In a plastics world
Bending the rules
World Sparrow Day
In a plastics world
Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of presence of micro-plastics in drinking water.
(GS paper II)
- Plastics are now widely present in the environment, as visible waste along coastlines, in lakes and rivers, and even in the soil. The recent finding that microplastic particles are found even in ‘safe’ bottled water indicates the magnitude of the crisis.
- According to the UN Environment Programme, the global production of plastics, at over 300 million tonnes has overwhelmed the capacity of governments to handle what is thrown away as waste.
- Microplastics are particles of less than 5 mm that enter the environment either as primary industrial products, such as those used in scrubbers and cosmetics or via urban waste water and broken-down elements of articles discarded by consumers.
- Washing of clothes releases synthetic microfibres into water bodies and the sea. The health impact of the presence of polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate and other chemicals in drinking water, food and even inhaled air may not yet be clear, but indisputably these are contaminants.
- Research evidence from complementary fields indicates that accumulation of these chemicals can induce or aggravate immune responses in the body. More studies, as a globally coordinated effort, are necessary to assess the impact on health. It is heartening that the WHO has come forward to commission a review of the health impact of plastics in water.
- In n Nairobi, UN member-countries resolved to produce a binding agreement in 18 months to deal with the release of plastics into the marine environment. The problem is staggering: eight million tonnes of waste, including bottles and packaging, make their way into the sea each year. There is now even the Great Pacific Garbage Patch of plastic debris.
- India has a major problem dealing with plastics, particularly single-use shopping bags that reach dumping sites, rivers and wetlands along with other waste. The most efficient way to deal with the pollution is to control the production and distribution of plastics.
- Banning single-use bags and making consumers pay a significant amount for the more durable ones is a feasible solution. Enforcing the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, which require segregation of waste from April 8 this year, will retrieve materials and greatly reduce the burden on the environment.
- Waste separation can be achieved in partnership with the community, and presents a major employment opportunity. The goal, however, has to be long term. As the European Union’s vision 2030 document on creating a circular plastic economy explains, the answer lies in changing the very nature of plastics, from cheap and disposable to durable, reusable and fully recyclable. There is consensus that this is the way forward.
- Now that the presence of plastics in drinking water, including the bottled variety, has been documented, governments should realise it cannot be business as usual.
Question – The presence of plastics in drinking water must compel drastic action. Suggest some measures to address the situation.
Bending the rules
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of environmental clearance for the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project.
(GS paper III)
- The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal last year suspended the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) and asked the project proponent to make a fresh application.
- A year after the National Green Tribunal suspended the environmental clearance granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) the Expert Appraisal Committee (Infra 2) of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has overturned the NGT verdict and granted environmental clearance for the project.
- The Neutrino Observatory (INO), which is to come up in Bodi West Hills in Theni district, Tamil Nadu, is regarded as a symbol not just of India’s push for research in particle physics; it also signals the intent to nurture centres of excellence.
- Neutrinos are subatomic particles that are extremely difficult to detect. The laboratory cavern will be located 1,300 metres underground, with an access tunnel. The rock cover is necessary to minimise the naturally occurring cosmic ray backdrop.
- The project has become controversial on environmental grounds, given the proposed site’s proximity to the Mathikettan Shola National Park in Kerala’s Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot. However, considering the project’s national importance, the Environment Ministry had taken up the proposal for clearance as a “special case”.
- The green signal is conditional on getting the consent of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the National Board for Wildlife. Despite the 17 conditions laid down by the Expert Committee while granting approval, the manner in which the clearance was granted leaves much to be desired.
- The project has been approved under category B item 8(a) -building and construction projects of the Schedule to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006. But it should have been treated as category A as the project lies just 4.9 km from the national park in Idukki district of Kerala.
- The NGT had ruled that it was indeed a category ‘A’ project and the Tamil Nadu State expert appraisal committee also noted that it could not be appraised under category B 8(a) as tunnelling and other activities went beyond the scope of the section.
- According to the 2006 notification, projects or activities that come under category A require “prior environmental clearance” from the Environment Ministry. Side-stepping the EIA requirement on technical grounds both by the project proponents and the Ministry is surely not the ideal way to go about such matters.
- The importance of the project notwithstanding, treating it as a special case and bypassing the environmental clearance protocol sets a wrong precedent.
Question –India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), has been granted environmental clearance for the project. Explain the importance of the project for India,
World Sparrow Day
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of decline of the house sparrow.
(GS paper III)
- The house sparrow is now a disappearing species; these are declining for various reasons ranging from the destruction of its habitat to lack of insect food for the young and even the increasing microwave pollution from mobile phone towers.
- At present is efforts by a few individuals and researchers in scattered areas to count the number of sparrows and not a country-wide repository of data, a proper nation-wide bird monitoring system needs to be put in place.
World Sparrow Day
- The sparrow, especially the common house sparrow, is one of the most ubiquitous birds on earth and is also one of the oldest companions of human beings. It has, over a period of time, evolved with us. Fortunately, they are still found in abundance in many parts of the world.
- The house sparrow was once the most common bird in the world, but in the past few years, this bird has been on the decline over much of its natural range, both in the urban and rural habitats. The decline of the house sparrow is an indicator of the continuous degradation the environment around us is facing. It is also a warning bell that alerts us about the possible detrimental effects on our health and wellbeing.
- The world sparrow day is celebrated on 20th march; the rationale for celebrating World Sparrow Day is not only to commemorate the event for a day but to use it as a platform to underscore the need to conserve sparrows as well as the urban biodiversity. It will bring together individuals, national and international groups. It will also help in attracting the attention of government agencies and the scientific community to take notice of the need for the conservation of the common bird species and urban biodiversity.
- World Sparrow Day also has a broader vision to provide a platform where people who are working on the conservation of the House Sparrow and other common birds can network, collaborate and exchange conservation ideas which will lead to better science and improved results.
- It aims to provide a meeting ground for people from different parts of the world to come together and form a force that can play an important role in advocacy and in spreading the awareness on the need of conserving common biodiversity or species of lower conservation status.
- Merely saying that the numbers are going down is not the right approach, all the factors contributing to the decline need to be studied. “One issue is urbanisation and loss of agricultural fields. Also, the chicks of sparrows are very tiny and feed on insects.
- But, the insect populations itself is going down either because there are fewer plants which attract insects or the over use of pesticides, which kills them. Another problem is the lack of nesting and roosting sites. What we need is incorporating greenery in modern planning.
Bird monitoring programme
- Based on a research paper on ‘House sparrows and human settlements’, Gubbi Labs, a research collective, has started a bird monitoring programme in Bengaluru. “The paper did not have a comparative study of numbers over the years and was based on observations. To ensure our research is more scientific, we have started the monitoring programme.
- The goal is to run it for a long period of time and then compare data to see if the numbers of sparrows, crows and myna have really gone down in urban spaces,” said a researcher co-and author of the paper. Volunteers have been trained on bird sampling and data is being collected from places.
- However, monitoring the bird numbers also require active citizen participation. Nature Forever Society, which has been working on sparrow conservations since 2005, tried to organise a sparrow count to record its distribution in the country, but found few participants to come up with proper data. “Though we continue our efforts in this regards, our focus is primarily on stabilising the sparrow population and habitat creation,” said Mohammed Dilawar, founder and president of the society.
- People’s involvement in conservation efforts is absolutely necessary to succeed and it is possible in Bengaluru, which has a very active birding community. The society is trying to build public participation by organising awareness programmes in Cubbon Park, Lalbagh and Bannerghatta Biological Park. Working with the locals to install bird feeders and nest boxes can increase the number of sparrows.
Question –State the reasons for declining sparrow populations in India and explain why a Nation-wide bird monitoring system is need of an hour?