Mitras Analysis of News : 27-7-2017

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1.Back to waste basics (The Indian Express)

2.A mountain and a movement (The Hindu)

 

1.Back to waste basics (The Indian Express)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the need to have effective waste management system in India. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • In India with rapid urbanisation, the country is facing massive waste management challenge. The challenge of solid waste management in Indian cities is now receiving belated but welcome attention and about time too. Rising incomes and changing lifestyles are generating more waste and of a different kind, but we are yet to set up systems to deal with the build-up.
  • Due to sustained rapid economic growth, Indian cities are expected to only intensify their consumption patterns. However, India’s per capita waste generation is significantly lower compared to that of developed world. But the increase in waste generation as a by-product of economic development has led to various subordinate legislations for regulating the manner of disposal and dealing with generated waste.

Waste management in India

  • India suffers from both inefficient waste infrastructure and increasing rates of solid waste generation per capita, due in part to the country’s service sector driven economic growth. This presents a case where both issues of service quality and waste quantity need to be handled together. This is a unique situation that developing Asian countries like India are being confronted with and as such its solutions must also be unique.
  • Waste was not such a problem in India until the 1970s. In our rural areas, food discards were returned to the soil. Food leftovers were fed to animals and the cattle-shed wastes were thrown in a pit to decompose and become manure for the next planting season. This returned both NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) nutrients as well as micronutrients to the soil for healthy crops.
  • Urban food discards were also recognised as a potential resource, not a waste. In big cities like Bangalore, farmers would bring their produce to town for early-morning auctions, then move to the cement-ring waste bins at street corners and empty them to take back home and produce manure. In fact, they would fight over collection rights for this fertile resource. This age-old practice kept Indian soils rich in carbon, up to 4 per cent.
  • However all this changed with the beginning of the plastic era in the 1970s. As the bags became more common, poor quality, and disposable, we began throwing them away into our kitchen waste-bins. When farmers took such mixed waste to their farms, the fields wore a non-biodegradable plastic film, preventing rain from entering the soil and keeping seeds from germinating through them an example of negative urban-rural connectivity.
  • The management of solid waste through collection, processing, transportation and disposal in India is the responsibility of urban local bodies (ULBs). ULBs are responsible for segregated waste collection, transporting waste in covered vehicles, processing recyclables, separating domestic hazardous waste and disposing inert material in sanitary landfills.
  • But most ULBs in India struggle to provide efficient waste management services due to financial problems, lack of infrastructure and technology, and a lack of involvement from the private sector and non-governmental organisations.

Pollution

  • The rotting heaps of waste, denied oxygen from the air, emit methane which is over 21 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide. They generate ammonia and nauseating hydrogen sulphide leading to air pollution. The airless heaps also produce leachate, a black liquid oozing out from the waste.
  • Waste heaps without adequate exposure to air take 25-30 years to slowly decompose, continuously releasing methane and leachate. This leachate seeps down into the soil and contaminates open wells and after a longer time even reaches and pollutes bore wells through deep natural water channels.
  • When waste is dumped in low-lying areas or quarry pits, the hydrostatic pressure of so much water-logging forces the leachate into water veins even faster. There is no way to treat this deep underground contamination, which makes wells and bore wells unfit for drinking and even for irrigation for decades.

Challenges

  • Biodegradable waste and plastic, when mixed together, became waste and remained uncollected. Add to this the mixing of other dry waste and the debris from construction and demolition down the supply chain of waste, and this assorted mixed waste presents a major management challenge for the municipal authorities.
  • City managers forced to deal with this growing waste began collecting and dumping the same outside the city limits. Since nearby farms and villages did not want this mixed waste either, it often ended up along the sides of roads leading out of town.
  • Unlike many other countries in the region, Indian cities do not charge for waste collection and management, making it a financial burden for ULBs, while also leading to poor community participation in sustainability initiatives.
  • This result into inefficiencies such as unsegregated waste collection and low territorial coverage, as well as other issues health concerns including the collection and transportation of waste in open trucks, limited waste recovery and processing, and indiscriminate dumping at open dump sites without leachate treatment. These issues result in serious health damage and economic losses

Solutions

  • There is need to stop mixing biodegradable waste with dry waste (paper, plastic, glass, etc) and keep hazardous domestic waste completely separate. The segregation of waste at source into “wet” (compostable), “dry” (recyclable) and “sanitary” (disposable diapers and sanitary napkins) categories is now compulsory for all citizens of India in the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016.
  • The wet waste needs to be collected and processed daily, either composted at home or taken to nearby locations for decentralised composting or biogas production or taken to centralised plants. The correct way to manage fresh waste is to expose as much of it to air as soon as possible. For this worldwide they unload the waste in windrows.
  • Windrows are long low parallel heaps of waste, not more than two metres high, which are designed to achieve the best conditions for aerating the waste. Only parking-lot type management is required to guide incoming vehicles on where and how to unload their waste, moving slowly forward and leaving the waste behind in a long row.
  • Weekly turning of the waste, repeated at least four times, ensures that all parts of the waste are fully decomposed, like leaves on a forest floor, turning dark brown and with a sweet earthy smell. The process can be speeded up by the addition of composting bio-cultures (fresh cow dung or substitutes available in the market).
  • Fresh waste windrows heat up inside, to about 55°C to 60°C in three to four days. After four turnings, there is about 40 per cent weight loss as moisture content declines and also about 40 per cent volume reduction. After this, no leachate or methane or smelly gases are released, and this fully stabilised waste is called compost, rich in microbes as well as humus, both wonderful for soil vitality.
  • This bio-stabilising of biodegradable waste makes a city fully compliant with the SWM Rules 2016. Screening makes it more farmer-friendly and helps move useful fractions offsite to ensure continued long-term use of the same site for waste processing.
  • There are some examples how cities manage this problem. Suryapet in Andhra Pradesh was the first Indian city to process its wet waste, recycle its dry waste and leave nothing for landfilling. Vengrula in Maharashtra and Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu are the latest of over 20 urban local bodies to achieve near zero waste to landfill.
  • Installation of waste-to-compost and bio-methanation plants would reduce the load of landfill sites. The biodegradable component of India’s solid waste is currently estimated at a little over 50 per cent.
  • Bio-methanation is a solution for processing biodegradable waste which is also remains underexploited. It is believed that if we segregate biodegradable waste from the rest, it could reduce the challenges by half.

Way ahead

  • India confronted simultaneously with issues of service quality and waste quantity, an integrated approach to waste management is essential. While the Indian government’s current initiatives are focused on infrastructure development, Indian cities should aim to avoid future problems by addressing pertinent issues like systemic inefficiency, community participation in waste segregation, waste reduction and recycling.
  • Waste management is not only essential from a public welfare perspective but can also contribute to developing countries’ economic growth if the recycling industry is promoted alongside eco-industrial production.

Question Waste management remain an unaddressed agenda in Indian development plans. What is its importance for achieving the goals of Swachh Bharat? 

 

2.A mountain and a movement (The Hindu)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on importance of Western Ghats and why we need to protect its pristine diversity. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Older than the Himalaya mountains, the mountain chain of the Western Ghats represents geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes. The site’s high montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern. Moderating the tropical climate of the region, the site presents one of the best examples of the monsoon system on the planet.
  • However its richness, wealth and conservation efforts notwithstanding, the Western Ghats continue to host a whole range of serious and complex challenges.
  • The current year marks the 30th anniversary of the remarkable but relatively little known ‘Save Western Ghats March’ the march was an exercise in envisioning the future as it was an acknowledgement of the past of the extreme richness of this ancient mountain range that extends from River Tapti to Kanyakumari. 
  • A diverse set of people scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, activists, journalists and local communities marched together for 100 days along the length of ghats and met at a conference in Goa to discuss the issues.

Save Western Ghats March

  • Western Ghats is a mountain range that runs through the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Running parallel to the western coast and along the western edge of the Deccan Plateau, the hills cover over 1,60,000 square kilometre. And it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The Save the Western Ghats Movement (SWGM) was a landmark event in environmental activism in India. It was one of the first of its kind in the country and became the model for numerous campaigns all over India.
  • In 1986 a national consultation on environment was organised, during which it was decided to organize a march along the entire length of the Western Ghats, to focus attention on the urgent need to halt the process of degradation that was threatening to create irremediable damage to the entire area.
  • The goal was to create an integrated Ecological perspective providing for both environmental protection as well as the rights of the rural communities.
  • The immediate effects of the March were tremendous, with immense support generated all along the route march and elsewhere. The enthusiasm of the youth from all classes of society for the goals of the march was remarkable.
  • Unfortunately, the movement was not able to effectively capitalize on this enthusiasm and translate it into a force for a more sustainable and comprehensive alternative development process rooted in the local environment and based on the active participation of the people. There was no effective follow-up because the participating agencies and individuals were not able to reach a consensus on an action plan.

Biodiversity of Western Ghats

  • A significant characteristic of the Western Ghats is the exceptionally high level of biological diversity and endemism. The forests of the Western Ghats include some of the best representatives of non equatorial tropical evergreen forests in the world. The beauty of the landscape is unmatched, endemism in the forests is high, and nearly 250 million people living in peninsular India are nourished by the many rivers that originate here.
  • The Western Ghats are recognised today as one of the world’s top 35 biodiversity hotspots and for very good reason.
  • The mountain range is dotted by a number of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, tiger and elephant reserves and traditional sacred groves (devraiin Maharashtra, deverakadu in Kodagu and kavu in Kerala) that have existed for centuries.
  • The forests are also home to hundreds of globally threatened species, including rare and unique ones like the Malabar torrent toad, the Nilgiri langur, Wroughton’s free-tailed bat, the Nilgiri laughing thrush and many species of caecilians, the limbless amphibians.
  • Frogs have been a very important amphibian species of Western Ghats.  Fourteen new species of dancing frogs were discovered in 2014, and 12 new frogs have already been discovered this year.The frogs could be hugely useful for humans too; researchers, for instance, have recently found an antimicrobial peptide on the skin of the frog Hydrophylax bahuvistara that might be the next medicine for flu.
  • Frogs are also one of the most sensitive creatures and among the first affected by changes such as forest loss or climate change. They are critical ecological indicators and their discovery in larger numbers only suggests we have a larger responsibility.
  • Today, a large part of the range has been logged or converted to agricultural land for tea, coffee, rubber and oil palm, or cleared for livestock grazing, reservoirs and roads. In 1987, Save Western Ghats March offered a unique opportunity to understand the place and its people. It was an exercise in creative activism that might also be considered prescient, predating as it did the international recognition the Ghats have achieved in the last three decades. The idea of a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ was first articulated only in 1988.

Challenges

  • The Western Ghats continue to host a whole range of serious and complex challenges: unregulated mining is ravaging large parts; a number of rivers have been (and continue to be) dammed, resulting in the loss of riverine ecosystems and the submergence of pristine forests; a rapidly growing network of roads and rail lines is fragmenting forests; there’s habitat loss due to urbanisation; agriculture, plantations and the introduction of exotics is leading to a rise in human-wildlife conflict; and tribal communities continue to be marginalised with the loss of access to resources and livelihoods.
  • It is estimated that only a third of the mountain range is still under natural vegetation, and this too is highly fragmented and degraded

Way ahead

  • The Western Ghats are very important to peninsular India. They are home to the sources of major rivers like the Krishna and Godavari. Most of the plant and animal species found only in India are found in the Western Ghats. It has important horticultural and agricultural species and rich bio-diversity that helps in climate-proofing the region. There is need of essential to rule out incompatible activities such as mining, constructing large dams, and setting up polluting industries.
  • The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel reporting to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has made several salutary recommendations for the long-term conservation of this global biodiversity hotspot. The Save Western Ghats March from three decades ago remains hugely relevant the Western Ghats are unique, important and still under threat.

Question Western Ghats are not just a climate divide but also a cultural divide. Comment.

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