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Summer & Acidic Rain

POLLUTION CONTROL MUST

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

People need to brace for a hot gruelling summer and heat wave conditions in parts of the country. Predictions are that temperatures this summer would increase between 1 and 1.50 degrees. In fact, summer has already set in fast, from mid March onwards with temperatures soaring to 40 degree in some cities. The scientific studies about global warming have become a reality, more so in the Asian and African countries, affecting low and middle income countries. Thus, this year would again be the hottest summer on record, at least in India.

Moreover, with the summers becoming extremely hot and humid, the type of rainfall received, which incidentally has been decreasing, would add to the woes. A recent report pointed out that due to pollution, rain water has become acidic in many parts of the country, particularly in the past decade, as per research conducted by the India Meteorological Department and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorological.

Analysis collected from different parts of India — in the north, central south and east — in the decade 2001-2012 showed pH level varying from 4.77 to 5.32, indicating that these places have been receiving acid rain. As is well known, rainwater with pH below 5.65 is considered acidic.

The acidity in rainwater can reduce soil nutrition, which means that these nutrients are not available to plants and crops, and also increase heavy metal concentration in soil, thereby affecting agricultural production and productivity. Apart from this, acid rain may have a corrosive effect on monuments and buildings, specially old ones.

According to the study, Mohanbari rainwater pH had worsened 16 times while Allahabad has fallen 28 times and Pune 2.5 times. The increase in sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides due to rise in coal and fuel consumptions as a result of oil refineries, power plants and rapid increase in vehicles have largely been responsible for rain becoming acidic. The problem has aggravated due to increase in acid neutralising alkaline components in the atmosphere. The coverage of open land with buildings and mechanical ware due to urbanisation has obviously hindered the release of calcium from soil dust into the atmosphere.

Experts are of the opinion that with industries increasing as also the vehicle population the situation may become worse in the coming years. Though it is being said nowadays there are no urban forests worth mentioning while trees are being cut for various reasons, which could have salvaged the situation to some extent. One may mention here that Bengaluru, capital city of Karnataka, which was once christened the ‘Garden City of India’ can no longer be called so.

There is very little endeavour on the part of municipal or developmental authorities to take steps towards checking warming and its attendant effects. One may mention here the case of the East Kolkata Wetlands where every attempt is being made to encroach it by unscrupulous developers in connivance with politicians. A recent study undertaken by the South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE) with International Water Management Institute, Colombo (IWMI) found that from 2005 to 2015 the city “lost 53 per cent of its peri urban wetlands and currently 86 per cent of the stretch of Adi Ganga flows below the average environmental flow volume”.

Meanwhile, a World Bank and University of Leeds report, the city already stands third on the list of cities prone to flood risks and climate disasters. Experts believe, and quite rightly so, the city can be saved from a very possible flood disaster if the wetlands, which are the natural drainage system, are conserved and protected.

The obvious reasons for temperatures rising is thus not very difficult to find. But the tragedy is that there is very little being done by the respective municipal authorities or the respective State governments to understand the gravity of the situation and take necessary steps in this regard. Though most State governments have a minister to look after environmental concerns as also a State pollution control board, it is difficult to know what role they have been playing.

Keeping in view the above scenario, there is need for urgent action. Just saying in the media the need for planting more and more trees would not do, there should be a concerted plan to ensure that at least twice the number of trees destroyed each year for whatever reason should be planted immediately. Trees have various advantages, which include absorbing carbon dioxide, keeping the climate cool and ensuring rainfall.

Moreover, there should be every attempt to reduce congestion in the central business district by dispersing activities to other areas of the city. Heavy vehicles, specially trucks, should not be allowed to enter crowded city limits while these vehicles are forced to confirm to emission and other environmental standards and heavy penalty imposed for any violation. Added to all this is the need to ensure that clean fuel, preferably CNG, is used by most vehicles.

Additionally, there should not be any encroachment of open spaces in the metros and big cities at any cost. Experts and even a section of city planners have been talking about all this for years, but very little action has been taken thus far. Whatever action has been taken till date is due to the strictures passed by the Supreme Court. But even then, State governments are trying to delay the process of strict enforcement by citing various alibi.

There can be no doubt that climate change has emerged the biggest challenge to human race. The impacts are not just confined to warming but also to severe cyclones, floods etc. The changes are altering the vulnerability of coast and hinterland, obviously affecting the poor and the economically weaker sections in a big way. One may mention here that an estimate of the Council on Energy, Environment & Water (CEEW), IIM, Ahmedabad found that India lost $30 billion from extreme weather events in the last five years.

Simultaneously, while consumption and waste have been increasing, the capacity of nature’s resource pool and waste sink, have been treated as free goods, of no value. The result has been that resources have been dwindling and pollution reaching unimaginable heights, leading to different adverse effects of global warming. Thus, it is time that whatever measures that have been framed by environmental experts and policy makers are judiciously adhered to and the authorities at the Centre and in the States have to be tough in monitoring this action.

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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