Experts at the 2nd World Environment Summit 2021 are in synch while suggesting that Strategic Actions on War Footings are the need of the hour to Address the Monumental Challenge of Air and Water Pollution in India –

Delivering his Presidential Address at the valedictory function of the 3 day World Environment Summit-2021 eminent academician Prof Pritam B Sharma said “We are meeting at a highly opportune time, when we are rapidly recovering from Covid-19 Pandemic and are ushering a new wave of Endemic here in India and around the world. However, as we come out from the deadly pandemic, we should not lose the sight of the lessons learnt and thus we need to necessarily redesign our pathways of growth and development hereafter to ensure that we do not go back to the same world that we left behind, the pre-Covid world, where we were mindlessly pushing our growth and development without fully taking care of the interest of man and Mother Nature”. We surely should not wish to go back to the world where the air quality was so much questionable that it caused a colossal loss of 7 million plus human lives world-wide per year due to outdoor air pollution alone (Lancet 2019) of which two third of death due to air pollution occur  in the developing economies that includes 1.7 million here in India, he said.   Added to this, millions more suffer from diseases caused by water pollution. As per WHO 2019, 80% diseases are caused by water pollution. 3.1% of total deaths around the world are caused by water pollution alone. Thus, the cause of sustainability in our redesigning of our pathways for growth and development cannot be over emphasized.

The return of the blue skies during the Covid-19 lockdown were a clear reminder that if we, the humans fail to protect the health of the environment, the Nature knows how to clean its environment!. The colossal loss of life, man-hours lost due to illness and diseases and enormous expenditure that we incur on the health care services to tackle diseases caused by environmental pollution are yet to be properly accounted in our developmental economics to understand the bliss, happiness and prosperity that is attainable if we pay our sustained attention to maintaining a good health of the environment.

World Environment Day 2021 (Picture credits: Amity)

Our forefathers understood this nexus between the environmental health and human health very well and that is why they integrated together the interest of man and the interest of Mother Nature in their developmental goals to create a happy and prosperous India that was the Golden Eagle of the world. But make no mistake we have not lived up to those values of sustainable practices in our post independent India,even tough that we had all the opportunities to do so as a nation free from the foreign rule.

But it is still not too late now that we have an opportunity to create a New Normal for our developmental economics and pathways of happiness and bliss in our human life. I must add that while the advancements of Science and Technology have undoubtedly done a great service to the mankind the world over, but our mindlessness and neglect of the conservation of environment and protection of environmental health has also created utter distress and a great penalty on environmental as well as human health. We are paying a great price for the neglect of the environmental health, said Prof Sharma who is currently the Vice Chancellor of Amity University Gurugram.

As far as India is concerned, on one hand we have great opportunities of accelerating India’s economic growth to make it $5.0 Trillion Economy by 2024, on the other we have a monumental challenge of tackling of Air and Water Pollution in India. With 09 out of 10 world’s most polluted cities being in India as per IQ Air Report 2020, we have the gigantic task of mopping out Air Pollution from our mega cities and industrial towns, state capital and satellite towns. A sense of great urgency on part of the government and the society at large is required to mount strategic actions on war footings to put the house in order.

“We need to effectively curb this madness and cultivate the ‘spiritual power of science’ that shall provide both the capabilities of modern science but also the attitude and inspiration to serve the interest of man and that of Mother Nature together”, opined Prof Sharma.

We have seen how Covid-19 lockdown resulted into putting a brake on our quest to destroy ourselves by our unabated discharge of deadly pollutants in air, in water and also destroying the natural biodiversity and ecological balance. The return to the blue sky during Corona Lockdown and improved quality of air and the significantly improved quality of water in our holy rivers, Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari and Kaveri have clearly compelled us to seriously pause and ponder over our responsibility to protect Environmental health, in turn assure human health and provide national and global economies the vital strength to reconstruct new trajectories of growth and development that shall conform to the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs that all nations of the world have committed themselves to attain by 2030.

I am sure this World Environment Summit has succeeded on creating the  vital thrill, excitement and firm commitment and resolve to make this promised transformation a reality by our strategic plans and sustained actions that we wish to submit to the governments of nations around the world. Prof Sharma lauded the launch of Swachha Bharat-2.0 Abhiyan by the Hon’ble Prime Minister on Mahatma Gandhi ji Birthday on 2nd October where in a commitment to achieve the goal of  Kachramukta Bharat, ie “Garbage free India”. It was also heartening to note that the Swachha Bharat-2.0 also aims to achieve the target of Zero discharge of untreated sewage or untreated waste water in our rivers and water bodies in India, This is highly commendable and is achievable considering the great mass awakening and effective waste collection and disposal that the Swachha Bharat Abhiyan achieved highly successfully during the past 3 years, said Professor Sharma who is the Past President of AIU and Founder Vice Chancellor of DTU and RGTU.

We need no reminding that currently it is so frightening to note that almost 70% of sewage in India is being discharged untreated into the water bodies and river streams.As per the CPCB report of 2015, it was revealed that out of 61948 Million Liters of urban sewage generated daily, as much as 38000 Million Liters goes untreated into the rivers and water bodies. This is the crux of the problem. Unless we invest heavily from our National  and State budgets sufficient amount on wastewater treatment and make zero waste water discharge mandatory to all municipal corporations and local bodies the target of zero discharge of untreated waste water would remain as a dream. It is hoped that the Govt of India shall take necessary steps for legal as well as fiscal support for a cause so important for the health of our billion plus people.A strict and ultra-vigilance is needed for Swachha Bharat 2.0 to succeed in attaining the goal od Zero Untreated Waste Water discharge into rivers and water bodies in India.

We also need to wage a war against air pollution. We can not afford the luxury of having such a poor quality of air in our urban areas that is crippling a vast proportion of our population from respiratory diseases and cancers. The WHO New Global Air Quality Guidelines provide clear evidence of the damage Air Pollution inflicts on human health, at even lower concentration than was previously understood. The guidelines recommend new Air Quality Levels of 10 microgram per cubic meters for PM2.5to protect the health of population.These new guidelines also show that almost all the Indian Cities are now under great threat of damage by air pollution, including the capital city of Delhi and the satellite towns like Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Noida in the NCR region.

Delivering his Keynote address the Chief Guest Padma Bhushan Shri Anil Prakash Joshi, popularly referred as Himalya Putra  voiced his serious concern for air and water pollution. Our madness to pursue the western life style, we have made Pran Vasu, Air as PranGhatak and the precious gift of Water that was the nectar of divine we have made a slow poison due to continuous neglect of water pollution of our rivers and water bodies in India. Dr Raj Kumar, Director od Patel Chest institute od Delhi University also voiced his serious concern for indoor air pollution about which we in India have shown our least concern. The other invited speakers at the valedictory function  included MrsDiksha Bhandari IFS Divisional Director Social Forestry Ghaziabad and DrJS Sharma, Co Chair Environment Committee ofPHDCCI.

Surprisingly now that the Covid-19 has more or less subsided, it is a matter of grave concern that there is no emphasis on use of ecofriendly mobility vehicles such as EVs or measures to prevent return of our megacities and industrial towns to pre-COVID degradation of environmental health. Why should the New Normal not be bold enough to emphasize on bringing Electric Vehicles in plenty on the roads of Delhi and all mega cities without further delay and why not green engineering and green technologies be made the thrust of R&D and innovations that are funded by the Govt of India in universities and institutions of higher learning, asked Professor Sharma.

As India is sitting on a Air Pollution disaster, the present Government of India, in January 2019 had commissioned the National Clean Air Program, NCAP-2019 that aims at cutting down air pollution by 30% from the levels of 2017 in the next five years. But the prime question is that whether NCAP could be further strengthened with even bigger aims and with more effective strategies and actions, now that we have reliable monitoring network and opportunities to implement innovative solutions backed by Artificial Intelligence, AI embedded in our strategic decision making tools and trying out revolutionary technology shifts towards green engineering in various sectors such as energy, automobiles and industries.

Nothing prevents us the people of India and our Government in Centre and in States to revamp our NCAP 2019 to NCAP 2021 and resolve to put policies and actions in place to achieve the levels of Air pollution not higher than 20% of the levels of 2017 by 2024 and not just 20% reduction from 2017,  as has been planned in the NCAP.

Such like bold resolves and timely initiatives are needed to save lives and create the bliss of development and growth. And it is doable and we need to act with a sense of urgency and with a firm commitment to succeed in achieving the targets we set out for our nation, opined experts at the World Environment Summit-2021 organized by Dr Jitendra Nagar Secretary General ESDA and his hughly inspiring team of young scientists supported by Dr GK Arora, Principal Bhim Rao Ambedkar College University of Delhi.

I may add that in all our Amity Universities in India, we have adopted a near zero waste water discharge policy and have implemented most modern sewage and waste water treatment systems that also include recycle and reuse of treated waste water for use in flushing in toilets in the campus buildings including residences and hostels as also for use in maintaining a lush green campus environment. This along with extensive rain water harvesting makes our Amity campuses water secured and this alongside with green energy harvesting and energy efficient building design have earned us Platinum LEED Certification for our Amity campuses from US Green Building Council, informed Prof Sharma.

Let this august gathering today at this World Environment Summit 2021, resolve to urge the government to draw a fresh trajectories of sustainable development and growth by creating a New Normal of development and growth that shall guarantee our march on the pathways of green engineering and green technologies that shall propel development with happiness and creating smiles on the faces of billions of our people around the globe and assure a healthy living on planet Mother Earth.The through revisit of India’s Air and Water Pollution Acts is also urgently required

Let this august also resolve that United Nation declares the Right to breathe Clean Air and the Right to  Clean potable Water be made as the fundamental rights of the citizens of the nations around the world.The Right to life is incomplete without the Right to Breathe Clean Air and the Right to easy access to Clean Potable Water, said Professor Sharma summing up the deliberations at the world environment summit-2021.

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