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Special Content


Issue no 36, 02-08 Dec 2023

Combating Pollution

Through Vigilant Action and Awareness

 

Dr. Mukesh Khare                                                                                                   

Ms. Shraddha Gupta

 

The world is undergoing rapid change, driven by advancements in technology and under-standing, leading to unprecedented progress in various domains. Despite this forward momentum, a persistent global challenge exists in the form of pollution, casting a shadow over our progress.

 

Defining Pollution: To understand pollution, let us take into consideration two widely accepted definitions. The Environmental Protection Act, 1986, enacted by the Government of India, defines environmental pollution as: "The presence of any solid, liquid, or gaseous substance in the environment, in such concentration as may be, or tend to be, injurious to the environment." Similarly, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)  defines pollution as "Any Substances in Water, Soil, or Air that degrade the natural quality of the environment, offend the senses of sight, taste, or smell, or cause a health hazard, impairing the usefulness of the natural resource by the presence of pollutants and contaminants."

National Pollution Control Day - A Catalyst for Change: Recognising the need for addressing the detrimental impacts of pollution and implementing strategies to mitigate its effects, National Pollution Control Day is observed on December 2nd every year in India. With the goal of drawing public attention to the consequences of pollution, the day serves as a motivational platform, inspiring individuals, industries, corporates, institutions, and government organisations to adopt eco-friendly practices and contribute towards building a sustainable and pollution-free future.

The inception of National Pollution Control Day traces back to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, a pivotal moment in India's environmental history. On the night of December 2nd, 1984, a catastrophic Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) gas leak occurred at the industrial facilities of Union Carbide India Limited in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. This event resulted in a significant loss of lives, with thousands perishing due to exposure to the deadly gas, while countless others suffered lifelong health complications. In response, the Government of India designated December 2nd as National Pollution Control Day to honour the victims and emphasise the need for pollution control measures.

This day serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of pollution prevention and the implementation of early hazard warning systems in industries. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy underscored the urgent need for stricter pollution control measures and increased awareness about the potential dangers of industrial accidents. Following the incident, the Government of India enacted the Environment Protection Act in 1986 to promote environmental conservation and prevent pollution.

Objectives of National Pollution Control Day: The primary objectives of National Pollution Control Day include raising awareness about managing and controlling industrial disasters, preventing pollution from industrial processes or human negligence, and educating the public and industries about the significance of pollution control laws. To achieve these goals and foster environmental awareness, a range of activities is organised across India on this day.

These activities encompass awareness campaigns and seminars that aim to educate the public about the sources, types, and impacts of pollution. Workshops and training programmes are also conducted to empower communities with knowledge and skills for sustainable practices. Tree plantation drives focus on increasing green cover, preventing soil erosion, promoting afforestation, and mitigating the effects of air pollution. Simultaneously, cleanliness drives address waste management and maintaining clean surroundings, while competitions and exhibitions engage students and youth in environmental conservation efforts. The organisation of these sensitisation programmes enhances understanding of the impact of pollution on health and the environment.

Modern Approaches to Awareness and Collaboration: Moreover, in today's age of social media, raising awareness is facilitated through various social networking platforms. The incorporation of new-age technologies, such as interactive and immersive learning experiences, has proven helpful in reaching a broader audience, particularly the younger generation. Active engagement of youth in environmental campaigns and initiatives empowers them to become agents of change. Collaborations with industries, national and international organisations, to promote sustainable practices and integrate pollution control measures into their operations, are crucial. Outreach programmes in rural and marginalised communities, along with partnerships with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) play a pivotal role in raising awareness about pollution prevention and sustainable living.

Socio-Economic Impact of Pollution: When examining the impact of environmental pollution on India's socio-economic development, we find that it not only poses threats to human health and well-being but also acts as a hindrance to economic growth and progress. Pollution is implicated in various health issues, ranging from respiratory diseases and cardiovascular problems to cancer and malnutrition. A recent incident of severe smog engulfing Delhi-NCR, escalating the Air Quality Index (AQI) to the severe category, resulted in respiratory problems among residents, causing irritation in eyes, nose, and throat. The severity of the situation led to the closure of educational institutions, disrupting daily schedules, reducing productivity, and increasing healthcare costs.

Water pollution presents critical challenges, including threats from microplastics and the leaching of Bisphenol A, release of toxic chemicals and residues from pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs), and untreated wastewater causing a scarcity of clean water. Polluted water entering soil systems can degrade land productivity by altering soil chemistry (salinity, pH, etc.), impacting food security and livelihoods. The dumping of wastes and chemicals in landfills, such as discarding radioactive wastes and untreated solid waste like lithium used in the manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles, leads to soil pollution. As the world strives to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), these polluting agents hinder the fulfillment of goals like SDG 2  (Zero Hunger), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), SDG 6: (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and SDG 15: (Life on Land), etc.

Environmental Governance in India: Over the years, the Government of India has introduced several Acts to strengthen the country's pollution control and management regulations. Environmental compliance in India entails adherence to various laws and regulations related to pollution control. The enforcement and compliance of these regulations involve a collaborative effort among statutory bodies, government agencies, the judiciary, and the public. Stringent measures are in place to ensure that industries and individuals comply with pollution control norms, with penalties imposed on violators. Key Acts related to environmental conservation and pollution prevention include the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (aimed at preventing and controlling water pollution), the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (focused on preventing and controlling air pollution), and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (providing a legal framework for environmental protection and pollution prevention).

Pollution Control and Management in India fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF & CC), the central authority responsible for formulating and implementing environmental policies and regulations. Operating under the MoEF & CC, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), as a nodal agency, oversees the monitoring and control of air and water pollution nationwide. Concurrently, State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) handle pollution control within their respective states. These regulatory bodies conduct regular inspections, issue permits, and monitor industrial activities to ensure compliance with environmental standards, with non-compliance resulting in penalties, facility closures, or legal actions as required.

COVID-19 - Lessons Learnt: In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a prolonged lockdown in the country, offering a unique case study on the impact of reduced human activities on environmental pollution levels. With industries temporarily closed and reduced vehicular movement, there was a significant decline in both air and water pollution. This temporary reduction in global pollution levels underscored the immediate positive impact of reduced human activities. The COVID-19-induced lockdown emphasised the importance of sustainable practices and the need for long-term strategies to combat pollution, revealing the potential for positive change when communities, industries, and policymakers collaborate for a common cause.

Reflections: The establishment of National Pollution Control Day, rooted in the tragic Bhopal Gas Tragedy, serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of neglecting environmental responsibilities. It also signifies a commitment to prevention, awareness, and the formulation of stringent regulations for pollution control. The lessons learned, especially from the recent global pause during COVID-19, evidently show the potential for positive change when collective and collaborative efforts are made for sustainable living. By adopting eco-friendly practices, promoting awareness, and fostering collaboration, we can pave the way for a future with a cleaner, greener India, where the lessons of the past guide us towards a sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

The authors are Professor Emeritus, IIT, Delhi and Junior Research Fellow, IIT, Delhi. Feedback on this article can be sent to feedback.employmentnews@gmail.com

Views expressed are personal.