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Protection & Politics of Rivers, Forests Vital for Sustainable Development

Written By Krishna on Sunday, March 17, 2013 | 8:49 AM

Dr Aziz Qureshi, fifth Governor of Uttarakhand delivered the First Ram Panjwani Memorial Lecture on "Protection & Politics of Rivers, Forests Vital for Sustainable Development' on March 15, 2013 at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Dr Qureshi underlined the role of religious leaders in getting the rivers cleaned. He has got a plan sent to Central Government for ensuring better toilet facilities in Badrinath after visiting the holy place. He underlined that currently all the waste water from temples and maths and the residences of sadhus and saints is entering Ganga. There is a need to reverse the trend. He visited Har ki Pauri and expressed sadness at its plight. He stressed the need for balancing the need for power generation and natural flow of water in Ganga. He announced that the region of Ganga from Gomukh to Hardwar should be declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. Dr Aziz Qureshi demanded that government should ban bottled water. It is a crime to drink bottled water in a democratic country when a large number of fellow citizens do not have access to safe drinking water. ToxicsWatch Alliance welcomes the appeal of Dr Aziz Qureshi, Governor of Uttarakhand to ban bottled water. 

Dr J.S. Kamyotra, Member Secretary, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shared his views on how bottled water consumes more water in the process of being bottled. He reflected on the impact of aluminum foils used for packaging foods. He dwelt on the crisis due to waste generation. It was quite bizarre to hear him speak approvingly of burning of waste in cement kilns. CPCB will have us believe that cement kilns are destroy wastes and hazardous wastes harmlessly because it saves on fuel and destroys wastes.

The fact is there are numerous reasons for preventing combustion of wastes in entering kilns. Indian municipal waste also has hazardous waste characteristics. This waste contains chlorinated organic compounds, and when it is burned dioxins will appear in the emission. Dioxins are emitted from cement kiln stacks when kiln is operated with hazardous waste.

As per U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), cement kilns that burn hazardous waste emit dioxins in their stack gases at rates more than 80 times higher than those of cement kilns that burn conventional fuels.

Typical wastes burned in kilns include paint, ink, solvents, petroleum industry wastes and waste oils including crankcase oil, transmission fluid and coolants. Some of these types of waste can contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury. Metal s make trouble in incinerators they are not destroyed but instead pass through the furnace into the outside environment, of ten in forms that make them more dangerous than when they first entered the kiln.

The fly ash from kilns burning hazardous waste is loaded with heavy metals.  These metals are in a particularly leachable form, and are thus able to enter water and living things. The high alkalinity (high pH) of kiln ash makes kiln ash even more leachable than ash from normal hazardous waste incinerators. Kilns burning hazardous wastes emit 66% more particles (soot, smoke, haze) than kilns burning normal fuel. CPCB's claim that hazardous waste incineration in kilns destroy 100% of the wastes entering the furnace is untrue. Although kilns do operate at high temperatures but metals are not destroyed at any temperature.

Kilns create a class of chemicals called products of incomplete combustion (PICs) including dioxins, furans and a broad range of other organic chemicals. Companies like UltraTech which claims to be the first Indian cement company that started buring wastes in cement kilns. It claims that it uses "approved wastes as fuel substitution without any impact on environment". This claim is misleading and flawed. Given the fact that regulators are collaborators in the exercise which agency will reveal that there is adverse environmental impact. This company conducted trials at its facilities at Malkhed in Karnataka and Reddipalayam in Tamil Nadu in 2005 in collaboration with waste generators, CPCB and State pollution control Boards. These trials were conducted at different facilities of the companies involving wastes like effluent treatment plant sludge, paint sludge, plastic, tyre chips, pharmaceutical wastes, etc. This company uses agricultural wastes, tyre chips, refuse derived fuels and industrial wastes.

This company has entered into an agreement with Jaipur Muncipal Corporation and has set up a Municipal Solid Waste processing plant near Jaipur. This plant was commissioned in January 2007. This processing plant converts MSW into refuse-derived fuels (RDF). The plant is capable of extracting 150 tonnes of RDF per day from 500 tonnes of municipal waste, which is supplied by the Jaipur Muncipal Corporation daily. The processed RDF is disposed of at UltraTech’s cement facility located at Khor, Madhya Pradesh.  In the entire exercise Grasim Industries Limited was also involved at some stage.

It is indeed a matter of conflict of interest that CPCB and State pollution control Boards have become collaborators and interested parties instead of acting as impartial regulators. As a consequence environmental exposures and related diseases in the adjoining local environment, among the communities nearby and in the workers is not being regulated.    
At the memorial lecture, Deepchand Yadav, former Mayor of Bhopal  recollected the environmental disaster from Bhopal while sharing his views.

Dr Subhash Gupta, a well known liver transplant surgeon from Apollo Hospital, New Delhi shared his views on how environmental pollution is linked to several diseases including serious liver ailments.

Gopal Krishna of ToxicsWatch Alliance shared his comments directed to Dr Aziz Qureshi and Dr Kamyotra on the issue of absence of river basin approach due to which all effort to save Ganga and Yamuna becomes pollution centric. Such an approach does not factor in the fact that water quality deteriorates when water flow in the rivers deplete. He referred to the views of a Delhi High Court judge who said that when there is a conflict between river and development, river should get precedence. He asked Dr Kamyotra to reveal the deadline by which Yamuna will become clean.

He also criticized the municipal waste to energy plants based on incinerator technology which is being promoted in Delhi and cited the example of Okhla's waste based power plant in the residential area which was violated every rule in the rulebook.

Vijay Panjwani, counsel of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shared his reflections on how since the days of Mrs Indira Gandhi environmental concerns began to occupy centrestage amidst developmental initiatives. He favoured nuclear energy and denounced the agitation against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant.  

ToxicsWatch Alliance is of the views that the central government and CPCB should re-visit its views about nuclear energy in the aftermath of Fukushima nuclear disaster. They should learn from countries like Austria which became the first country to begin a phase-out in 1978 followed by Sweden in 1980, Italy in 1987, Belgium in 1999, and Germany in 2000. Austria and Spain have gone as far as to enact laws not to build new nuclear power stations. After March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its reactors and pledged to close the rest by 2022. The Italians have voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear. Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors. Japan’s prime minster has called for a dramatic reduction in Japan’s reliance on nuclear power. Taiwan’s president did the same. Mexico has sidelined construction of 10 reactors in favor of developing natural-gas-fired plants. Belgium is considering phasing out its nuclear plants, perhaps as early as 2015. As of November 2011, countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway have no nuclear power reactors and remain opposed to nuclear power.

Central Government and CPCB should factor in assessments by International Energy Agency which states that solar power generators is likely to produce most of the world’s electricity within 50 years. This will reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment. Government of India should get out of its time warp.

Speakers recollected the contribution of late Ram Panjwani who was a Senior Advocate designated by Supreme Court. He was also Deputy Advocate General of Madhya Pradesh. He was alive till September 27, 2009. Ram Panjwani had a distinguished career as a lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court of India, Delhi & MP High Courts and Bhopal District Court. Born in Jacobaba and did his LLB in Karachi, where he took part in the Quit India Movement 1942. Later, he went to Pune for his BA degree from Ferguson College. It was permitted in those days. He did his  LLM after partition. He practiced law for a short while in Bombay and twenty one years in Bhopal before  finally settling down in Delhi in 1969 on the prodding of Pandit D P Mishra and Mohan Kumaramangalam. He was possibly the first counsel from MP. In  September 1976, Chief Justice A N Ray of the Supreme Court of India designated him Senior Advocate with concurrence of all other judges. In 1978 nominated to All India Congress Committee from MP by Mrs Indira Gandhi. It is reliably learnt that Ram Panjwani was involved in the case related to Bhopal's industrial disaster.

Eminent lawyers like Raju Ramchandran and Raj Panjwani were present on the occasion. This First Ram Panjwani Memorial Lecture was organised by India Environment Protection Group and Conserve.

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