Depleting Forest Cover & Rising Air Pollution
In the contemporary global order more than fifty per cent of the world population is already urbanised and this figure is expected to touch 68 per cent by 2050. Alongside such high margin of industrialisation and urbanisation, there has been a disproportionately massive surge in the global air pollution levels as well. While air toxicity levels frequently reach alarming rates across most mega cities of the world, it is a dismaying reality that the top seven most polluted cities across the globe are in India. In fact about 1.2 million people die annually in India due to health complications triggered by air pollution. In 2017 New Delhi became the most polluted city in the world with the air quality index touching a whooping high of 999 as per statics rolled out by SAFAR (Systems of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting). Since then in each subsequent year, the winter months have spelt a disaster for the already existing pollution levels in north India. In September 2019 the Delhi Government announced a 25 per cent reduction in air pollution in Delhi. This came as a much needed respite to the people. However, despite the stringent moves implemented by the government like reducing stubble burning in the agricultural belts of Punjab- Haryana and the odd even road rationing scheme, once again as we stepped into the last week of October, reports of declining air quality in the states of north India started making news. In the last two days Delhi is experiencing a worsening of the thick smog blanket which is hovering around it. As an emergency move the government has decided to close all schools for a couple of days. The air quality index in Delhi for the last two days has been recorded at a whooping high of 582.
Even small towns and cities in the north Indian belt bare no exception to this reality. The city of Dehradun, known for its picturesque beauty and pleasant weather just a few decades ago is witnessing an excessive decline in its air quality since the last few years. Not only vehicular emissions but also the dust and debris emanating from massive construction which is taking place in the capital city have contributed to the poor quality of air. The particulate matter pollution index in Dehradun during the last weeks of October kept fluctuating around 80 but suddenly doubled itself in the last few days of the month. This was potential enough to pose a health hazard to the individuals in the medically sensitive groups.
Among the most determining causes of such debilitating pollution levels across India are vehicular emissions, unregulated factory effluents, rural coal and wood burning and stubble burning practices. However most of these causes are a mere superficial starch on the face of the problem. To work towards a more sustainable and deeper solution an in-depth analysis of the issue becomes pertinent. Air quality in several Indian cities is declining rapidly due to disruption of carbon dioxide and oxygen balance in the atmosphere. While the levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and other green house gasses are becoming more concentrated in the environment, the level of oxygen is declining perpetually. As plants and trees are solely responsible for renewing atmospheric oxygen, a decrease in their number has caused ecological toxicity. In fact this can be termed as an environmental hypercarbia.
Therefore deforestation continues to be the biggest evil among all anthropogenic causes behind rising air pollution. In Dehradun massive hectares of forest lands have been diverted for development projects in the last ten years. As the city comes to terms with a humongous swelling of its inhabitant and migrant population, a clearing of its green areas to provide for commercial as well as residential setups has become a common practice. Areas such as Rajpur Road, Sahastradhara, Tapovan and others, which were the green lungs of the city before it was made state capital have undergone massive concretisation in the past couple of years. The forest department has been carrying out selective clearing of forests under the forest management plans from time to time. The reasons range from curbing the forest fires to construction activities. Lately the state forest department is also considering shaving off hectares of Chir trees due to their combustible nature and replacing them with oak varieties. In fact the practice of clearing old trees for commercial reasons and later replacing them with new plantations is highly common and decades old in our country. This is the cause of the major carbon dioxide and oxygen imbalance in our ecology. The volume of carbon sequestration done by old trees is much higher than that done by newly planted trees. Besides, those species of trees which yield most amount of oxygen like Banyan, Mangnifera Indica or Ashoka are seldom planted as a replacement for the old ones. The removal of existing forests has also lead to a reduction in biodiversity of the region. A shrinking tree population is the most prominent cause of heavily polluted air in Dehradun.
The insufficiency of forest cover combined with copious vehicular traffic has intensified the poor quality of the air. The inability of the transport authorities to put a ceiling on new registrations of vehicles in a particular year along with a small road capacity are also huge contributors to air pollution in the city. There is a reason why countries like Bhutan have completely banned any cutting of their forests, even for residential purposes. Therefore they have been able to maintain an oxygen surplus ecological equilibrium. Similar initiatives have to be adopted by the government in our country as well to protect the existing forest resources. It is a cardinal responsibility of people to ensure that all activities which worsen air pollution are reduced if not completely avoided. Routine carpoolings,proper emission testing of all private vehicles, planting trees on barren lands and road sides are few initiatives people must adopt to prevent air quality from deteriorating further.Open burning of garbage and waste piles which is banned under the Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2016 is still frequently carried out by people. This should be made strictly punishable as it contributes tremendously to air toxicity. Our old trees and forests are the oxygen pumps of the environment. Removing them and planting new ones in their place is not a logically devised development mechanism. We can not expect human life to flourish by suffocating the delicate ecological balance which the Earth was naturally disposed to have.
(The author is a retired civil servant)
Monday, 04 November 2019 | Neeraj Kumar Pande | in Guest Column
Author: Neeraj Kumar Pandey
You might also like
- Picking smarter programs Is Simple November 9, 2019
- Ayodhya verdict today at 10.30am November 9, 2019
- Guv, CM greet people on State Foundation Day November 9, 2019
- Document, digitalise State history & culture: Irani November 9, 2019
- Celebratory state foundation week a farce- UKD November 9, 2019