The term ‘pollution terrorism,’ which I encountered in yesterday’s issue of The Economic Times, struck a chord with its poignant depiction of an issue that urgently needs to be addressed with as much vigour as any other form of terrorism. India is ensnared by an insidious and omnipresent threat that transcends economic strata—pollution. Dubbed ‘pollution terrorism,’ this relentless adversary diminishes life expectancy, hampers productivity, and, in what some might consider a collective societal resignation, leads to a gradual, self-imposed obliteration. The phrase ‘pollution terrorism’ effectively captures the profound and systemic impact of environmental degradation on this densely populated nation. In response, this article aims to analyse the underlying causes of pollution terrorism, investigate effective solutions, and glean insights from global initiatives, all in an effort to guide India towards a cleaner and more sustainable future.
The root causes of India’s pollution crisis are multifaceted. Rapid industrialization without adequate environmental safeguards, an increase in vehicular traffic, and widespread agricultural practices like stubble burning contribute significantly to the deterioration of air quality. The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) 2023 study underscores the gravity of the situation, with Indians losing approximately five years of their life expectancy due to polluted air.
Furthermore, there exists a societal dichotomy where the affluent manage to escape the worst of pollution’s effects by migrating to cleaner geographies, leaving behind those who cannot afford such luxuries. This divide creates a scenario where the poor are disproportionately affected, lacking the means to shield themselves from the health hazards posed by toxic environments.
India’s quest for a solution must be as multifaceted as the problem itself. The Supreme Court of India’s insistence on halting farm fires is a testament to the urgency required in policy implementation. However, quick fixes are not enough. Long-term strategies like transitioning away from paddy cultivation in Punjab to replenish the water table and enforcing emission standards are necessary.
Market-based solutions, such as the Gujarat Pollution Control Board’s pollution market, have been highlighted as successful models. These markets incentivize industries to find cost-effective methods to reduce emissions, striking a balance between economic growth and environmental responsibility.
An India-specific Mid-Cap Energy Transition Index represents a strategic innovation in sustainable finance, aiming to direct investments towards the medium-sized enterprises that are pivotal for the country’s shift to a low-carbon economy. This proposed index would highlight and support the role of mid-cap companies in the renewable energy sector and those involved in transitioning hard-to-abate industries, like steel and cement, towards greener practices. It seeks to address the need for targeted investments in parts of the energy supply chain that are critical yet currently underserved, such as battery storage and energy efficiency technologies.
The creation of the index is not without its challenges; ensuring the credibility of data and avoiding greenwashing are paramount to its success. This necessitates a robust regulatory framework for accurate environmental reporting and sustainability practices. The market acceptance of the index is crucial. It requires not just the trust of potential investors but also their belief in the index’s ability to balance financial returns with environmental impact.
Ultimately, the long-term impact of such an index could be substantial. It would potentially catalyze India’s journey towards sustainability by making it easier for investors to channel funds into companies that are at the forefront of the energy transition, thereby fostering innovation and growth in line with environmental objectives.
What India Can Learn from Others:
India can draw inspiration from global examples. China’s ‘war on pollution’ saw the nation set and strictly enforce standards across various sectors, leading to significant improvements in air quality. The United States’ establishment of emissions trading, which allowed for flexible and economically viable reductions in pollution, serves as another model worth considering.
The AQLI study points out that policy and enforcement are the crux of combating pollution. It is not merely a technological or financial challenge but a governance issue that demands action and accountability. Effective monitoring and data dissemination, bolstered by regulatory requirements, are instrumental in this fight.
Additionally, India could consider implementing incentive-based programs for farmers to reduce crop burning, a significant contributor to air pollution. Such programs would necessitate inter-state and central government collaboration but could be highly effective if integrated with India’s political agenda.
Pollution terrorism is not an insurmountable enemy. While it may be a complex and persistent issue, the blend of judicial activism, innovative market mechanisms, and political will can pave the way for a greener India. By embracing stringent policy-making, enforcement, and international best practices, India can combat pollution terrorism and protect the health and well-being of its citizens. The battle against pollution is not just an environmental concern but a moral imperative to ensure equitable and sustainable growth for all Indians.
Prof. Dr. Prahlada N. B
11 November 2023