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Making India Green – It’s Not Just About Increasing the Forest Cover

climate change

India has become greener in the past two years. This was the key summary of the India State of Forest Report 2019, released some time back by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Forest cover has especially grown beyond the restricted areas in two years – the survey found an increase of 4,306 sq km of forest cover outside the RFA/GW as compared to previous assessment of 2017.

Several other positive takeaways have emerged from the Forest Survey Report:

  • Forest cover in the hill districts of the country is 2,84,006 sq km, which is 40.30% of the total geographical area of these districts. The current assessment shows an increase of 544 sq km (0.19%) in 140 hill districts of the country.
  • Mangrove cover in the country has increased by 54 sq km (1.10%) as compared to the previous assessment.
  • There has been an increase of 42.6 million tonnes in the carbon stock of the country from 2017. The annual increase is 21.3 million tonnes, which is 78.1 million tonnes CO2 eq.
Continued Commitment to Environment

Increase in forest cover is just one of the many ways in which the government has shown its commitment to environment and sustainable development. The government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, has always stated its intentions to fight climate change and air pollution in various ways:

  1. The target for 175 GW renewable energy by 2022, set in 2015 by the government, which was revised to 500 GW by 2030, serves the twin purpose of mitigating carbon emissions and preventing air pollution from burning of fossil fuels.
  2. Through the Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), the Government has reduced the overall energy consumption and consequently avoided carbon emissions by successful implementation of such schemes as the UJALA for energy efficient lamps, replacing old energy consuming pumps with new energy efficient pumps for fields and solar pumps, and retrofitting more than 10,000 buildings with energy efficient appliances.
  3. There is a renewed push to electric mobility, with a target of 15% electric vehicles by 2024 and 30% electric vehicles by 2030. Tax incentives, subsidy for electric vehicles under FAME scheme, de-licensing of public charging infrastructure for its promotion and adoption, permit exemptions to vehicle registration, and MUDRA loans for e-rickshaws are also provided by the government.
  4. Environmental standards were renewed and made more stringent for several large industries like cement, thermal power, sugar mills, pulp and paper, fertilizer, and dyeing industry among others, accounting for new technologies available and the global standards. Further, standards were announced for several other industries
  5. The National Clean Air Program was launched by the Government of India, aiming to reduce air pollution by 30% by 2024. The Prime Minister’s Office is directly monitoring the implementation of the plan.
  6. The government also passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 and realized the mechanism set up by the Supreme Court to ensure that money collected from the users of forest areas can be utilized for artificial regeneration (plantation), assisted natural regeneration, forest management, forest protection, forest and wildlife related infrastructure development, wildlife protection and management, supply of wood and other forest produce saving devices and other allied activities

This has not come at the cost of ease of doing business in India. Environmental clearance process has become much streamlined over time, with the standardization of terms and conditions for projects in 25 sectors, ending several discrepancies found earlier in the process.

Namami Gange – Huge Strides Taken

While decades of effort to clean up the Ganga went down the drain, conscious and pragmatic efforts of the Modi government have borne fruit. Steps to regulate the minimum ecological flow as well as commencement of large projects like the diversion of Sisamau drain along with afforestation along the river basin are helping to clean up the river. Visible differences have started to emerge in the quality of the river, as evidenced by the improvement in the river specie diversity, especially the slow but improving recovery in Gangetic River Dolphin populations.

Emphasis on Swachh Bharat – For All to See

The massive increase in access to sanitation facilities achieved by the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, as well as the clean up of cities with the help of better solid waste management techniques is for all to see. These are leading to transformations in people’s lives never seen before. With over 16 crore toilets being built in rural and urban India, and door to door collection of waste reaching more than 80,000 wards in urban India, things are looking upwards.

Clearly, the government has contributed towards building a better future for all of us.