As the 7th largest country in the world, India stands apart from the rest of Asia, marked off as it is by mountains and the sea, which give the country a distinct geographical entity. Bounded by the snow-covered Great Himalayas in the north, it stretches southwards to the tropical rain forests and at the Tropic of Cancer, tapers off into the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. The capital city is New Delhi, while neighbouring countries are Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
India has achieved all-round socio-economic progress during the last 64 years of its Independence. It has become self-sufficient in agricultural production and is now one of the top industrialized countries in the world.
India is one of the oldest civilizations with a kaleidoscopic variety and rich cultural heritage. The country has metamorphosised into one of the most sought after destinations for travel, much due to the presence of several renowned world heritage sites, and an inherent spiritualistic force, which pulls enthusiastic travellers towards it from all over the world. The country is a pictorial of landscapes, opulent historical sites and royal cities, golden beaches, lofty mountain ranges along the Ghats, lush greenery, tropical rain forests, colourful people, rich cultures and festivities.
Environmental challenges in India
According to data collection and environment assessment studies of World Bank experts, between 1995 through 2010, India has made one of the fastest progresses in the world, in addressing its environmental issues and improving its environmental quality. Still, India has a long way to go to reach environmental quality similar to those enjoyed in developed economies. Pollution remains its major challenge and opportunity. Environmental issues are one of the primary causes of disease, health issues and long term livelihood impact for India, while its population growth adds pressure to environmental issues and its resources.
- The major sources of pollution in India include the rampant burning of fuel wood and biomass such as dried waste from livestock as the primary source of energy, lack of organized garbage and waste removal services, lack of sewage treatment operations, lack of flood control and monsoon water drainage system, diversion of consumer waste into rivers, cremation practices near major rivers, government mandated protection of highly polluting old public transport, and continued operation by Indian government of government owned, high emission plants built between 1950 to 1980.
- Perhaps the largest of the environmental issues is inadequate or lack of access to vital fresh water resources. Years of exploitation and extraction of groundwater in India has caused the national water table to suddenly and very dramatically drop. The rivers are on the front line of pollution. Millions of people depend on them for their livelihoods but they are slowly being polluted and destroyed by sewage, chemicals and other agricultural and industrial waste. Only 67% of rural Indians have access to water in their homes (as opposed to 95% in 2005). Increasing competition for water among various sectors, including agriculture, industry, domestic, drinking, energy generation and others, is causing this precious natural resource to dry up. Increasing pollution is also leading to the destruction of the habitat of wildlife that lives in waterways.
- India's 7516 km of coastline have also come under attack from this environmental sabotage and overfishing remains a huge problem due to lack of legislation enforcement. Raw sewage from an awful lot of people is pumped endlessly into the ocean along with other industrial waste and chemicals. Hundreds of miles of coral and other sea life are slowly being destroyed due to offshore drilling.
- Air pollution is most severe in urban centres, but even in rural areas, the burning of wood, charcoal, and dung for fuel, coupled with dust from wind erosion during the dry season, poses a significant problem. Without a doubt the main contributor of air pollution in India is the transport system. In the big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, millions of old and very dirty diesel engines churn out millions of tonnes sulphur on a regular basis.
- India is witnessing a rising demand for forest-based products. This is causing deforestation and encroachment into forest protected areas, which leads to a severe loss of natural resources. The loss of natural habitats creates situations in which lions, leopards, and monkeys, amongst other animals, create major problems for humans in their daily interactions. As animals ruin property and take lives, humans are tempted to start killing important parts of the environment. Furthermore, invasive species are the second biggest threat to biodiversity after deforestation.
- As of the mid-1990s, 60% of the land where crops could be grown had been damaged by grazing, deforestation, misuse of agricultural chemicals, and salinization. Nearly 30% of India's gross agricultural output is lost every year due to soil degradation, poor land management and counterproductive irrigation. India is also one of the three largest importers of palm oil in the world. Of these imports, 95% come from Indonesia and Malaysia, where conversion of natural forests for cultivating oil palm is a major threat to biodiversity and livelihoods in the tropics.
- Each year, hundreds of millions of plants and animals are caught or harvested from the wild and then sold as food, pets, ornamental plants, leather, tourist curios, and medicine. While a great deal of this trade is legal and is not harming wild populations, a worryingly large proportion is illegal — and threatens the survival of many endangered species, with overexploitation being the second-largest direct threat to many species after habitat loss.
- As of 2001, 4.4% of India's total land area was protected. In addition to 75 species of mammals, 73 types of birds are endangered, as are 785 plant species. Endangered species in India include the lion-tailed macaque, five species of langur, the Indus dolphin, wolf, Asiatic wild dog, Malabar large-spotted civet, clouded leopard, Asiatic lion, Indian tiger, leopard, snow leopard, cheetah, Asian elephant, dugong, wild Asian ass, great Indian rhinoceros, Sumatran rhinoceros, pygmy hog, swamp deer, Himalayan musk deer, Kashmir stag or hangul, Asiatic buffalo, gaur, wild yak, white-winged wood duck, four species of pheasant, the crimson tragopan, Siberian white crane, great Indian bustard, river terrapin, marsh and estuarine crocodiles, gavial, and Indian python. Although wardens are authorized to shoot poachers on game reserves, poaching continues, with the Indian rhinoceros (whose horn is renowned for its supposed aphrodisiac qualities) an especially valuable prize.
- As a result of climate change India is likely to suffer a wide array of impacts, ranging from insecure energy and food supplies and reduced availability of fresh water to extreme weather events, such as cyclones, flooding, heatwaves, and droughts. The worst-hit will be the poor in both rural and urban areas, who are more vulnerable and whose ability to recover from disasters is lower. Public health, human development goals and the country’s rich biodiversity will all be hit.” Climate disturbances such as high floods and droughts frequencies during the annual monsoon season and the fast melting of the Himalayan glaciers will likely to create water crisis for India in next 20 to 50 years.
Citizens’ community involvement
The conclusions presented below were taken from the CIVICUS Civil Society Index Report for Orissa, one of the Indian states, due to lack of better data at national level, but they can be extrapolated to the whole country.
The structure of civil society in Orissa is weak due to a lack of collective community action for any common social concern, more charitable giving for religious and spiritual purposes than social purposes, voluntarism for personal reasons rather than for common social cause, and a lack of representation of all social groups in both membership and leadership. In addition, the inadequate financial and technological resources of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Orissa are daunting factors that make the structure of the civil society weak.
Nearly 79% of the people in Orissa are involved in charitable giving, which is found to have a deeper linkage to religious and spiritual purposes here than to social purposes. They also donate both cash and in kind to the people affected by natural disasters. Many people help their fellow community members and distressed people in their neighbourhood during times of emergency.
Community survey findings suggest that nearly 57% of people in Orissa are associated with at least one CSO. As far as the extent of participation in the CSOs is concerned, religious organisations (22.13%) have the highest community participation followed by cooperatives (16.94%) and neighbourhood/village committees (15%). Education groups (9.32%), cultural groups (7.97%), NGOs/civic groups/human rights organisations (6.18%), women’s groups and youth groups (5.47%) also have a fair level of people’s participation.
Voluntary action is an inherent characteristic found in the social tradition of Orissa. It is observed in both organised and unorganised forms in rural and urban Orissa. Generally, voluntary action for any social cause has more of a rural than urban face in India. More than 90% of the respondents remarked that they had volunteered for some cause. Collective community action in Orissa, like voluntarism, is deeply rooted in its culture of sharing ideas, skills, time, energy and resources for a common cause or concern However, over the years Orissa has experienced a decline in the volunteering culture.
The past few decades have witnessed continued efforts by civil society actors concerning issues of sustainable development. Activism with respect to environmental protection or protests against setting up of mineral-based industries is on the rise. Issues of protection of natural resources like lakes, mountains and minerals have been a priority for civil society. This vigilant stance of civil society has caused the state government to bring about commendable changes in its Resettlement and Rehabilitation policy, as well as to take cautious steps regarding setting up of mineral-based industries. The Media review reveals that 50% of the reports mention environmental awareness campaigns and plantation activities by various CSOs. In addition, movements aimed at the protection of the environment are very persuasive and effective, because in many of the cases, environment protection is closely associated to people’s livelihood and welfare.
Government environmental policies
According to OECD there are about 39 environmental taxes in India, among which 32 are motor vehicle taxes (in different states and sometimes under different names), 3 are road taxes, 2 are electricity taxes, 1 regards the prevention and control of pollution (water cess) and 1 regards fossil fuels (raw coal, raw peat and raw lignite - the clean energy cess). Moreover, there is also a national voluntary scheme called Green Initiative in the Corporate Governance.
The National Environment Policy is one of the most important legislative acts and has as principal objectives: the Conservation of Critical Environmental Resources; Intra-generational Equity: Livelihood Security for the Poor; Inter-generational Equity; Integration of Environmental Concerns in Economic and Social Development; Efficiency in Environmental Resource Use; Environmental Governance; and Enhancement of Resources for Environmental Conservation.
The present legislative framework is broadly contained in the umbrella of the Environment Protection Act (1986); the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1974); the Water Cess Act (1977); and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1981). The law in respect of management of forests and biodiversity is contained in the Indian Forest Act (1927); the Forest (Conservation) Act (1980); the Wild Life (Protection) Act (1972); and the Biodiversity Act (2002). There are several other enactments, which complement the provisions of these basic enactments.
In addition, some of the sustainable development policies in India are:
- Accelerated Programme on Energy Recovery from Urban Wastes
- Auto Fuel Policy
- Coal Transport Policy
- Energy Conservation Act
- Energy Policy
- Hydrocarbon Vision 2025
- National Campaign on Energy Conservation 2007
- National Electricity Policy
- Policy Statement for Abatement of Pollution
- Programme on Biomass Energy and Co-generation
- Programme on “Small Wind Energy and Hybrid Systems”
- The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act
- The Environment (Protection) Act
- The Forest (Conservation) Act
- The Motor Vehicle Act
- The National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Corporate Social Responsibility is a grey area among the business organisations operating in Orissa. There are not enough CSR initiatives by the business community and there is limited civil society initiative to bring in required changes in the corporate strategies.
Civil society’s opinion of CSR in Orissa is not very positive. People perceive this kind of activity as either insignificant (46.01%), moderate (12.27%) or limited (38.65%). Only 3.07% of the survey respondents feel that the CSR status was significant. However, the opinions of the industries contradict the above findings. A survey conducted among 12 large private manufacturing companies indicates that in most of the cases, industries view themselves as socially responsible.
The survey shows that CSOs receive only 1% of their funds from corporate sources. This indicates a low level of corporate philanthropy practiced in Orissa. In the survey on ‘Status of CSR in Industries in Orissa’ 8.5% of the respondent industries opine that helping the community through charitable donations, educational and cultural contribution is not on their agenda. Similarly, one-third of the firms clearly state that the issue of direct support for third party social and sustainable development related initiatives is not applicable to their organisations.
The firms, however, do invest in some form of peripheral development activities either through charities promoted by their organisations or directly through the organisation under a peripheral development expenditure head or some other heads of expenditure created for the purpose.