India must implement environmental blueprint unveiled last year

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New Delhi | Updated: January 16, 2019 7:15 AM

The year 2018 was full of declarations. In the country, some major policies and programmes were launched to tackle issues ranging from air pollution to plastic pollution.

climate change, paris agreementUnder the Paris Agreement, countries have to develop their national action plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change. (Reuters)

The year 2018 was full of declarations. In the country, some major policies and programmes were launched to tackle issues ranging from air pollution to plastic pollution. At the international level, too, two major agreements got underway—the rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement was adopted and the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol came into effect from January 1, 2019.

The agenda for 2019, therefore, is clear-cut: we should setup the institutional and regulatory framework to implement the major programmes announced in 2018 and fulfil our international obligations. Here is my list of the top 10 environmental priorities for 2019.

* Implement the National Clear Air Programme: The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), announced last week, is the first ever national framework for air quality management with a target of 20-30% reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 concentration by 2024. But, NCAP has weak legal mandate and is not supported with adequate financial and institutional resources. Without these, NCAP will remain one of the many top-down programmes destined for failure. We must not allow this to happen. So, we must work to strengthen NCAP and institutionalise it for effective enforcement. Without strict enforcement, all other measures will fail.

* Ban single-use plastics: The pledge to ban all single-use plastics by 2022 is the single-most important environmental agenda put forth by the government in 2018. In 2019, this agenda must be put into action. At present, different states have differently interpreted the term “single-use plastics”. A national definition along with a comprehensive action plan, including the promotion of alternatives, should be put in place in 2019.

* Strengthen Swachh Bharat Mission: Governments come and governments go, but certain successful programmes must continue. Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is one such programme. SBM is at a crucial juncture.

Any laxity would jeopardise the gains made in the last four years. This year, therefore, SBM should be further strengthened so that cities are capacitated to move beyond cleanliness to sustainable waste management.

* National and State Action Plan on Climate Change: Under the Paris Agreement, countries have to develop their national action plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It has been a decade since India adopted its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC). The outcome has been mixed. While the National Solar Mission and the National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency have done very well, other missions under NAPCC have not progressed as expected. The SAPCC has not progressed beyond documentation. It is time we revisit NAPCC and SAPCC and develop a comprehensive framework to decarbonise our economy and build resilience to adapt to the changing climate.

* Implement National Action Plan on AMR: Antibiotic resistance is emerging as a major health threat. India adopted a National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance (NAP-AMR) in April 2017 to reduce the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials. NAP-AMR calls for all ministries, departments and stakeholders concerned to come together and implement the activities outlined in the plan. But the implementation has been very slow so far. Most states have not yet developed their action plans. Implementation of NAP-AMR must be a priority in 2019 as delays would mean jeopardising the lives of millions in the future.

* Get the Forest Policy and Act right: The draft National Forest Policy, 2018 (NFP-2018) needs a serious relook as it has failed to address the core problems with the forestry sector. In addition, the environment ministry has also started the process of amending the Indian Forest Act, 1927 (IFA), the bedrock of forestry-related regulations in the country. It is imperative we get both of them right. India needs a new forest policy and law that recognises the role and the potential of people to grow, manage, protect and use forests sustainably. This will create millions of jobs as well as protect forests better.

n National River Revitalisation Plan: It is not only Ganga that is polluted. All major and minor rivers are in the grip of pollution because of unsustainable withdrawal of water and untreated disposal of wastes. From Cauvery to Godavari, and from Sutlej to Yamuna, most rivers in the country need a revitalisation plan. Let 2019 be the year in which we unveil the ‘National River Revitalisation Plan’.

n Ban all Class I pesticides: Every year, thousands of people die due to accidental intake of pesticides. In fact, in 2014 and 2015, one person died every 90 minutes due to accidental intake of pesticides. Yet, we learn of these deaths only when a major incident takes place—for instance, the death of devotees after consuming pesticide-laced prasad in Karnataka in December 2018. Highly-toxic Class I pesticides are the biggest culprit. Sri Lanka banned all Class I pesticides in the 1990s, which has prevented thousands of deaths, and has not led to any negative effect on agriculture productivity. We should learn from our neighbours.

n Control desertification: In 2018, more than 50 dust storms affected as many as 16 states in northern and western India and killed more than 500 people. They chocked cities like Delhi for days. These dust storms are a symptom of increasing desertification in large parts of western and northern India. It is time we recognise this ecological disaster. We must initiate an ecological restoration programme focusing on land management, soil conservation and afforestation to halt and reverse desertification.

n Strengthen Pollution Control Boards: Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) are ineffective, incapacitated and getting archaic with every passing year. They are not designed to manage the pollution challenges of the 21st century. We cannot do without a front line environment regulatory authority. It is time we reinvent PCBs and build their capacity for effective monitoring and enforcement. Let 2019 be a year of implementation.

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