Dr. Amitava Aich
UN Environment Emission Gap Report, 2018 as published on 27th November, 2018, cautioned us regarding the fact that inadequate measures may trigger imminent warming of earth temperature beyond the unmanageable figures of 2 degree Celsius by 2030s. This has come just few month after the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degree Celsius, which was published on October, 2018, featuring all the recent observations on climate change effects by world science and which puts Kolkata as well as the Indian subcontinent in the centre stage of the climate change related natural disasters and damages and made the forecast that it may cause excessive heat waves and mortalities in this region. Thus the Climate change disaster are truly on us now, if we are not ready to put a check the carbon equivalent emissions from air, water, soil, life styles and all of our manufacturing processes and try to move towards carbon neutrality. To move towards a green future, retard carbon foot print of our state and to protect life and environment, we need some special site specific and target oriented goals which are in conformity with the globally accepted SDGs (Sustainable Development Goal) as suggested by the UN. Secretary General of UN said to the world leaders in COP24, “this is our last chance”, we also have to look in to these as our only alternatives, in this regard, in the state of West Bengal and take actions accordingly:
1. Air Quality: Air Quality Index of the state, especially Kolkata and its adjacent south Bengal district is continued to hover from unhealthy to hazardous level. And this has been recorded by both WBPCB and US Consulate monitoring stations. And this is not a new thing. The NGT recently have imposed a fine of Rs. 5.0 Crore on the West Bengal Government due to its alleged inactions relating curbing the menace of states air pollution problem. While there are some climatological factors regarding the overshoot of air pollution in Kolkata and its surrounding areas in winter months but that can not be regarded as a safeguard against large scale inactions from governmental level to control the same, especially from increasing numbers of private vehicles, ever increasing fleets of more than ten years old vehicles, absolute unmonitored procedures of vehicular emission testing flouting all kinds of norms,increasing construction dusts from the real estate sectors, apart from emissions happening from illegal burning of solid wastes and illegal plastic recycling plants and dusts which are puffing off from the uncovered earthy sidewalks.
Clean air is a constitutional right and it violates the basic right to life as upheld by the Indian Constitution, thus it is the duty of the State Governments to put a curb to the above mentioned problems by what ever reasonable means with immediate effect. It is also the duty of every citizen to remain alert on this and do all the need full so that these can be implemented and render all sorts of cooperation to the Government in implementing the same. Some of the suggested ways to curb the same is given below (some of them have already been told by NGT):
a) Immediate restriction on use of vehicles more than 10 years old and implementation of Bharat stage VI for IC and Spark Ignition engines for motor vehicles all over West Bengal.
b) Immediate restrictions in numbers of private/personal vehicles in the streets by using odd or even number plate in alternate days method, or by restricting use of private diesel vehicles in the street by banning of solo ride except in case of extreme urgency (medical/examination/Interview/Mandatory Court or Govt. call/VIP Meeting etc which can be proved by papers/digital message/email) or by restricting usage of more than one four wheel per family per day in a particular geographic location.
c) Immediate restoration of sanctity and transparency of emission testing centers and in case of any evidence of foul play immediate cancellation of registration and other punitive actions need to be taken.The NGT recommended no pollution control certificate, no fuel, this should be strictly followed. More remote sensing emission testing nodes need to be erected across the state and violating vehicles need to be seized and grounded immediately.
d) Immediate implementation of CNG as motor fuel and develop its supply channels.
e) Strong notification need to be sent to all municipalities regarding stopping of burning of solid and plastic waste as per Solid Waste Management Rule, 2016 and Plastic Waste Management (Amended) Rule, 2018.
f) Immediate closure of illegal recycling plants and kilns with proper rehabilitation of laborers or restorations only after all pollution control measures are installed.
g) Immediately address the problem of air pollution from construction dusts and device methods to check the same by water spraying, usage of cover, better technology or any other scientific methods possible and stop construction activities, if emission standards are violated.
h) To cover the earthen sidewalks with grass, shops and houses can be roped in to collaborative schemes with some tax benefits etc. These will reduce puffing of dusts from these areas.
i) To remove all the obstacles regarding e-vehicle registration in West Bengal, especially in Kolkata and rolling in a robust e-vehicle policy. This will increase their sell and the surge in demand can be met easily from Roof Top Grid Connected Solar PV Systems. Presently individuals and private houses are not allowed the facility of the net metering in this sector in the State. This should be removed to augment the perceivable increase in demands of electricity in such cases.
2. Plastic Waste: Menacing accumulation of single use plastic wastes are choking sewers, rivers and seas and it has extremely detrimental effects on health and life in general. Some suggested remedies may be
a).Immediate banning of free distribution of any size and make of plastic carry bag, any where in West Bengal as has been recommended in Plastic Waste Management ( Amendment) Rule 2018.
b).An immediate implementation of blanket ban on usage of plastic carry bag below 50 micron thickness as per Plastic Waste Management ( Amendment) Rule 2018. Similarly all single use plastics like thermocol plates and bowl, plastic cups, crockeries and straws also need to be banned with proper government order along with punitive measures suggested.
c) No form of bioplastics or oxo-bio-degradable plastics should be allowed as these plastics are not at all easily decomposable and not recyclable at the same time, thus aggravate the plastic problem, apart from that some of them contain metal salt additives which will increase pollution level.
d) The management of plastic wastes should be done as per the recent guidance of Plastic Waste Management (Amended) Rule, 2018. But considering and fully accepting the fact that collection and management of plastic waste is a huge community problem, huge awareness drive and community projects like Ecobricks (where small lego or non structural building blocks may be prepared by putting all kinds of shredded pieces of single use plastics and packages with in capped PET bottles to prepare household objects, furniture and outdoor matterslike fencings, low cost shelters, garden objects etc) should be declared to address the issue of plastic menace. Competent NGOs, NGIs and local clubs should be roped in with tangible outcomes to curb the issue of plastic waste in collaboration with Municipalities, Corporations, Panchayats and WBPCB with immediate effect.
e) To facilitate the process of time bound phasing out of single use plastic carry bags and other items a proper rehabilitation packages with suitable ecofriendly alternatives should be devised and implemented.
3. Noise: Ambient noise quality is becoming a serious issue especially during festival seasons and political rallies. To maintain ambient noise quality as per Noise Pollution Rule, 2000, and CPCB guideline, loudspeakers should only be allowed with sound limiters.This will restrict the noise level with in acceptable category, give the citizens and animals great relief. Playing of huge sound boxes or DJs emanating noise level of more than 90dB should altogether be banned and all DJs should be confiscated by the administration.
4. Water Bodies: Filling of or alteration of water bodies for real estate development or for other reasons and concretization of embankment are some of the most damaging and common anti environmental activities which still prevail in this state after many warnings, notifications and court cases. Considering wetlands and water bodies as our best natural resources for fighting climate change by sequestration of carbon, storage of water, fulfilling community requirement, generation of employment and conserving biodiversity, the following are some suggested good practices:
a) To enforce a state level wetland and water bodies act for protection and conservation and scientific management of the same.
b) To stop filling, alteration and concretization of embankment of waterbodies with suitable punitive actions. To ensure the same, a detail ground truthing exercise based on revenue records and satellite maps also should immediately be initiated.
c) To stop any sorts of encroachments from east kolkata wetland areas and contamination of this wetland waters from toxic water flows.
d) To stop any construction activities in community wetlands like Bhabadighi or any major tourism activities in Gajaldoba.
5. Rivers: Rivers are life blood of civilization and flowing chronicles of human history, culture and ecosystem. Thus this is a very serious issue which demands immediate attention. Our tasks are cut out here. Following are some of the recommendations which are being made:
a).Many small rivers in West Bengal like Churni, Mathabhanga, Atrei, Ichamati, Matla and many are dying due to river pollution, encroachments, eutrophication and over all social and political apathy. A comprehensive state river restoration plan to address the issues of ecosystem, navigation, hydrology, protection of catchment areas, river pollution and more over the betterment of life of small fishermen should be implemented as soon as possible in collaboration with irrigation, agriculture, fisheries and all other concerned sections and all stake holders along with the local populace.
b) The continuous process of erosion and damage to its own embankments by Ganga by engulfing large chunk of fertile lands, schools, households and Govt. offices has now been regarded as a never ending process. The agonies of people who suffer these losses at personal level are unmatched.If this is not a National Disaster then nothing is. A comprehensive management approach on behalf of state and central govt. on this is needed. And this should encompass restoration, evacuation, rehabilitation and early warning system.
c) The reconstruction of embankment in the Sundarbans, as recommended by Aila steering committee with polypropylene and cement brick pitching has already been heavily criticized by all independent experts due to several environmental and feasibility points. These should immediately be reconsidered. Completion of the reconstruction of all the damaged embankments by involving ecofriendly processes, like mud, geo-jute, and three story formation of mangroves from LLTL to HHTL need to be considered now.
6. Green City: We have observed that there have been a sudden surge of city beautification drive happening all over West Bengal. It is very pleasing to eyes and praiseworthy at the same time. But excessive direct illumination in parks, waterbodies and treed areas, concretization or tiling of open spaces, denudation or felling of trees and plantation of small decorative trees instead, are not at all recommended. As all these may increase the “Heat Sink” effect in cities, contributing to warming of cities, detrimental to cities depleting green cover, birds and wildlife and indirectly affects cities ground water reserves by decreasing rain water percolation areas. Most astonishingly it has been found out that most of these activities are being done under National Green City Mission. These funding of Green City Mission need to be spent on solar electricity generation, rain water harvesting, composting, creation of bicycle avenues and afforestation and protection of cities existing greenery and water bodies. These will truly make the city green and would be a great move towards carbon neutrality.
7. To support organic and diverse indigenous farming methods:
To stop the never ending process of soil, water and food chain pollution by pesticide, herbicide (especially Glyphosphate), and fungicides along with chemical fertilizers and to reduce the cost of farming, paradigm changes in policy is required. These may be in the following areas:
a).A overall shift to organic, bio and zero budget farming along with protection of diverse indigenous farming practices and protection of traditional varieties of seeds are required.
b).The various easily replicable models are developed by various governmental and other bodies on these and also are available as traditional knowledge base to communities. These should immediately be executed at grass root level through Panchayats and Gram Shavas by involving local farmers and competent and credible organizations at rapid scale along with development of suitable market channels.
c). The burning of crop residues have increased manifolds in the state also especially after the utilization of combined harvester machines have become popular to solve the problem of labour shortage and to reduce cost reduction. The finely clipped crop residues remain scattered throughout the field after the harvest and are burned by the farmers to prepare the field for the next crop. The changes in rural housing pattern with time and reducing demand of crop residues like hays have complicated the process further. To solve these problems briquetting or pelletizing of the crop residues to be produced in to solid fuel need to be encouraged. This may be utilized by thermal power plants or other coal burning sectors and even burning ghats as a much cleaner fuel. These will increase the price of crop residues and solve the problem of pollution and heavy carbon emissions from Industry.
d). Similarly more and more stress need to be given on culture of indigenous and local varieties of fishes and protection of many indigenous varieties which are becoming extinct due to rush of exotic varieties.
All these will be a great step towards attaining sustainability,arrest climate change,save the life of millions as well protect the citizens from the dangers of atmospheric andfood chain poisoning and man made natural disasters.