A First-Of-Its-Kind Magazine On Environment Which Is For Nature, Of Nature, By Us (RNI No.: UPBIL/2016/66220)

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Mr VN Garg

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

Mr VN Garg

Mr VN Garg

Mr VN Garg

Why noise pollution goes unheard in India?

 The world Health Organization (WHO) has recognized noise as one of the major factors affecting the health of the human population. We are all subjected to some form of loud noises for a considerable amount of time during the day. The madness created by loudspeakers during festive times as expression of happiness is well known to us. Noise pollution leads to serious health threats like hearing loss or impairedness, increasing stress levels, behavioural and mental problems, insomnia, heart ailments, hypertension and many more.

 According to the WHO, for maintaining concentration in any classroom, noise in the room should not exceed 35dBA. For a sound sleep, the noise in that room should not be more than 30 dBA. The noise level more than these limits on a continuous basis, may harm mental as well as physical health on a short term and long term basis. Unfortunately, noise pollution is not taken as a serious issue.

The major sources of noise pollution are:

1. Honking noise from vehicles

2. Loudspeakers

3. Construction activities

4. Trains and aircraft noise

5. Community events and processions

In March 2011, the CPCB established the noise pollution monitoring network in 35 major cities of India including all the metros like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chennai. The system is a part of the National Environmental Policy adopted in 2006.It is expected that the number of locations to be monitored will be increased in a phased manner to 160 cities covering various parts of India. 

Under this monitoring Network ,the   Central Pollution Control Board ,conducted  real time continuous  ambient noise monitoring  at 35 locations  in nine cities  with populations of over a million each  including Delhi, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Bengaluru  and Hyderabad. Data was collected for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. As per CPCB study “maximum violations of prescribed limits were observed in Mumbai followed by Lucknow, Hyderabad, Delhi and Chennai.” Bengaluru and Kolkata have observed the least number of violations with respect to the prescribed norms, the study added. The analysis was released in the first week of February, 2016.Mumbai has the highest and Lucknow has the second highest noise pollution among the major cities.

The legal provisions for controlling noise pollution in India are Indian Penal Code (Section 268,290,291), Criminal Procedure Code (Section 133), Factories Act, 1948, Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, Law of Torts, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Environmental Protection Act, 1986. Under Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, noise has been included in the definition of air pollutant. Under the Environment Protection Act, the Central Government came up with Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000, which were to be implemented once they got published in the official gazette.

These rules relate to: 1.Implementation of noise standards in different zones or areas. 2. Restrict the use of loud speakers. 3.  Restrict the over-usage of horns, sound cracking equipments for construction and fire-crackers. 4. Allotting responsibility to State Pollution Control Boards or Committees and the Central Pollution Control Board for collecting, processing and providing the data about the noise pollution, so that adequate measures may be taken to prevent and control it.

On the violation of these rules, the person shall be liable for penalty as per the Act.               The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 were last amended in January, 2010 to reduce noise levels at night and from public address systems.  The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000 were amended in 2010 to include the words “sound crackers and sound polluting instruments”. The amendment also defined public place as any place which the public has access to, and night time as period between 10pm and 6am. It amended the Rule 5 of Noise Rules 2000 to add “and sound producing instruments” after “Public address system” in the headline. In these cases, a written permission is necessary for using such equipment. District Magistrate, Police Commissioner and other officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police are implementing authority under the Noise Rules, 2000.The State Government has been empowered to grant permission to use loudspeaker on or during any cultural or religious festive occasion of limited duration not exceeding fifteen days in all during the calendar year. But such relaxation is not permissible between 12am and 2am midnight.

The Supreme Court bench in Re: Noise Pollution vs. Unknown case in 2005 banned the use of loudspeakers between 10pm and 6am in public places (except in emergencies).The decibel level of megaphones or public address systems should not exceed 10dB (A) above the ambient noise standards for the area, or 75 dB (A), whichever is lower.

Noise can have a detrimental effect on wild animals. It may cause the death of certain species of Whales. 

Despite rules and regulations, enforcement against noise pollution is extremely lax.  The government is now working on devising new noise pollution standards.         The noise standards for all the sources in conjunction with the enforcement of the proposed ambient noise standards and legal sound insulation requirements shall be a vital step in fighting the noise pollution in India. There are no city-wise noise pollution mitigation plans.

The State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) need to do this planning for monitoring ambient noise levels 24x7, like what they do for air quality. Proper measures should be undertaken to avoid long-term noise exposure to school children susceptible to higher noise levels during the mass –drill events. Traffic  policemen should be provided with ear-muffs  so as to avoid  hearing loss due to  their prolonged  exposure to  long-term  traffic  noise. Awareness among general public in maintaining a “noise-free community” is a must. Participation of NGOs and social websites in creating awareness and education people about noise and associated health hazards shall be a great step in this regard.

The noise grievances cell as a part of State Pollution Control Boards should be proactive in receiving, analysing and taking action on complaints. Establishment of these noise grievances cells in each district and helpline number for easy accessibility and freedom to file a complaint can be a proactive step in this regard. Socio-acoustic surveys , noise impact assessment studies  due to various noise sources  and noise monitoring  during festival days like Diwali,  should be conducted in parallel to quantify  the noise impact and assessment of induced noise annoyance.

Measurement of Noise Pollution: Those of us who have smart phones can download the free App noise meter onto our smart phone, measure noise and photograph the measurement. We can then use this evidence to complain to State Pollution Control Boards, Police and state government. On their part, the authorities should take action so that the noise pollution is prevented in future.


May 2017

Need to improve Environmental & Climate Literacy          

Earth Day was first celebrated in the US on April 22.1970. It is widely regarded as the beginning of modern environment movement. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson was the founder. His idea was “to create an all-day teach in” on environment issues. April 22 was also the birthday of conservationist John Muir. (Also Lenin’s birthday). Inspired by the students’ anti-war movement, Nelson realized that if he could combine student energy with the emerging public consciousness about the environment, then it could be propelled into a national political agenda.

Gaylord Nelson died in 2005 at the age of 89 years. In 2002, the institute for Environment Studies in the university Wisconsin (Madison) was named Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.  Nelson also wrote a book “Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise”. In its foreword, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote: “You show me pollution and I will show you people who are not paying their own way, people who are stealing from public, people who are getting the public to pay their costs of production. All environmental pollution is a subsidy.”

 Theme of Earth day 2017 is “Environmental and Climate Literacy”. We can be very high scorers in our academic examinations but we may not have literacy of environment and climate change. The idea of Earth Day 2017 is to impart this special literacy to the school and college students from April 22 to April 29. Earth Day network has kept a goal of Global climate and environmental literacy by April, 2020.  Earth Day is now observed in 192 countries. Ultimately, all education is meant to result in citizen action. “Literacy is the engine that will propel people beyond becoming just voters and advocates but also accelerating green technologies and jobs”. This earth day marks the first anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement.

A special flag has been associated with Earth Day. It has photograph of the whole Earth taken during Apollo10 space mission in 1969. Dr Margaret Mead carried the Earth Flag with her wherever she appeared from 1969 until her death in 1977.It has a dark blue field made from recyclable polyester.

Humans are consuming natural resources at an alarming rate. In the past couple of decades, we have consumed more resources annually than the Earth can replenish. This is unsustainable. It will cripple the planet and threaten the living conditions of future generations. We have to reduce the individual ecological foot print.

Law-makers and business leaders are turning a blind eye to the impending environmental crisis caused by human actions Earth day celebration is a strategy: To co-ordinate teach-ins where citizens will gather to learn about local issues, and develop the civic engagement techniques to take action. We need to engage in public policy so that we achieve the change we need. What kind of technology we want, what kind of green jobs that we need to create what kind of policies and laws we need to nurture sustainable development.

On this Earth Day, we need to focus on local environmental issues as well as global issue of climate change. What are the next steps that we must take?

1. Hold a teach-in in your community;

2. Hold a tree plantation event in your community. Or donate to plant a tree. Deforestation contributes to species extinction and poverty and is responsible for up to 15% of the global greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Planting trees is one of the easiest and most important ways to fight climate change;

3. Start a group on face book and start an active dialogue. Provide people with an opportunity to make their voices heard;

4. Invite questions from the audience;

5. Voice our views and proposals about policies related to climate change and environment;

6. Use less paper;

7. Recycle your bags for shopping;

8. Reduce the amount of energy that you consume;

9. Eat less meat .The meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man –made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Limit your meat consumption .Barbara Hendricks , Germany’s Environment Minister  announce on 21 February , 2017  that her ministry “will no longer be  serving meat , fish or  meat-derived products  at official functions  because vegetarian food is  more climate-friendly  than meat and fish”;

10. Create healthy Indoor air quality in schools;

11. Find ways to protect hearing and health of kids against noise pollution;

12. Count down your Carbon foot print .Individual as well as collective efforts are needed;

13. Reduce waste in school. Reduce waste of paper. Reduce wastage of food. Reduce wastage of water and electricity. Turn off lights when you leave a room .Turn off your computer and other electronic devices when you are not using them .Buy items with less packaging;

14. Donate clothes, books and food;

15. Drive less. Walk more; use bike and public transport more;

16. Recycle paper.63% of paper in the USA is recycled. However, paper can only be recycled if each person makes an effort to dispose it of properly in recycle bins. On an average, a person in the US uses more than 700 pounds of paper every year;

17. Stop using disposable plastic. Take the pledge to stop using disposable plastic—bags, bottles, packages. Only about 10% of this plastic is properly recycled and reused. The rest ends up as waste in landfills or as litter in our natural environment, where it leaches dangerous chemicals into the nearby soil and water, endangering human and wildlife alike;

18. Human population needs to be controlled,

19. Open air nuclear weapons tests and nuclear fallout,

20. DDT, Pesticides, Chemical fertilizers need to be eliminated. Organic farming must be encouraged;

21. Death of rivers is taking place by getting mixed up with the industrial toxic materials;

22. Phase out Thermal power plants and install solar power plants;

23. Protect forests, national parks;

16. Increase your knowledge of Sustainable goals.


What is greenhouse effect?

The earth gets energy from the sun, heats up and then gives off energy in a different form, called infra-red radiation. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap some of this energy before it escapes to outer space, warming the atmosphere. But people’s activities are adding extra greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. So the greenhouse effect is becoming stronger and the Earth is getting warmer.

Carbon dioxide levels are rising and this leads to temperature increase.


Below is the chart of Carbon dioxide in Parts per Million (PPM)

Year                 Carbon dioxide Parts per Million.

1979                                    333.68

1980                                    335.55

1981                                    337.14

1982                                    338.38

1983                                    340.25

1984                                    341.82

1985                                    343.18

1986                                    344.26

1987                                    345.39

1988                                    347.96

Signs of Global warming and climate change:

1. Rise in sea levels

2. Stronger storms

3. Droughts

4. Wildfires

Thus, it would be in our benefit to wake up now and start some remedial measures. We must realise that discovering life on Mars and establishing colonies on the Moon would not be of much use if we rob our Living Planet of its life force. Then, just organising events and attending them would not suffice; we must make our actions speak louder than our words. This consciousness is required at every level, from domestic setup to municipal bodies to the administration and finally the government. One example shall explain my meaning. In India, segregation of waste is not a done practice despite rules and regulations. Thus, even if a household duly separates its waste into bio-degradable and semi/non bio-degradable, the safai worker would mix the two as he has ‘instructions’ to carry the ‘entire load’ of domestic waste together. Here is where the awareness and proper training is required to change this ‘unbiased’ approach towards garbage segregation.


March-April 2017

Endangered species & ecosystems

The numbers of many animals and plants are decreasing at an alarming rate, and some ecosystems are in danger of being destroyed forever. The so-called development activities of human beings have increased the rate of species extinction from 100 to 1000 times the natural rate. The most common reason is the loss of habitats due to human activities and expanding farm or grazing land. In addition, where unemployment is high, locals often resort to hunting, poaching and illegal logging simply to make their ends meet. Sometimes, illegal international trade in products based on wildlife is a major factor responsible for extinction of certain species.

Since some extinction is natural, why should we stop it? This is because eco-systems provide us with a host of things which we cannot do without. So in view of a fast rate of extinction of various species, we should protect them. It is important that we begin to see human society and wild ecosystems as one inseparable whole. This is the rationale behind conservation movement.  Biodiversity loss requires far higher priority and action than the loss of a few endangered species. There is a need to look at ecological processes such as migration and do a holistic examination of biodiversity including population and ecosystem diversity. Extensive biodiversity loss threatens the wellbeing of humanity by limiting supply of ecosystem services that is provided by the network of genetic and ecosystem diversity.         

India has about eight percent of the world’s biodiversity, making it one of the 12 mega-diversity countries of the world.  Out of the 1.75 million species globally identified, around 1,26,188 species have been reported so far from India. With about 89,000 species of animals and 46,000 species of plants and nearly half the world’s aquatic plants, India faces a formidable challenge of protecting diverse habitats and ecosystems. Some of the rarest animals found in India are Asiatic Lions, Asiatic Wild Ass, Bengal Fox, Gaur, Indian Elephant, Indian Rhinoceros, Marbled Cat and Markhor. The total number of tigers (more than 1.5 years of age) estimated in India in 2014 was 2,226.

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 is our national initiative to protect wildlife. The act provides for the establishment of a Wildlife Board at the state level as well as national level. It also provides for the setting up of Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks. India has 670 protected areas, out of which 517 are wildlife sanctuaries, 102 are national parks, 47 are conservation reserves and 4 are community reserves. The act also makes hunting of wild animals a punishable offence.

The Biological Diversity Act, 2000 also strives to protect and conserve the biodiversity and endangered species of India.

India is a prime target of organized illegal international trade in wildlife and wildlife parts /derivatives. Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) was constituted by Government of India in 2007 to complement the efforts of the states and coordinate the actions of central and state agencies in enforcement of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The WCCB is a multidisciplinary body with officials from police, forest, wildlife, customs and other intelligence and enforcement agencies. The Bureau has its headquarters in Delhi, five regional offices at Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, and Jabalpur. It has three sub-regional offices at Guwahati, Amritsar and Cochin; and five border units at Moreh, Nathula, Motihari, Gorakhpur and Ramananthapuram.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has organized research stations across the planet to monitor the extinction crisis. The IUCN provides annual updates on the status of species conservation through its Red List. The Red List provides a global index on the status of biodiversity. India became a State member of IUCN in 1969 through the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The IUCN India Country Office was established in 2007 in New Delhi.     The Red List of 2012 contains 132 species of plants and animals in India listed as critically endangered.

WWF lists the following 8 animals as flagship endangered species in the world: 1.Tigers; 2. Pandas; 3.Sumatran Rhinoceroses; 4.Polar Bears; 5. Whales; 6.Pygmy Elephants; 7. Marine Turtles; 8 Great Apes.

In India, species under threat are as below:

  1. Hornbill.
  2. Pariah kite and white-backed Vulture.
  3. The Lesser Florican.
  4. Tiger.
  5. Indian Elephant.
  6. Asiatic Lion.

Two important species have become extinct in India in the twentieth century. The pink-headed duck became extinct in 1935 and the cheetah in 1949.The conversion of tall terai grasslands into agricultural field was one of the major reasons for the disappearance of the duck. The cheetah also disappeared due to the loss of its habitat in open forests and grasslands.

            The Wildlife Protection Act does not respond to the issues of marine and coastal biodiversity. We need a separate marine conservation act. Crucial changes in the marine ecosystem will have massive repercussions on our land ecosystems. We are woefully unequipped to tackle the threats that confront marine species.

An international treaty to help protect endangered wildlife is “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species” (CITES), 1975. The treaty has now been signed by 150 countries. The convention recognized that wildlife is an irreplaceable part of natural systems of the earth and it must be protected by all means. Its main features are as below:

1. CITES lists 900 species that cannot be commercially traded as live specimens or wildlife products, as they are in danger of extinction.

2. CITES restricts trading 2,900 other species as they are endangered.

3. This treaty is limited as enforcement is difficult and convicted violators get away by paying only a small fine.

4. Member countries can exempt themselves from protecting any listed species.

            In addition to CITES, we had United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992.

We can and should protect endangered species as citizens in some of the following ways:

  1. We should learn about endangered species in our area.
  2. We should visit a national wildlife park or a zoo nearby. We should go wildlife or bird watching in nearby parks.
  3. We should slow down when driving.
  4. We should never purchase products made from endangered species like Tortoise shell, ivory, coral, fur from tigers, polar bears, sea otters, crocodile skin, live parrots, medicinal products made from rhinos, tiger or Asiatic black bear. This also requires public awareness against demanding magic potions, exotic foods and products from endangered species. This can help in controlling illegal wildlife trade.
  5. We should protect wildlife habitats, parks, wildlife refuges. Logging, overgrazing and development impacts should be minimized.

      Indian constitution has included protection and improvement of wildlife as a part of fundamental duties of every citizen. Let us join hands with the worldwide conservation movement and contribute in protecting our biodiversity, endangered species and ecosystems.


 Feb 2017
Mining, human safety & environment
There was a cave-in of an open cast mine at Lalmatia mines of Eastern Coalfields Ltd in Jharkhand on December 29, 2016 in which 23 workers were buried and their bodies were later recovered. This is one of the country’s worst mining disasters in recent times in terms of casualties as well as in terms of the size of the slide. The accident   took place when a ‘mountain’ of earth formed by the ‘overburden’ of the dug out in the open cast mine caved in. According to the Director General of Mines safety (DGMS), the management of Eastern Coalfields Ltd despite the clear signs, like cracks developing and getting wider, did not remove the workers and the equipments out of bounds. This is an example of how mining can prove to be a disaster to human beings working there.
Minerals are raw materials for a number of important industries. They are non-renewable natural resources. The extraction of minerals from nature is called mining. Mining often affects the environment adversely. Therefore, mining has to be done keeping into view the overall objectives of economic development and environmental preservation. The mining sector in India employs more than one million workers. The main minerals produced in India are Iron Ore, Bauxite, Chromite, Limestone, Coal and Copper ore.
Mining affects environment in four ways: 1.Air; 2.Water; 3.Land; 4.Health and Safety.
Air: Surface mines may produce dust from blasting operations and haul roads. Many coal mines release Methane, a greenhouse gas. Smelter operations with insufficient safeguards in place have the potential to pollute the air with heavy metals, sulphur dioxide, and other pollutants.
Water: Mining throws Sulphide containing minerals in air, where they oxidise and react with water to form Sulphuric acid. This impacts ground water, both from the surface and underground mines.
Land: The movement of rocks due to mining activities and overburden impacts land severely, as happened in Jharkhand recently. These impacts may be temporary where the mining company returns the rock and the overburden to the pit from which they were extracted.
Health and Safety: Underground mining is hazardous because of poor ventilation and visibility and the danger of rock falls. The greatest health risks arise from dust, which may lead to respiratory problems and from exposure to radiation, where applicable.
Since 1973, seven mining disasters have taken place in India. In February 2001, 30 miners lost their lives inside Bagdigi mines in Bihar. Every year, many mine workers lose their lives in mining accidents in India. Widespread illegal mining at government and private mines accentuates the problem. Mine sites which are no longer in use are also a major environmental challenge.
The historical  and ongoing conflict between  mining and conserving  environmental resources  will continue to exist  in future  as India’s forests, mineral bearing areas, major river watersheds, tribal habitat regions and most backward regions overlap significantly in the states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
Among regulators in the sector, Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) has the mandate to play a proactive role in minimising adverse impacts of mining on the environment by undertaking environmental assessment studies on a regional basis. Under the environmental regulatory regime, undertaking mine level Environment Impact Assessment (IEA) and formulating management plans (EMP) are mandatory for seeking Environmental Clearance (EC). Under EIA Notification 2006, mining projects that have a lease area more than 50ha in size are classified under category A and need EC from National Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority, created with MOEF in the Government of India. Mining projects that have a lease area between 5ha to 50 ha are classified as Category B projects and require EC from SEIAA created with respective Department of Environment in the State government. Mine leases smaller than 5ha in size are not covered under the EC process initiated by EIA Notification, 2006. A majority of the mines that have lease areas less than 5ha and do not fall within the purview of EIA Notification 2006, though their data is not available, especially in the minor mineral sector. Illegal mining that continues unchecked also adds to the number of mines that operate without prior environmental and social assessment and appraisal by appropriate authorities.
The following mining regulations provide for environmental protection by integrating it as part of mining plans:
1. Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. Section 4A provides for powers to terminate lease holdings in case found detrimental to environment due to mine operations. Section 18 provides for ensuring environmental protection along with mineral development.
2. Mineral Concession Rules 1960: Section 22(5) states that mining plan shall incorporate environmental assessment and management.
3. Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, 1988: Chapter 5 covers the environmental protection issues comprehensively.
State Minor Mineral Concession Rules stipulate environmental protection as basic and minimum requirement for quarry license issuance and operations.
     Significantly, the mining regulations cover all mines that operate legally unlike environmental regulations which do not cover mines less than 5ha in size. However , lack of enforcement  of mining sector  regulations  have rendered the above provisions  in different mining regulations  ineffective  and notional  in terms of management of  environmental and social  impacts.
In Uttar Pradesh, unfortunately, mining department is allegedly involved in encouraging illegal mining so much so that the High Court on July 28, 2016 ordered for a CBI probe into alleged illegal mining in the state, including the role of government officials in facilitating the same. The case of suspension and subsequent revocation of suspension of an IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal in September 2013 was also connected with her efforts to stop illegal mining. There was large-scale illegal sand mining on the Hindon and Yamuna river banks in Gautam Buddh Nagar. This  was responsible  for soil erosion  and changing the natural flow of the Hindon  and the Yamuna  which shifted its course by about  500 metres  towards East  and posed a threat to  flood embankments  in six sectors of Noida. This illegal sand mining was due to high demand for sand for increased construction activity. When officers led by Nagpal impounded vehicles and machinery used for illegal mining, arrested illegal miners and lodged FIRs with police, she was suspended and after reinstatement, was shifted out of Gautam Buddha Nagar.
             The above is just an indication of how the mining department in one state has been encouraging illegal mining and thereby encouraging the destruction of ecology and environment. The situation is similar in many other states where illegal mining, encroachment of forest areas, underpayment of government royalties, conflict with tribals regarding land rights are rampant due to nexus of political, bureaucratic and mining mafia, playing a havoc with the ecology and environment. But there have been voices against such operations from the civil society, which are growing louder and louder with time, as public awareness rises. The department of Mines as well as Ministry of Environment and Forests, both at the Centre and at the States’ level, have to act in a co-ordinated and determined manner to protect environment, ecology and human lives from mining.

Jan 2017

Drinking water contamination in India

Many children and adults in villages near Obra industrial belt in Sonebhadra district of Uttar Pradesh suffer severely from various serious diseases due to pollution in drinking water. Many stories have been published in media from time to time but the situation still remains of serious concern.

The water we drink has to be free from contamination .Otherwise; it can pose a major health problem. 37.7 million Indians are affected by water borne diseases every year. As a result, there are many deaths. About 1.5 million children die of Diarrhoea alone every year.73 million working days are lost due to water borne diseases every year.

About 80% of our drinking water needs are met by ground water and remaining 20% from surface water.  Water quality is affected due to:

1. Over-exploitation of ground water and poor recharge

2. Sewage discharge

3. Discharge from industries

4. Run off from agricultural fields. Use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides

5. Urban run off. Lack of sanitation

6. Floods and droughts

7. Lack of awareness among users. Cultural and religious practices

About 94% of the rural population and 91% 0f urban population have access to safe drinking water in India, claims the government.

In India, 1, 95,813 habitations are affected by poor water quality caused by fluoride and arsenic and other contaminations. In many habitations, Iron is also emerging as a major problem.  The extent of contamination is as follows:

S.No.          Contamination                        Number of Habitations affected

1.             Arsenic                                      7067

2.             Fluoride                                   29070

3.             Iron                                        104437

4.             Nitrate                                     19387

5.             Salinity                                      2425

6.             Multiple Problems                   23427

    (Source: DDWS, MORD, Govt of India)

            In terms of population, around 10 million persons are   at risk due to Arsenic in ground water while about 66 million persons in 20 states are at risk due to excess Fluoride in the ground water. It is clear that overexploitation and poor recharge of ground water is the most important factor causing drinking water contamination.

The next major factor responsible for contamination of drinking water is the pollution caused by increased use of fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture. This pollutes both the ground and surface water.

The third important cause of contamination is the pollution of ground water as well as surface water caused by discharge of untreated industrial effluents. This has resulted in  contamination of ground water with heavy metals like  Lead, Cadmium, Zinc , Mercury  in states like Gujarat , Andhra Pradesh , Kerala , Delhi and Haryana, though the problem is present in many other states as well.

The fourth major factor is   the wide use of   chemicals like DDT, which are called POPs. (Persistent Organic Pollutants).In India, the annual consumption of DDT is 10,000 metric tonnes. Ground water in some locations in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi have DDT and other POP levels in excess of prescribed standards. The following is the details of adverse health impact of various contaminations in drinking water.

S.No.   Name of Contamination Parameter   Health Impact

1.         Fluoride                                              Digestive disorders, skin diseases, dental              

                                                                        Fluorisis. Larger doses over a period of

                                                                        10-20 years results in crippling, and

                                                                        Skeletal fluorisis (severe bone damage)

2.        Arsenic                                                 Acute poisoning, vomiting, oesophageal

                                                                         and abdominal pain, and bloody rice

                                                                        water diarrhoea. Long term exposure

                                                                        causes cancer of the skin, lungs, urinary

                                                                        bladder and kidney. There can also be

                                                                        skin changes such as   lesions.


                                                                        pigmentation changes and thickening.

3.        Iron                                                      Poisoning effect, damaging lung tissues.

                                                                        Digestive disorders, skin diseases and

                                                                        Dental problems.

4.        Nitrate                                                  Causes Blue Baby Disease where the

                                                                        skin of infants becomes blue due to

                                                                       decreased efficiency of haemoglobin to

                                                                       combine with oxygen. It may also

                                         increase risk of cancer.

5.         Salinity                                               Objectionable taste of water

                                                                       May affect osmotic flow and

                                                                       movement of fluids.

6.         Heavy metals                                     Damage to nervous system, kidney, and

                                                                       Other metabolic disruptions.

7.         Persistent Organic Pollutants            High Blood Pressure, hormonal 

                                                                       dysfunction, growth retardation.

8.         Pesticides                                           Weakened immunity, tumour formation.

                                                                       Reproductive and endocrinal damage.


Lack of sanitation is another cause of contamination of drinking water. Open drains and disposal of solid waste near sources of water may lead to the presence of Ammonia and Coliform bacteria in the drinking water source. Prevention of water contamination at source is necessary to ensure the potability of supplied water. The Total Sanitation Campaign (Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan) launched by Government of India is a step in the right direction.

Cultural and Religious Practices:

Another cause of contamination of drinking water is immersion of idols in surface water bodies .This is one of the main causes of rivers pollution in India. In addition, burning of dead bodies on the river ghats, defecation on the boundaries of water bodies results in bacteriological and other kinds of water contamination.

Need for   stricter water quality monitoring:

Though larger cities have their own laboratories for testing water, this facility is not available in smaller time and rural areas. There is a need to create better institutional framework for water quality monitoring and data processing for smaller town and rural areas. In India, BIS is responsible for drafting the standards pertaining to drinking water quality.

What can be done to improve the situation?

Safe drinking water is the basic need of every human being. Right to safe drinking water is a part of fundamental right to life granted under article 21 of the constitution of India. Some of the landmark judgments of Supreme court of India in this regard are:

1. State of Karnataka vs State of Andhra Pradesh (2000)”Right to water is right to life and thus a fundamental right”.

2. Narmada Bachao Andolan vs Union of India (2000)”Water is a basic need for survival of human beings and is part of right to life and thus a fundamental right”.

  In most of states of India, panchayats have been given the responsibility to prepare plans and execute these plans for providing drinking water to the population.

Government is the main agency which must and can make arrangements to provide safe drinking water. In 1950, the Constitution of India conferred ownership of all water resources to the government, specifying it as a state subject, giving the citizens the right to potable water. First National Water Policy was drafted by the Ministry of Water Resources in 1987. There are many departments of government both at centre and in the states which must act together. We need to improve the availability of water along with adequate water recharge. We need sanitation and hygiene education. This needs an integrated approach and co-ordinated action of departments of rural development, Panchayati Raj, minor irrigation and ground water, irrigation, urban development and medical and health. In turn, these departments have agencies like Jal Nigam, Municipal corporations, Panchayats, Ground Water Boards. A further coordination is needed between these agencies. Government must make the service –providers accountable.

                Though civil society has a big role in creating awareness about the need to have safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, government needs to support awareness drives for preventing contamination of water sources. It also needs to set up well equipped water quality testing laboratories and provide well trained staff to man these laboratories. It also needs to generate data in respect of water quality and make it available in public domain. This requires the technology of Geographical Information System (GIS).Though Panchayats and local communities have been made responsible for providing safe drinking water, government must build the capacities of these Panchayats and communities.

            Let us resolve to work to ensure that every citizen of India gets safe, pure drinking water in the next ten years.


Dec 2016

Organic farming boosts natural biodiversity

In conventional agriculture we use chemical fertilizers and pesticides to improve productivity. But it has its adverse impacts on environment, quality of food and health of consumers. Organic agriculture, on the other hand, has environmental sustainability at its core, in addition to concerns for healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. In organic agriculture, farmers use compost and manure and use non-synthetic pesticides, often only when other pest control measures fail. Practices such as crop rotations, inter-cropping, organic fertilizers and pesticides, minimum tillage, returning crop residues to the soil, the use of cover crops and the greater integration of nitrogen –fixing legumes are central to organic practices. These practices improve soil formation, control soil erosion and encourage soil flora and fauna to grow. Nutrient losses are reduced, helping to maintain and enhance soil productivity.

Many doubts and questions have been raised from time to time whether organic farm products are really more nutritious than the products of conventional agriculture and also whether organic agriculture has really substantial benefits for environment.

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