Tag Archives: Environment

Earth Day 2017: Are we doing enough for our Mother Earth?

This year’s theme is ‘Environmental and Climate Literacy’ which seeks to “empower everyone with the knowledge to inspire action in defense of environmental protection.” Decide your own contribution when you celebrate ‘Earth Day’ on April 22

Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) institutionalized an innovative system for the betterment of environment in 2016. It officially promoted and made available cow-dung cakes for cremation at one of the ghats. It is almost one year since the facility was adopted by the NMC and the number of families choosing to go green when bidding good bye to their dear ones is increasing day by day. Using cow-dung cakes has not just proved to be cost-effective but also saves trees from being cut.

The brain behind this was Vijay Limaye of the Eco-friendly Living Foundation (ELF), who has been propagating the concept through his NGO at various ghats. In about 10 months, when more than 300 persons were burnt using the eco-friendly materials such as cow-dung and/or briquettes made from agro-waste. The initiative has received a huge response from Nagpur residents and the facility is in the process of being replicated at other cremation sites in the city.

Far away from Nagpur, in drought-prone Marathwada, a bunch of Jain people, mostly from Mumbai, were striving hard to bring relief to the drought-stressed farming community across 60 villages. Samasta Mahajan, an organization of few individuals from the business community, poured in its heart to de-silt scores of lakes, deepen hundreds of ponds and help large number of farmers dig farm-ponds in their land. This was followed up by plantation of lakhs of indigenous varieties of trees such as banyan, neem, peepal, mango, tamarind, baheda and karanj etc. to alleviate the drought related problems faced by the farming community.

Our Mother Earth

Recognising and acknowledging that Mother Earth is a common expression for the planet earth in a number of countries and regions across the globe, which “reflects the interdependence that exists among human beings, other living species and the planet we all inhabit”, the United Nations General Assembly decided to designate April 22 as the International Mother Earth Day in 2009. The United Nations believes that “the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change in conjunction with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development holds the power to transform our world.”

The theme for 2017 campaign – Environmental and Climate Literacy – is an apt step to club the two major plans of action agreed upon by world leaders. Top leaders from 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement wherein they all agree to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and given the extreme urgency of the situation, to strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius. The changing climate has already started manifesting as there has been a steady rise in the number of climate related disasters.

Governments of the world, including the government of India, have announced to take several measures to combat disasters that are wrought on the humanity due to changes in the climatic conditions. India’s federal structure makes participation by the state governments necessary in all such endeavours. Maharashtra government too has charted out its Action Plan for combating Climate Change.

Rivers are important water resources and need to be conserved

For instance, among other sector-wise issues, the 300-plus page document mentions possible impact of climate change on water resources in the state – such as ‘projected increase in rainfall in the form of heavy precipitation events’ and ‘increase in surface run offs in certain catchments’. It then goes on to recommend ‘conservation and re-naturalisation of rivers and water bodies’, ‘enhancement of water storage and groundwater recharge’ and ‘improvement of water use efficiency’ and charts out a proper action plan for steps to be taken for mitigating this problem and also in adapting to the situations arising out of it.

Individual’s contribution

But more than what the governments are doing, it becomes imperative for each one of us to contribute in whichever way we can. (See box for what you can do?) Not just adults but even children/students need to be aware of what can be the consequences of the changes in climatic conditions, of its unprecedented threat to our Mother Earth. Awareness will come from education and empowerment through knowledge. Knowledge will inspire people to take adequate action. “Environmental and climate literacy is the engine not only for creating green voters and advancing environmental and climate laws but also for accelerating green technologies and jobs,” the United Nations has declared.

Each one of us is duty bound to first gain knowledge about causes that lead to rise in global temperature which in turn brings about disastrous climate changes. Next, we need to empower others with that knowledge so that each one of is aware of the pitfalls and can take a conscious decision to improve chances of a better world for our tomorrow.

“Ensuring adequate public participation is central to the design and implementation of any SAPCC,”, the Maharashtra state action plan to combat climate change states and declares: “Effective climate action on adaptation requires general public awareness and community involvement. There is potential for key roles to be played by women, the youth, NGOs and community leaders.”

Perfect opportunity for spreading ‘Environmental and Climate Literacy.’ Remember, you need to work to save yourselves, your future. Are you ready?

What can an individual do for his bit for Mother Earth?

Some simple and some not-so-simple steps for ordinary citizens

** Adopt sustainable lifestyle – e.g. reduce energy consumption as much as possible
** Build green buildings rather than opting for glass facades
** Cycle to your office or take public transport, discard your own polluting-fuel vehicle
** Make online bill payments, reduce paper usage
** Do not pollute the rivers and the mountains as citizens, as tourists
** Save every drop of water – in your kitchen, bathroom and in open/common areas
** Harvest rainwater falling on your roof top, in your garden, in your farmland
** Plant trees as often as you can and in as many numbers as you can
** Recycle things to reduce garbage/waste, turn waste into energy
** Shift to solar and/or other renewable energy

This write up was carried by Maharashtra Ahead, the official publication of DGPIR of Maharashtra Government in its April 2017 issue. The following images show how it appeared in the print edition.

Maharashtra Ahead April 2017 – Page 1-2

All rivers require special status

Narmada in Madhya Pradesh

By Ritwick Dutta

If rivers are considered as living beings, we must recognise that in India today, they are an endangered species.
In his book, Animal Revolution (1975), Peter Singer popularised a term called ‘speciesists.’ According to him, “Racists violate the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of their own race when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of another race. Sexists violate the principle of equality by favouring the interests of their own sex. Similarly, speciesists allow the interests of their own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is identical in each case.”

The recent decision of the Uttarakhand High Court (Mohd Salim vs State of Uttarakhand) in declaring the river Ganga and Yamuna as living entity/legal person/juristic person, raises important questions similar to speciesists. It is important to point out that the HC has not recognised ‘rivers’ per se as living being/legal person. It has recognised only rivers Ganga and Yamuna and its tributaries as living entity/legal person.

This recognition is largely in view of the fact Ganga and Yamuna are regarded as sacred by Hindus and have a special place in the cultural ethos of the country. Though the HC has recognised that the two rivers provide sustenance to communities from the mountain to the sea, the main reason for conferring special status is the sacredness attached to the rivers.

Even at the national level, the Ministry of Water Resources has been renamed as the Ministry of Water Resources, Ganga Rejuvenation and River Development. The priority of the Central government is clear: water is a resource to be utilised, rivers have to be ‘developed’ (that is tapped and harnessed), while the river Ganga is the only river that needs to be rejuvenated. The Ganga has clearly been conferred a special status both by the courts and the government.

Notwithstanding the fact that the decision places Ganga and Yamuna on a higher legal pedestal than other rivers, the most significant aspect of the HC decision is that it does provide for a new perspective from which way decision/policy/law-makers should view rivers. It has held that Ganga and Yamuna are “breathing, living and sustaining the communities from mountains to sea.”

However simplistic this statement may seem, the fact is that the present legal and policy framework does not consider the river as either a ‘breathing’ or ‘living entity.’ On the contrary, it is viewed as ‘natural resource’ whose ‘potential’ has to be realised. It requires to be ‘tapped,’ ‘tamed,’ ‘harnessed,’ ‘dammed,’ ‘dredged’ or ‘linked’ in order to realise its full ‘potential.’

A river which is not subjected to any of the above processes and allowed to flow into the sea/ocean is viewed as a national waste. The Supreme Court’s controversial decision in the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Tehri and the River Linking cases is a reflection of the mindset which emphasises on the need to tap this potential of rivers to attain sustainable development. In a way, the HC decision marks a fundamental departure from the ecologically myopic views held by the courts till date.

Having said that, the court decision does have its shortcomings. Having conferred the unique status, it has invoked the principle of persons in loco parentis (that is, in place of parents) and has appointed the chief secretary and advocate general of the state and director, Namami Gange as the ‘human face to protect, conserve and preserve Rivers Ganga and Yamuna and their tributaries.’ According to the court, “These officers are bound to uphold the status of Rivers Ganges and Yamuna and also to promote the health and well being of these rivers.”

Conflict of interest

The problem is that, this is bound to lead to conflict of interest. The chief secretary is the secretary to the Cabinet whereas the AG is the highest law officer of the state government. Though Article 165 of the Constitution may give an impression that the AG is answerable only to the governor, in reality, he/she is a political appointee and defends the action of the state government before the courts.

Neither of them is an independent authority like the Comptroller and Auditor General of India or the Chief Election Commissioner. In such a situation, it is difficult to assume that either of them will be able to discharge their role as independent officers or representatives of rivers.

No judgement is perfect. A judgement is not a legislation and every word in a judgement need not be interpreted like letters of law. However, what is significant is that the HC judgement can be an important starting point for those fighting for the right of the rivers to flow uninterrupted.

If rivers are considered as living beings, we must recognise that in India today, rivers that are living and breathing, are an endangered species. They require special status and proactive conservation efforts. A ‘speciesist approach,’ however discriminatory, for all of the last free flowing rivers, and not just the Ganga and Yamuna, may be the last hope to save our rivers.

(The writer is an environmental lawyer and Managing Trustee of International Rivers, South Asia)

The above write up was first published in Deccan Herald on April 4, 2017 and can be read here

More people should use this zero sewage discharge toilet

The three-decade old ‘Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet’ doesn’t pollute or need a septic tank or a sewage network. In fact, its output is a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a pesticide!

Daryapur 1

Toilets need a septic tank or a connection to a sewage network, enough water to clean and flush, and regular maintenance to ensure proper functioning–except if it’s the ‘Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet’. It looks just like a conventional toilet but needs none of these. Designed by someone with no formal degree in science, it even uses much lesser water when compared to the ones with a flush tank.

55 year old Sanjay Joshi, originally a small land holding farmer of Daryapur town in Amravati district, Maharashtra, developed this unique toilet which uses a bacterial culture to eliminate the need to dispose or treat human waste. In fact, its only output is a colourless, odourless nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a pesticide!

The man behind the game-changing idea

Joshi had an inherent interest in science but poverty prevented him from pursuing a degree and he had to abandon his studies midway. But his sense of curiosity would not let him sit still.

“I once saw a mistry (mason) building a septic tank and asked him about the two chambers. He was unaware and said that he was just doing a job. That made me think about the actual process of making toilets”, Joshi says. How many years will it work? How much can its capacity be? Will it stink? Will it need scavenging, especially manual scavenging? He read a lot of scientific material–in the 1980s pre-Internet, pre-Google days. In fact, at one point of time, it became difficult for him to find a bride as no father would agree to marry his daughter to a person who sold toilets for a living.

After some time, he finally zeroed in on the successful formulation of the bacteria.

The ‘Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet’ is born

The innovative toilet has a conventional toilet seat with a small size tank (2 x 2.25 x 2.25 cuft). The tank design is configured to attain highly efficient in-situ decomposition of excreta with the help of a patented bacterial culture. What remains as an output is a reusable liquid–basically a micro-nutrient–that can be used as fertilizer/pesticide spray.

“The work is done by this culture. To put it simply, this bacterial culture eats the human excreta, and the colourless, odourless water that we get is that bacteria’s excreta”, Joshi says. Also, unlike output from a urinal or open sewage, this by-product prevents flies and mosquito larva from breeding. Those who don’t want to use it as pesticide can either sell it or simply drain it away in conventional drains. A toilet seat from the market is added to the specifically built tank which has the trade secret culture inside after which the unit is ready for sale.

A winning duo

Joshi’s friend Ravindra Ganorkar, a large-scale land holding farmer and a social worker from the same village, joined him a few years ago. The duo experimented with the make of the toilet tank and the look in general. It is thanks to their research that the output liquid is being used as a pesticide. Joshi is the brain behind the concept while Ganorkar helps in the logistics and management.

The first such toilet was installed almost 30 years ago. Earlier it was pretty difficult to convince people to use such a toilet. All it needed was one person from a village to start using it. Within months, Joshi would get orders for more toilets from the same village. Over the last three decades, Joshi has installed almost 12,000 such toilets across Amravati district and neighbouring areas. Publicity has been through word-of-mouth till date, which Joshi and Ganorkar now plan to change.

Inspired by the Central Government’s Swachch Bharat Mission, the duo has decided to go big and expand. This toilet has been installed at about 50 government schools in Daryapur tehsil. The first toilet was sold for Rs 840. Today it costs Rs 6,000 for one unit with the tank and seat. Convincing people 30 years ago was an uphill task but by now, scores of people in the area know about his product, so getting orders is easier. “My only dream is to make open defecation free India a reality”, says Joshi.

Besides this, Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialisation, Wardha, has certified that the tank used is hygienic and suitable for low-cost latrine usage. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur has examined the tank output and certified that it is safe for human health. Panjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth, Akola has certified that the output liquid has sufficient NPK contents and micro-nutrients to be used as organic pesticide.

Happy and satisfied users

Rajani and Rajesh Vasantrao Deshmukh from a nearby village Yevada, needed something compact for their small house. The couple, which has a four member family, installed this toilet about six years ago and since then has entertained guests during two marriages and one death. Another resident of the same village Kiran Jayantrao Deshmukh went in for this toilet about five years ago when she decided to re-construct her old house. “With the new house, I neither wanted a septic tank toilet which would need more space, nor a paver-block toilet which would need manual scavenging”, Kiran said as she proudly showed the combined toilet-bathroom in her compact courtyard.

Savita and her husband Uddhav Sadashivrao Hirulkar from the same village, installed one unit 19 years ago. Their kitchen and pooja ghar is about 5 feet away from the toilet beyond a half-wall/half-grill partition. “There is no smell whatsoever even though we cook our food close by. The best part is that there is no need of manual scavenging”, says Savita. Vouching for the efficiency of this toilet, Uddhav says, “We are a large family with regular flow of relatives and friends coming over. I got three of my daughters married from this home and we always had some 30-40 guests at a time. This toilet has worked perfectly all those times”.

Savings, savings and more savings

The advantages are innumerable. The use of the output liquid as pesticide spray, both before sowing and mid-crop cycle, reduces use of chemical fertilizers by 25%, the duo claim. When the toilet seat is fixed on the tank, there is no P-trap (it is a u-shaped or s-shaped plumbing arrangement that prevents odorous gas from drains/sewers from rising up through the toilet, sink or drains into homes). “Because we have done away with the P-trap and introduced a sloping smooth tile instead, very less water is needed. As against 12-16 litres of water needed during one flush in modern toilets, this uses just 5-6 litres of water,” Joshi adds. The team has provided a pipe for gas escape instead.

Open Defecation Free villages under Swachch Bharat Mission

Satish Shankarrao Sakhare, sarpanch of Maholi (Dhande) Grampanchayat has stepped in to bridge the gap. Among the 3,000 people of Maholi, there are about 350 households that do not have a toilet. A model of the Gramkranti Eco Bio toilet unit with a fabricated room-roof cover has been kept right outside the Grampanchayat building for prospective users to see. “We have decided to make our village ‘Open Defecation Free’ by December 2015. We will install the Gramkranti Eco Bio Toilet in all these houses. The government has already sanctioned Rs 12,000 per dwelling”, Sakhare says.

The government has identified 11 of the 115 villages in Daryapur tehsil under the Swachch Bharat Mission. Joshi-Ganorkar duo sells the tank-and-seat installation for about Rs 6000 plus transportation cost. The user needs to build a room over it. Certain experiments – as one model installed in front of Maholi Panchayat office – have been estimated to cost Rs 17,000. But despite the seemingly prohibitive cost for small land owners, their toilet has found takers. “There is lot of willingness to use a toilet,” Joshi adds.

But it is not only the Panchayat office bearers who have taken it upon themselves to contribute towards Open Defecation Free villages, but also other individuals. Pramod Joshi, a restaurant owner, and his family members are inspired citizens. When Pramod’s grandmother died about three months ago this year, it had rained heavily. “The route towards the smashaan (funeral place) went from near the godhari (designated open defecation place of the village). Pouring rain had already made the area muddy, slippery and the stretch near the godhari was stinking afresh after the rains. “I felt too bad that day. I thought, a person has to undergo this painful open defecation while alive but even when dead, he/she is not free from this trouble. There and then, I decided to help people build toilets and make my village Open Defecation Free”, Pramod says.

He had already known about the Gramkranti Eco Bio Toilet. Soon he paid for several units of these toilets. His family members too were inspired and started contributing. Till now, the family has helped build 50-odd toilets in the three months since. “There are about 500 houses in our village (population 10,000 approximately). We have decided to make our village Open Defecation Free by my grandmother’s barsi (first death anniversary),” he added.

Main advantages:

No solid waste output
Only colourless, odourless liquid output
Needs barely 5-6 litre of water
No need of sewer network
No need of septic tank, soak pit etc
Prevents water contamination in any form
Saves infrastructure cost for sewage network and treatment cost
Output liquid can be used as pesticide spray
Hygienic conditions prevents diseases
Can be used as public toilet catering to 250 people/day
Can be used in all terrains

This story first appeared on www.indiawaterportal.org on Nov 13, 2015. It can be read here

The three wonders of the ancient world solving modern water problems

In Peru, Kenya and India, NGOs are helping communities overcome water scarcity using wisdom from the past

 

Chand Baoli at Abhaneri in Rajasthan (Pic by Sagar Kulkarni)
Chand Baoli at Abhaneri in Rajasthan (Pic by Sagar Kulkarni)

Across large swaths of the Thar desert in western India, traditional techniques for harvesting the little amount of rain that falls has helped people survive the powerful effects of the sun for centuries.

The most beautiful of these are step wells – known as baolis in Hindi – large, stone structures built to provide water for drinking and agriculture. Baolis have existed for at least 1,000 years and were constructed in towns and alongside serais (travellers’ inns), across the desert and into Delhi.

Baolis exist in all shapes and sizes and are essentially reservoirs built into the earth. Groundwater is pulled up from a circular well at the bottom and rainwater is collected from above. A set of steps – on one or more sides of the structure – lead down to the water level, which fluctuates depending on the amount of rain. More recently, electric pumps have been installed in many baolis to help retrieve the water.

“Step wells are etched into people’s collective memory so deeply, they are now part of their DNA, passed on from one generation to another,” says Farhad Contractor of the Sambhaav Trust, an ecological conservation group.

Today, many baolis have fallen prey to rapid urbanisation and neglect. In Delhi only around 15 survive but local groups are fighting to protect and preserve them. While 700mm of rain falls on Delhi every year, half of the city has been declared a dark zone – where the groundwater level has depleted so much that the rate of recharge is less than the rate of withdrawal – by the groundwater authority. Rainwater harvesting, therefore, is key to a secure water supply for India’s second-biggest city.

One such baoli restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) was built in the 14th century in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, a medieval village in Delhi named after Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. In 2008, parts of the baoli walls collapsed due to sewage water seeping into the structure and the local residents using it as a rubbish dump. The pool was drained and the rubbish, garbage and sludge that had accumulated over the past 700 years was removed to reach the foundation of the baoli some 80 feet below ground level. While the water in the baoli is still not potable, it can be used for cleaning and agriculture.

Experts say the baoli model can be replicated anywhere in the world with similar climatic conditions and physiological features. Contractor has been invited to Morocco where he is working on a project to build baolis and smaller wells, known as beris in Hindi.

Agrasen Ki Baoli in Delhi has gone dry since last few years as its catchment has been concretised.
Agrasen Ki Baoli in Delhi has gone dry since last few years as its catchment has been concretised.

But large baolis need large catchment areas, and in Delhi space is an issue. While the majority of the physical structures of baolis are protected – some by being sited inside historic monuments – urban development in Delhi has had a greater impact on their water levels; storm drains divert rain away from baoli catchment areas.

Diwan Singh, an activist with non-profit Natural Heritage First, says that even though many baolis in Delhi are surrounded by buildings, the wells can still be recharged. “Catchment area management is the key. In the small areas of land between the baolis and buildings, rainwater harvesting pits could be built to divert rainwater away from the storm drains,” he says. “Once in the pit, water will percolate through the soil and recharge the nearby baoli, allowing modern development and ancient structures to co-exist side by side.”

(This was one of the three parts of the original longer story published by The Guardian, which can be read here)