About 45 per cent
of India's land is degraded, air pollution is increasing in
all its cities, it is losing its rare plants and animals
more rapidly than before and about one-third of its urban
population now lives in slums, says the State of Environment
Report India 2009 brought out by the government.
The third official report on the state of India's
environment, published after a gap of eight years and
released by Minister of State for Environment and Forests
Jairam Ramesh in New Delhi on Tuesday, has only one word of
cheer - it says India is using 75 per cent of the water it
can use, and it has "just enough for the future if it is
The report, prepared by NGO Development Alternatives under
the aegis of the ministry, says 45 per cent of India's land
area is degraded due to erosion, soil acidity, alkalinity
and salinity, water logging and wind erosion.
It says the prime causes of land degradation are
deforestation, unsustainable farming, mining and excessive
On the bright side, the report shows how over two-thirds of
the degraded 147 million hectares can be regenerated quite
easily, and points out that India's forest cover is
Ramesh said it would be unrealistic to expect that India's
area under forests would go above the current 21 per cent,
given the competing demands for land. "Our plan is to have
all this 21 per cent as high and medium density forests
within the next 10 years," he said. Currently, only two per
cent of India is under high density forest cover, while
medium density forests cover about 10 per cent of the land.
Presenting the salient features of the report to the media,
Development Alternatives President (Development Enterprises)
George C Varughese said one of its most worrisome findings
was that the level of respirable suspended particulate
matter -- the small pieces of soot and dust that get inside
the lungs -- had gone up in all the 50 cities across India
studied by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and
the Central Pollution Control Board.
"In these 50 cities, with their population of 110 million,
the public health damage costs due to this was estimated at
Rs 15,000 crore in 2004," Varughese said.
The main causes of urban air pollution were vehicles and
factories, he pointed out, appealing for a major boost
to public transport.
While India still had some cushion when it came to water
use, this scarce resource would have to be managed very
carefully, the report says. It identifies lack of proper
pricing of water for domestic usage, poor sanitation,
unregulated extraction of groundwater by industry, discharge
of toxic and organic wastewater by factories, inefficient
irrigation and overuse of chemical fertilisers and
pesticides as the main causes of water problems in the
While India remains one of the world's 17 "megadiverse"
countries in terms of the number of species it houses, 10
per cent of its wild flora and fauna are on the threatened
list, Varughese pointed out. The main causes, according to
the report, were habitat destruction, poaching, invasive
species, overexploitation, pollution and climate change.
The report points out that while India contributes only
about five per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions
that are leading to climate change, about 700 million
Indians directly face the threat of global warming today, as
it affects farming, makes droughts, floods and storms more
frequent and more severe and is raising the
In the section on urbanisation, the report points out that
20 to 40 per cent of people living in cities are in slums.
Varughese said there were good projects to upgrade their
lives and improve the environment at the same time, but the
problem was that most of the money from schemes like the
Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission was taken
away by the big cities, "while the major problem is in about
4,000 small and medium towns".