Operation Cleanup

While the focus on renewable energy has helped, it's time to tackle air and water pollution in a big way.

World Environment Day - June 5 - that started off as a concept in 1974 was way ahead of the times. It is only over the past few years that environmental issues - be it water, land or air pollution - have emerged as areas of serious concern. This is also true of India, where many major projects, such as Posco's $12 billion steel plant in Odisha, did not take off due to environmental concerns. The recent agitation over Sterlite's copper plant in Tamil Nadu is another example where environmental concerns have made national headlines.

This year, as India hosts the 43rd World Environment Day for the first time, the theme is Beat Plastic Pollution. That is a huge area of concern globally (See Losing the War, Page xx). The focus on plastics is important as the world is looking to eliminate single use plastics such as straws, plastic bags and coffee stirrers.

India also has the dubious distinction of being home to 14 of the world's 20 most polluted cities according to the World Health Organisation. The particulate matter (PM 2.5) levels in Kanpur are 17 times more than the WHO safe limit. This is a sea-change from the past, when many Chinese cities were among the most polluted.

The government, on its part, has taken the initiative to generate power from renewable sources. It has set a target of generating 175GW of renewable power by 2022. This includes 60GW of wind power, 100GW solar, 10GW from biomass power and 5GW from small hydro power. It seems to be on track. Already close to 70GW of renewable power has been commissioned and another 40GW is in the pipeline. As things stand, India ranks fourth in wind, fifth in renewable power and sixth in solar power installed capacity. Solar power capacity has risen to 22GW and wind energy to 34GW.

The drive towards renewable power has been helped by 26 per cent fall in solar photovoltaic panel prices in the last year. Most the panels are imported from China. In 2017, India accounted for 31 per cent of China's panel exports. While the renewable energy push is big, much needs to be done on curbing air and water pollution, apart from the degradation due to plastics. It's time the government got into mission mode to tackle these issue like it did with creating renewable energy capacity. The time to act is now.