for the state tourism development corporations to establish dolphinariums for commercial dolphin shows. Dolphins are a major tourist attraction at amusement parks abroad.
- The major proposals that were made for similar establishments were by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, the Kerala fisheries department in Kochi, and a few private hoteliers in Noida in the National Capital Region.
PROHIBITION OF REMOVAL OF SHARK FINS IN THE Seto
- to stop the inhuman hunting of sharks and enable the enforcement agencies to monitor the illegal hunting/poaching of the species of Sharks, Rays, and Skates (Elasmobranchs) listed in Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, Minister of for Environment and Forests has approved a policy for prohibiting the removal of shark fins on board a vessel in the sea.
- The policy prescribes that any possession of shark fins that are not naturally attached to the body of the shark would amount to ^hunting" of a Schedule 1 species. The Policy calls for concerted action and implementation by the concerned State Governments through appropriate legislative, enforcement, and other measures.
- They play an important role in the maintenance of the marine ecosystem like tigers and leopards in the forests. India is known to be home to about 40-60 species of sharks. However, the population of some of these has declined over the years due to several reasons including over-exploitation and unsustainable fishing practices.
COST OF ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION IN INDIA
- The annual cost of environmental degradation in India is about Rs. 3.75 trillion, or 5.7% of India’s 2009 gross domestic product (GDP), according to a report released by the World Bank.
- The impact of outdoor air pollution on GDP is the highest and accounts for 1.7% of the GDP loss, said the report. Indoor air pollution is the second-biggest offender and costs India 1.3% of its GDP.
- “The higher costs for outdoor/indoor air pollution are primarily driven by an elevated exposure of the young and productive urban population to particulate matter pollution that results in a substantial cardiopulmonary and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (heart ailments) mortality load among adults;' the report said.
- Following the concept of growing economically now and cleaning up later will not be environmentally sustainable for the country in the long run, said the lead author of the report.
- The possible policy options to reduce particulate matter pollution could be incentivizing technology up-gradation, securing efficiency improvements, strengthening enforcement, and enhancing technology and efficiency standards.
Steps were taken by the Indian Government to control air pollution
- formulation of a Comprehensive Policy for the Abatement of Pollution,
- supply of improved auto-fuel,
- tightening of vehicular and industrial emission norms,
- mandatory environmental clearance for specified industries,
- management of municipal, hazardous and bio-medical wastes,
- promotion of cleaner technologies,
- strengthening the network of air quality monitoring stations,
- assessment of pollution load,
- source apportionment studies,