Workshop on Environmental Challenges


Workshop on Environmental Challenges

Date: 18 Dec 2018
Shri Madhav Gadgil, Founder, Centre of Ecological Sciences
Shri Ajay Mathur, Director General, TERI




Subject:      Environmental Challenges

Date:           18th December 2018

Venue:        BPST Main Lecture Hall, Parliament Library Building, New Delhi

Resource Persons:   Prof. Madhav Gadgil, Founder Centre for Ecological Sciences

                                      Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General, The Energy and Research Institute TERI



A workshop on the subject “Environmental Challenges” was held under the aegis of Speaker’s Research Initiative on 18 December, 2018. Prof. Madhav Gadgil, Founder Centre for Ecological Sciences and Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General, The Energy and Research Institute TERI were the experts invited to present their views on the subject.

Shri Rahul Dev, Honorary Advisor, SRI began the first workshop of the winter session by welcoming the experts and the Members of Parliament who were present. After giving a brief introduction of the resource persons, he called upon Prof. Madhav Gadgil to present his views on the subject.

Prof. Madhav Gadgil began his presentation by saying that he would share his experiences along with general principles  supported by three case studies. He started with the example of recent catastrophe  that had unfolded in the form of  Kerala floods. According to him the suggestions made by Western Ghats Ecological Expert Panel had been neglected altogether and opined that if  they had been considered and acted upon  the disaster could  have been averted.



In his  first case study he talked about the Hydro electricity project on the river Chalakudi in the  Athirappilly panchayat, district Thrissur, Kerala.  After detailed studies on this project the following conclusions were made:

1. It was found that  the expected generation of the power from the hydro resources was overestimated and the whole project was a negative energy project  i.e. spending more  to generate less.

2. After building this dam the waterfall would go dry and the  tourist spot would lose its attraction and eventually  the revenue.

3.  If the project had commissioned the irrigation near that region might have been adversely affected.

4. A large area of land would have been inundated, leading to  large  scale  unsettlement.

Citing  these reasons the Nagar Parishad  and village panchayats had passed a resolution and  axed  the project .

He further added that  one of the major reasons for floods was construction of huge number of dams without any technical and economic justifications. He pointed out that the lack of regular water level monitoring in the dams and reservoirs led to floods like the one that was seen in Kerala. He suggested that better rainfall predictions complemented with  scientific planning for storage of water in reservoirs could avert such situations. Further, he opined that the decision making processes in this regard should be decentralized and local population's views  and concerns should be taken into consideration and acted upon.



Prof. Gadgil took up " Kudumbashree " as his second case study and said “It is a programme in Kerala in which Women have formed a cooperative and taken up fallow lands for cultivation. This initiative has not only given them employment but also dignity of life and food security. These women could'nt afford the expensive chemical fertilizers so they have started using the organic ones making their product environmental friendly and organic”. He was of the opinion that Government incentivises chemical fertilisers in the form of subsidies which should be stopped and shifted to those who use organic inputs and natural methods of farming. Citing Australia he said that they already had a system like this in place. Similarly he felt that the issue of stubble burning in Northern India could also be resolved through this incentivisation model.



Speaking of the district Gadhchiroli in Maharashtra, Prof Gadgil said Forest Rights Act had been implemented in 2008 which had decriminalised the use of forest produce and had given ownership to the forest dwellers/tribals. He added that lots of lives had been benefited from the plantation of bamboo and tendupatta in this area. It had given them livelyhood with dignity. Gram Sabhas had been getting sufficient amount of money which was being distributed among Members setting aside a portion for village development, forest development and other such programmes. Concluding his talk he said that the solution to the environmental issues was not to criminalise  the voilations but to incentivise the good enviromental practices. He felt that by giving ownership rights and livelihood to the people we could encourage them to inculate practices which were in harmony with the nature.

Dr. Ajay Mathur focused on urban pollution which has become  a country wide phenomena . He said, " can observe this thick cloud of smoke from the skies of Himachal to Bangladesh and also in western part of  India , it is primarily because of emissions of coal based power plants, industries and households. The magnitude of this smoke forms a layer of cloud in the sky. Air Pollution is not the problem of Delhi or any one city but it is a nationwide problem...". He added that, secondary pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, urea, ammonia and other particulate matter had been added into the atmosphere. He was of the view that steps like clean fuel in the households, uninterrupted power supply could considerably reduce the air pollution. Citing the example of Chembur in Mumbai he said, "Due to Thermal and Fertiliser plant it had a severe air pollution". Therefore it was imperative to identify the sources of pollution in order to act upon them. Dealing with measures for Air quality improvement, he suggested the following key actions:

  • Launch and implement National Clean Air Programme [NCAP] for multi-scale and cross-sectoral coordination,
  • Draft conducive policies for shifting freight transport from road to rail, inland waterways, and coastal shipping,
  • Develop policies and programmes for vehicle fleet modernization,
  • Enhance public transport and electric mobility through the use of fiscal instruments (congestion tax, subsidies),
  • Develop regulatory frameworks for penetrating gaseous fuels in the industrial clusters,
  • Strengthen the capacities of pollution control boards for improved enforcement,
  • Develop policy support for sustainable business models  of collection, transport, storage, and processing of agriculture residues,
  • Develop specific policies for control of secondary pollutants- control of gaseous pollutants- ammonia from agriculture, Nitrogen dioxide from vehicles, sulphur dioxide from industries and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from solvent use,
  • Deploy policies for recovery of methane from landfills and Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs),
  • Regulatory mechanisms for supplying  24x7 electricity to eliminate diesel generators,
  • Enhance penetration of LPG/Electricity in rural households (more rapidly in the regions around urban hotspots).


Further, taking up the second domain of his talk about water pollution, Dr. Mathur listed the following issues pertaining to water quality:

  • Deteriorating water quality : pollution of rivers and lakes, groundwater,
  • Number of critically polluted stretches in rivers has increased to 351 from 302 between 2015-2017,
  • State of Maharashtra had the highest number of polluted river stretches i.e. 53 followed by Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, Odisha, West Bengal, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh,
  • Limited treatment capacity – STPs, Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETPs),
  • Limited drainage network,
  • Ineffective operations and maintenance,
  • Limited controls at source in residential and industrial sectors.


The following key actions of Water Quality Improvement were suggested:

  • Promotion pilot of schemes for scalable innovative wastewater/sewage management involving wastewater treatment, recycle/reuse, nutrient recovery & energy generation for the sewage from cities/drains,
  • Developing dedicated policies/schemes for promoting/mandating & incentivizing wastewater treatment, reuse/recycle in the states,
  • Promoting integrated MIS system with latest IT tools for real-time water quality monitoring & effective decision making,
  • Promoting control at source in both residential and industrial sectors.


Waste ( Municipal Solid Waste ) Related Issues

  • Waste quantities in water would  require around 1250 ha per year of land if disposed,
  • No source segregation, 40-50% of organics in waste stream,
  • Inadequate disposal – very few sanitary landfills,
  • Landfill gas emission and contamination of water and soil due to leachate,
  • High recycling rate of 60% was reported in India though most of it happens in informal sector,
  • High moisture content and low calorific value of organic fraction of Indian MSW makes it more amendable to biochemical conversion (composting and anaerobic digestion).


Suggested  Key Actions for the Waste Management

Waste to Compost

  • No compost testing is required if it is used locally e.g. at housing society level,
  • If compost is to be sold for commercial/agricultural use then every batch has to be tested for compliance with FCO,
  • This can be expensive as it requires around Rs 15000 per sample as is evident in Goa where annual income from compost sale is Rs 8000 as very less is sold as large quantity in not certified as per FCO,
  • This can partly be addressed by strengthening  laboratories set up for soil health card for regular testing of compost at reasonable cost.

Harvesting landfill gas(LFG)

  • As per the Global Methane Initiative, 10 large waste disposal sites including three in Delhi have potential of LFG extraction while closing /redeveloping,
  • Though LFG can be used for power generation, cheapest alternative would be to use it for thermal application much like PNG,
  • Disposal site requires capping before installing LFG capture infrastructure (65-70 crore per dumpsite),
  • Need to set up funds in line with superfund in US to redevelop/rehabilitate these dumpsites.

Landfill free cities

  • The ultimate aim of Urban Local Bodies(ULBs) should be to create zero landfill cities as locating site for new landfills is becoming problematic,
  • This can be ensured by good waste segregation and processing each kind of waste separately
    • Recyclables for recycling, cement co-processing, road laying,
    • Organics for composting or anaerobic digestion preferably closer to the sources,
    • Inert and treatment rejects in construction activities.


Climate Change

  • India’s Green House Gas (GHG) emissions more than doubled between 1990 and 2015 (+147%), and the trend is expected to continue,
  • However, at a per capita level, India’s GHG emissions remain well below the world’s average emission level.


Key mitigation policies and actions

  • ENERGY: India’s recently adopted National Electricity Plan to install 265 GW renewables by 2027, which would place India ahead of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target (40% non-fossil based power) by 2030. Whereas, Perform Achieve Trade (PAT) scheme for industries has already achieved a savings of 8.67 million tonne of oil equivalent under cycle 1.
  • TRANSPORT: Dedicated freight corridors, vehicle fuel efficiency program, emission standards and Faster Adoption and of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme have been fast-tracked to curb emissions from road and rail transport systems.
  • BUILDINGS: Key policies targeting commercial sector including Energy Conservation Building Code have a 17% to 42% energy savings potential, thereby mitigating consecutive GHG missions.
  • FORESTRY: The Government is currently revising its forest policy to align it with India‘s NDC. The draft policy aims to have at least one-third of the total land area under forest and tree cover.
  • OTHERS: India has released its draft India Cooling Action Plan, which aims to cut cooling demand by 20%-25% by 2037, thus curbing a source of huge growth in electricity demand and high Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerants.


Issues and Solutions

  • India is extremely vulnerable to climate change, particularly due to the increased variability in weather patterns, increased floods, and droughts
  • It is important to prioritize policies that yield greater de-carbonization without compromising the developmental imperatives of the country,
  • India’s ambitious NDCs can be achieved by various means of implementation (technology, finance, capacity) requiring multiple policy instruments which can bring large scale transformative change,
  • Need to percolate national policies and targets to the states and actors,
  • Energy efficiency improvements,
  • Regulatory policy frameworks to create demand  and scale for energy efficient technologies,
  • Energy transition,
  • Technology for stationary electricity storage and evolved markets for low-cost storage based applications will be key drivers,
  • Hard-to-abate sectors (heavy duty transport and industry) together represents 40% of carbon emissions from energy systems,
  • Improved energy efficiency, greater logistics efficiency and some level of modal shift for both freight and passenger transport could reduce the size of the transition challenge.


He then concluded his presentation and the floor was open for a question-answer session.

A Member raised an issue as to why we had not thought of positive incentives for environmental friendly conduct and also curtailing negative regulations. In response Prof. Madhav Gadgil replied that we in India had to seriously start discussing this issue and make way for legislation for this after consultations with various sections of society.

A Member from a tribal constituency asked, “...In hindsight, implementing Forest and Tribal Rights Acts some people with vested interests are diverting the land to commercial use and eventually resulting in deforestation. How can a public representative prevent this from happening?...”

Prof. Gadgil replied that cases like these were an example of people mistaking Forest Rights Act 2005 as a individual right than community right. He urged the public representatives to make sure that this misinterpretation is removed and rights of the community are given priority.

One Member said, "politics have destroyed more forests than anything else since independence". He added besides forests being destroyed considerable damage has also been done to animal population. In this context he lauded schemes like Ujjwala Yojna and said, schemes like these will gradually reduce the use of  wood as house hold fuel. Similarly he felt that there should be alternate material for building houses.

Disagreeing with this, another Member is intervened and said, "Dudhwa National Park which comes in his constituency  and close to India Nepal border the area under forest cover has actually increased. He said in this area there are 38 revenue villages and each having a population close to 40 thousand, but  despite human settlements the area under forest cover has increased".

On the issue of stubble burning popularly known as parali a Member suggested that it could be addressed through following initiatives:

  • Better equipment for harvesting,
  • Bio waste to Bio Gas Generation,
  • Bio waste  as a feed to domestic animals,
  • Incentivizing cooperatives to buy costly harvesting machines.

In response to a question raised by one of Members as to how much air pollution was being caused by cars, Dr. Ajay Mathur  replied that only three percent of the total air pollution was caused by cars. He suggested that better car upkeep, introduction of Bharat Stage fuels, Biofuels policy, old vehicles scrapping policy, amendments in Motor vehicle Act, electronic vehicle policy could check air pollution in metropolitan cities.

            Thereafter, the workshop concluded.