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Global Warming - India never takes it serious

"Although experiencing the worst impacts of Climate Change, India is still debating over issues like global warming and conservation of biodiversity. The country now plans to adapt to the effects of global warming and chart a development path that will help avoid the worst impact of climate change. The path chart is expected to be finalised by the prime minister's task force on climate change in February or March this year."

HNF Bureau : January 12, 2008

The Bali summit to discuss the issue of climate change and its connection with global warming ended without arriving at a final solution approach. The issue received a cool and secondary response from nations who were expected to take a lead in arriving at a concrete plan to deal with the issues of climate change and global warming. Although experiencing the worst impacts of Climate Change, India is still debating over issues like global warming and conservation of biodiversity. The country now plans to adapt to the effects of global warming and chart a development path that will help avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The path chart is expected to be finalised by the prime minister's task force on climate change in February or March this year.

The finalising body is expecting some last minute inputs that may come in from the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) scheduled here early February. Organised by The Energy and Resources Institute every year, the DSDS theme this year is sustainable development and climate change.

Since climate change is now the issue of global concern, everyone is awaiting India's plan. The development path charted by this country will have a major impact on the global environment this century.

Other critical environmental issues too await the attention of India's policymakers in 2008.

The ministry of environment and forests (MoE&F) has made an announcement that air quality in industrial areas must be the same as in residential areas. On implementation, this would give People living near factories a better breath of life.

Now, ambient air quality standards in India for major pollutants in most areas are an annual average of 60 micrograms per cubic metre of air of sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) that are small enough to enter the lungs, 140 micrograms of suspended particulate matter and 2 micrograms of carbon monoxide per cubic metre. The latest report of the Central Pollution Control Board reveals, sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen are within these limits in the 17 largest cities of India, but RSPM levels are not, while carbon monoxide levels remain high in most of these cities.

The board has pointed out that the major sources of RSPM are vehicle exhausts, generator sets, small-scale industries, kitchen cooking - especially when fuel wood and dung cakes are used, and the dust particles generated by traffic movement. The rising levels of carbon monoxide are mainly due to vehicle exhausts.

The aim in 2008 will be to enforce the standards in industrial areas. India is second to none when it comes to tough environmental standards to combat pollution. But proper execution of environmental law and standards is still a hard task.

This is very much evident from the state of the Yamuna river which, despite a plethora of laws and clean-up schemes, turns into a toxic drain as it flows through the national capital. Thousands of tonnes of residential garbage and industrial effluents are dumped into the river everyday.

This year, the Commonwealth Games Village may come up on the river's floodplains despite the best efforts of green activists. Its long-term effect on the ecosystem remains to be seen.

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Another fractious issue may be taken up - an amendment to the coastal regulation zone. Right now, no one can build within 500 metres of the high water line, a requirement that displeases the hospitality industry because they think it is too restrictive while it displeases the environment activists as they think it is not restrictive enough. An amendment is overdue and expected in 2008, though MOE&F officials are not very sure if it would actually be brought about and which way it would go.

Also, there is no consensus on the equally crucial need of preserving India's biodiversity, except few lip services. Two divisive debates on this are expected in 2008.

The first will be about the National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP) drafted by the MoE&F, which has sought public comments on the draft. Most of the experts who had worked on earlier drafts of the plan are incensed by what the ministry has put out finally. To them, it as not an action plan, rather a listing of things done already plus some platitudes.

'The 2007 NBAP is substantially similar to the 1999 national policy and macro-level strategy on biodiversity. About half the 'actions' proposed in it are the same as proposed in 1999. Most strategies picked up from the 1999 document have not been elaborated’, said Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh.

Other, the second, issue is about the government's decision to notify the law that gives forest dwellers some rights over forest products keeping Tiger reserves out of the ambit of the law. This decision is quite dissatisfying to the people who live in and around forests and who have long been demanding for their rights over the forests and forest produces. Some NGOs support the demands of the dwellers saying that the locals are the best custodians of the environment while few others oppose such claims as they believe the only way to save India's forests is by ensuring that no people live inside them at all.

The debate will continue in 2008, and may turn bitter once the much-awaited tiger census report is out this month. A resolution is essential, as the country's first-ever National Forest Commission has pointed out that India is losing its forest cover at an alarming rate. When the last reliable estimates were made, forests covered 69.02 million hectares in India, 22.6 percent of the country's land area that can be utilised.

As for the tiger, most experts expect the new census will show no more than 1,400 of them in the wild in the country, a truly alarming situation for the largest of the world's big cats.

 

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