8 Important Causes of Environmental Degradation in India
Quality of environment has also its impact on effective and smooth- functioning of the economy. Environmental degradation imposes cost on the economy which results in loss of output and economic efficiency as well as capital.
Lost labour productivity from ill health, loss of crop output owing to soil erosion, lost fisheries output and tourism receipts from coastal erosion. A proper environment quality is thus an essential ingredient of Substantial Development.
Sustainable Development strikes a balance between developmental needs and environmental protection. Sustainable Development includes “economic efficiency, intergenerational equity, social concerns and environmental protection.”
Sustainable Development means non-declining state of human welfare over time. Brundt Land Report in 1987 defined that Sustainable Development seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs.”
Thus sustainable Development requires environment to be protected. Some analysts advocate strong sustainability and some advocate weak sustainability. Strong sustainability requires preservation of each category of asset where as weak sustainability seeks to maintain the aggregate monetary value of assets with a high degree of substitutability of various types of assets.
The environmental degradation is manifested in various forms such as land/soil degradation, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity, atmospheric pollution (air pollution), water pollution, Solid wastes, and marine pollution.
1. Land Degradation:
A large part of the land area is facing degradation. Out of 329 mn hectares, in India 175 mn. Hectares are degraded. Soil degradation is caused by water and wind. Water logging and salination also contribute in this process. Soil erosion by river and rain causes landslides in hill areas.
Soil erosion in forest areas is caused by overgrazing, deforestation, mining and incorrect siting cause soil erosion. In the plains, riverine erosion occurs due to floods. A recent case of riverine erosion is envisaged in the rapid change of the flow of the course of river such as in Murshidabad, Malda district of West Bangal.
This is due to embankment and water logging for the purpose of Dam construction. The erosion at Uttarkashi and various parts of Narmada have caused a major waste of resources and people’s property.
Control of such erosion is an indispensable condition of maintaining food security, sustainable forestry agrarian and rural development.
Government’s strategy towards preventing land degradation includes (a) treatment of catchment areas (b) comprehensive watershed development (c) survey and investigation of problem areas through remote sensing techniques (d) bio-mass production in reclaimed lands (e) Micro-level planning.
Forests are renewable resources; they provide food, fodder, fuel to forest dwellers as well as to the common people also. It also generates substantial volume of employment. It conserves water, land, soil erosion; maintain soil fertility, balances Carbon dioxide and Oxygen.
India has a large variety of forest resources, such as moist evergreen forests in North-East, alpine vegetation in the Himalaya. Withdrawal of forest products are beyond, the sustainable capacity of forests.
The annual withdrawal of fibre wood is estimated to be 235 mn. Cubic meters and industrial wood about 28mn. cubic metres. The recorded forest area of the country is 76.52 mn. Hectare, but actual forest cover is 63.3 mn. Hectare which is 19.3 percent of total land area.
According to National Forest Policy of 1988 total forest cover should be 33 percent of total land area, but only 11.2 percent of country’s total land area comprises dense forest. The total forest area was converted for non forestry purposes between 1950 to 1980 was 4.5 mn hectares. The forest area in recent past has not changed; it is stationary at 63 mn hectare, thanks to social forestry and natural regeneration programme of the government.
3. Loss of Biodiversity:
The Indian subcontinent has vast array of variegated phytogeographical diversity and agro-climatic zones which endows in with rich repository of biological resources. India is one of the twelve mega biodiversity centres in the world.
India is fourth in the Asia in terms of plant diversity and tenth position in the world, in terms of mammalian species, the country ranks tenth in the world. Botanical Survey of India and Zoological survey of India have got 46000 plant species and 81000 animal species.
All these flora and fauna are capable of producing food, medicine, textiles, energy, recreation and tourism. This variety of flora and fauna has lot of socio economic and monetary value. [The survey on inaccessible Himalayan zone and Nicobar Islands has not yet been undertaken in this account.]
The impact on bio-diversity has come from expansion of agriculture. Mining and development projects in forest have destroyed the biodiversity of forests. Poaching and illegal trade are also acting as a threat to loss of biodiversity. According to an estimate, 1500 plant, 79 mammals, 44 birds, 15 reptiles, 3 amphibians are in the list of endangers species.
The loss of bio-diversity is being addressed through mapping and surveys, 85 national parks, 448 wild life sanctuaries, 10 Bio sphere reserves. Approximately, 4.2 percent of total geographical area of the country has been earmarked for extensive in situ conservation of habitats and eco-systems.
4. Atmospheric Pollution:
Air pollution or atmospheric pollution has been increasing all over the country. The major cities are experiencing high level of Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM).
The major sources of pollution in city life are industrialisation and increasing vechicular traffics. The uncontrolled expansion of urban life and industries like petroleum refinery, iron and steel, chemicals, textiles paper and paper-pulp, thermal power are important source of pollution. The aged vehicles congestion of traffic, poor roads and outdated auto-technology are some of the reasons of atmospheric pollution in urban centres.
5. Noise Pollution:
The major sources of noise pollution in the cities are vehicles, generator sets, loud speakers, construction activities and bursting of fire crackers. Level of noise pollution is being monitored in all the cities by notifying the standards and prescribed limits.
6. Water Pollution:
The major sources of water pollution are discharge of domestic sewage and industrial effluents which contain organic pollutants, chemicals, heavy metals and run off from agrarian activities. The major industries which pollute water are fertilizer, refineries, pulp and paper, leather, metal plating, chemical industries. In the rural areas fertilizers, pesticides run off are emerging as major pollutants and increasing reasons of concern.
The high level of wastes from domestic and industrial sources has increased the pollution of various water bodies such as rivers, coastal areas and underground sources.
Surveys have demonstrated that water quality has declined and contains high bacteriological and heavy meal ingredients. Biochemical oxygen demand value has increased in many rivers showing the decline of water quality in last 3 decades.
Water treatments in cities are totally neglected. More than half of the cities have no sewage facilities. According to an UNEP survey only 81 percent of population has access to safe drinking water.
Sanitation facilities have been extended to only 27 percent of total population. The water pollution causes serious diseases like diarrhoea, hepatitis, intestinal worms. In India more than 12 percent of diseases are water borne diseases.
7. Solid Wastes:
Solid water such as paper, plastics, clothes, metals organic matters generated from households, industries, commercial establishment, markets pose serious challenge of environmental concern. Plastics are the major sources of urban wastes. Solid wastes are increasing in alarming proportion both from rural and urban areas due to large size of our population.
The annual Urban Municipal wastes are now more than 55 mn tonnes. India lacks the infrastructure of solid waste treatment, compositing and other scientific techniques are rarely used for solid waste treatment.
8. Coastal and Marine Pollutions:
India has a vast coastline of 7500 km containing a large variety of ecosystems such as mangroves, coral reefs, salt lakes, which mainly from the habitat for endangered marine species and commercially important flora and fauna. The major forms of coastal area’s decline in terms of environmental issues are:
(a) A vast array of activities like ship breaking, transport, tourism and industrial activities including soil spills, discharge of sewage and industrial effluents and a heavy load of sediments.
(b) Prawn culture and aqua culture along the Eastern Coastline.
(c) Sea-based activities like oil spills, mining in coastal areas, unplanned and improper development of activities in coastal areas, off-shore petroleum gas exploration.
Symptoms of decline of environment in the coastal areas are:
1. Industrial activities like chemicals, petrochemical cause significant discharge in the water bodies causing a severe decline.
2. Heavy Metals such as lead and cadmium were found in Thane creek of Mumbai Coast.
3. Kochi region was found to have petroleum hydrocarbons.
4. Coral reefs which are very productive marine eco-system are under strain for indiscriminate exploitation for production of lime, recreational activities and ornamental trade.
An area 6700 sq. km. under mangrove is under biotic pressure due to fishing and wetlands of 1.45 mn hectares are facing problems of weed infestation, siltation, pressure of agriculture and encroachment, chemical and organic pollution, urbanisation and habitation.