The 500 km stretch of the Yamuna between Delhi and Etawah gives it the distinction of the country’s most polluted river. The Sabarmati at Ahmedabad is in bad shape; so are stretches of the Gomti, Kali, Adyar, Ganga, Godavari, Cauvery, Tapi, Mahanadi…the list goes on.
There is similar bad news on air, water, land, waste, industries — all put together for policy planners to look at — in an Environmental Atlas of India, brought out by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO).
It is, says CPCB chairman Dilip Biswas, the first such attempt — and will, it is hoped, bridge the gap between data and planning.
In the introduction to the Atlas, Surveyor General and NATMO director P. Nag puts his finger on what has been the problem so far. The database on environment may appear enormous but it hasn’t been systematic enough. Usually, it’s not found in a standard format.
It’s not in digital form. Sometimes, it is just too old for use. Sometimes, it is contradictory. Not always available on the desired scale, it may lead to generalisation and wrong conclusions. Nor has data been readily available for wider applications such as natural resource accounting, evaluation of carrying capacity, major policy decisions and strategies for sustainable development. As Biswas puts it, decisions tend to be subjective, time-consuming and devoid of transparency in the absence of a systematic database.
The Atlas, just a beginning, attempts to put together all the environment related information available in the form of maps, text and statistical data. What it shows is that the country’s condition, all systems taken together, is serious.
For instance, about 175 million hectares, more than half the geographical area, is suffering from some form of degradation — be it water or wind erosion, salinity, sodicity or flooding. Water erosion, taking its toll on topsoil and terrain, affects about 121 million hectares. Another 20 million hectares under canal command runs the risk of degradation. Just about 32 million hectares, covered with dense forests on geologically stable land, is considered stable terrain.
There are problems on air and water quality, groundwater contamination and waste. There is a black list of 24 critically polluted areas. Among these are Parwanoo, Mandi Gobindgarh, Tarapur, Chembur, Greater Kochi, North Arcot, Visakhapatnam, Patancheru-Bollaram, Talcher, Korba, Singrauli, Dhanbad, Durgapur, Digboi, Jodhpur, Pali and Ankleshwar. And, Delhi’s Najafgarh drain basin area.
And now it’s all there on a map.