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Chapter # 22. Sustainable Environment


The objective is to maintain a clean, green and healthy environment with peoples’ participation to support higher and inclusive economic growth through sustainable utilization of available natural resources. The 2022-23 goals include the following.

Air pollution: 

  • Bringing down PM2.5 levels in Indian cities to less than 50.
  • Creating 175 GW of renewable energy generation capacity.
  • Eliminating crop residue burning.
  • Ensuring the coverage of all households with LPG for cooking.

Solid waste management

  • Implementing effectively the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016.

Water pollution

  • Encouraging industries to utilize recycled/ treated water to the extent possible and ensuring zero discharge of untreated effluents from industrial units.
  • Ensuring Aviral and Nirmal Dhara in the Ganga, Yamuna, and other rivers.


  • Increasing the forest cover to 33.3 per cent of the geographical area, as envisaged in the National Forest Policy, 1988.
  • Improving the quality of existing forests.
  • Encouraging Farm Forestry.

Current Situation

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has identified 302 polluted river stretches on 275 rivers. The government is aware of this challenge and has launched National Mission for Clean Ganga to address this concern. The total polluted riverine length is 12,363 km.

Moreover, Indian cities face a high risk of air pollution. The rise in air pollution can be attributed to rapid industrialization, high urbanization, increased use of vehicles, uncontrolled burning of crop residue and emissions from coal power plants and brick kilns, etc.

Forests are critical to achieving sustainable environmental management. In March 2018, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released the Draft National Forest Policy, 2018. The 1894 and 1952 versions of the forest policy largely focused on the production and revenue generation aspects.

The National Forest Policy of 1988, for the first time, focused on environmental sustainability. The new National Forest Policy seeks to increase the sustainability of forest management in India. At present, forest and tree cover occupies about one-fourth of the total geographical area in our country.

The new forest policy aims to increase this share to 33.3 per cent. Moreover, out of the total land area under forest cover, about 40 per cent has only 10 to 40 per cent canopy density.

Solid waste generation and its treatment is a pressing concern as well. In 2016, the government had estimated an annual waste generation of 62 million tonnes in the country, including 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste, 0.17 million tonnes of bio-medical waste, 7.90 million tonnes of hazardous waste and 1.5 million tonnes of e-waste. Of this, between 22 and 28 per cent was processed and treated.1


  1. A major contributor to air pollution is the practice of burning crop residue, particularly in North India. Convincing farmers to discontinue the practice by providing alternative methods of disposal through economically productive use of crop residues is a key challenge.
  1. Lack of awareness of the ill effects of pollution impedes efforts to control pollution. This makes it difficult to bring about the behavioural change that is critical to fighting pollution.
  1. ‘Polluters should pay for the pollution’ principle is not effectively implemented.
  1. Agro-forestry is hampered by regulatory restrictions. Besides, biodiversity conservation and maintenance of healthy habitats for wild life have to be aligned with sustainability goals.

Way Forward

Crop residue burning

To eliminate the practice of burning biomass (crop residue), the Ministry of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare should introduce suitable modifications in their guidelines of schemes for farm mechanization to provide support to farmers to purchase equipment to collect, transport and sell biomass to processing sites for economic benefits.

The Task Force on Biomass Management, constituted by NITI Aayog under the ‘Cleaner Air, Better Life’ initiative, has made the following key recommendations in its report titled “Action Plan for Biomass Management” that need to be implemented by the central and state governments expeditiously:

  • Extend financial support to farmers in the short-term for in-situ treatment of paddy-straw/non-burning of crop residue.
  • Create a “Clean Air Impact Fund” to provide viability gap funding (VGF) for projects with long gestation periods and low returns on investment such as bio-power or bio-ethanol projects.
  • Upscale technologies for crop harvesting and utilization of farm residue.
  • Support service-based shared infrastructure.
  • Provide process-based incentives for entrepreneurs.
  • Allow accelerated depreciation for farm implements.
  • Reward and monitoring at the local level.
  • Institute a reward scheme for village panchayats with zero burning.
  • Put in place a mechanism to monitor farm fires.
  • Provide regulatory support for business models for crop residue utilization .
  • Re-assess the fuel quality criteria for briquettes/pellets made out of crop residue.
  • Issue directives to power plants to procure paddy-straw briquette/pellet.
  • Remove the size limitation for bio-power captive generation.
  • Create awareness amongst farmers for better soil management practices.

o    Plan awareness campaigns for farmers.

  • Recognize farmers following non-burning practices.
  • Design information tools for in-situ mulching and on-farm management.

Solid waste management and air, water and soil pollution

  • Effective implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, which has significantly expanded the scope of efficient solid waste management in the country, will help achieve environmental sustainability by 2022-23.
  • It is necessary to ensure the remediation of contaminated sites, safe disposal of hazardous substances, protection and restoration of ecosystems through stringent enforcement of relevant Acts, implementation of specific schemes, generation of awareness, stakeholders’ participation and application of best practices. Action plans for remediation of contaminated sites should be prepared and implemented.
  • The air pollution issue will require continued efforts on the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. The scheme has already met with resounding success and it is recommended that continued efforts be made to prevent any slippage back to cooking using solid bio mass.
  • Initially, the scheme aimed to distribute 50 million LPG connections to BPL households by 2019; however, the target has been increased to 80 million households. As of 19 March 2018, about 35 million connections had been released.
  • A task force should be set up to study and implement measures to control pollution from brick kilns. The focus of this task force should be on the technological upgradation of kilns to control pollution.
  • Emission and effluent standards for industries need to be revised and effectively implemented.
  • Sewage treatment plants of adequate capacity should be installed at suitable locations to make rivers pollution free.
  • Wastewater discharge from industrial units into rivers and other water bodies should be reduced to zero.
  • The use of bio-digester toilets, a technology licensed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), may be expeditiously considered for nationwide implementation. It can be a complete game changer as, if successful, it can do away with the need to have sewers and sewage treatment plants.
  • Revised waste management rules including Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, E-Waste (Management) Rules, Hazardous and other Wastes (Management and Trans-boundary Movement) Rules and Construction & Demolition Waste Management Rules should be effectively implemented.
  • Introduce an eco-labelling scheme to promote the sale of products made out of waste.
  • Introduce stringent civil penalties to strengthen enforcement of environment-related Acts.

Forest management

  • Afforestation should be promoted aggressively through joint forest management (peoples’ participation) and the involvement of the private sector. Highly denuded forests and wastelands in the country could be leased out to the private sector for specified periods for afforestation. Participation of people, particularly those dependent on forests for their livelihood, may also be encouraged along with the private sector.
  • Public land available along railway tracks, highways, canals, etc., should be used for greening India. Further, re-stocking of degraded forests needs to be accorded priority.
  • We should tap the huge scope that exists in agro-forestry. States and UTs may consider exemption of trees grown on private farmland from permit/transit pass. Revenue record and geo tagging should be used to verify the origin of wood and wood-based products to identify species extracted from farm forestry.
  • The new National Forest Policy, after incorporating the comments of states, concerned central ministries/departments and other stakeholders, should be expeditiously implemented.
  • The boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, which cover more than 5 per cent of the country’s geographical area, need to be protected and habitats for wildlife kept healthy.
  • Undertake measures to convert vacant spaces in urban areas into urban green areas. This will help increase the overall tree cover in the country, which is presently 2.85 per cent of the geographical area, as per the India State of Forest Report 2017.

Climate change

  • By 2030, 40 per cent of cumulative power generation capacity installed should be non-fossil fuel based. The strategies to achieve this are given in the chapter on Energy Supply and Demand.
  • Access to low cost finance especially through the Green Climate Fund should be encouraged.
  • Review all eight national missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change in the light of new scientific information and technological advances.
  • New national missions on wind energy, waste-to-energy and coastal areas should be developed.
  • The National Water Mission should be re-designed for efficient water resource management. Similarly, the National Mission on  Sustainable Agriculture should be redesigned to increase agricultural productivity and contribute significantly to achieving the vision of doubling farmers’ income by 2022-23.
  • Projects under state action plans on climate change that have been endorsed by the Nation-al Steering Committee on Climate Change need to be implemented.
  • Use the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change and other global funds for strengthening resilience against climate change in sectors like agriculture, forestry, infrastructure and others.
  • Scientific and analytical capacity for climate change related assessments should be strengthened.

NITI AYOG - New India @ 75

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