Unable to improve air quality, protect biodiversity, and cut greenhouse gas emissions, India, say available data, stands today at the rock bottom of Global Environment Performance Index (EPI) rankings for 2018. In the year 2016, India ranked 141 of 180 countries. In 2018, according to State of India’s Environment (SoE) 2018, India has slipped to 177 position. SoE is annual report of environment statistics, by Down To Earth, the magazine, which Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) supports and publishes.

• SoE in Figures covers subjects from air pollution to environmental crimes and sanitation to energy security
• It says that India ranks 177 of 180 nations in EPI; Switzerland tops this list
• India is behind in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); ranks 116 of 157
• As many as 6 out of 10 Indians are poor, surviving on lesser than $3.20 a day

Over half of farmers in India are in debt. India’s food exports have dipped by 64 percent over the past decade.

“The State of India’s Environment, 2018, in Figures, Environment Performance Index, is a quantified statement over issues and concerns of environment and development: issues and concerns which affect deeply. While other annual State of India’s Environment in print is descriptive report, this is a data-driven version for ease of access and use.”
What does SoE in Figures, Environment Performance Index, tell about key environment parameters
• The state of India’s air: India scored 5.75 out of 100 on air quality. India’s performance as well as gravity of situation is highlighted as compared with countries like Switzerland or Japan which scored over 90. Capital Delhi is in the news for poor air quality. However, analysis of winter (November and December 2017) as well as summer (April to May 27, 2018) air quality level of 10 state capitals (cities) shows they too are in dangerous grip of multi-pollutant crisis and are facing a health challenge. Whereas in the summer months, Delhi had 65 percent days, when poor and very poor air quality has been recorded, in winters the percentage increased got to 85. On 1 percent of monitored days in summer months was air quality satisfactory in the city of Delhi.

Lucknow fares worse in winter months. Very poor air quality has been recorded on 70 percent of monitored days as well as severe levels of air pollution on 24 percent of days. Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru, and Chennai, on the other hand, experienced comparatively better levels of air quality. Anumita Roy chowdhury, who headed the CSE’s air pollution control team for several long years, says that: “SoE in Figures finds lack of data on air quality in Indian cities. Even in places where pollution levels are monitored, gaps in the data pose serious challenge to implementation of National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).”

• The state of India’s waters: The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation had launched Har Ghar Jal Yojana in order to provide piped water and its supply to every house by 2030 in order to meet Sustainable Development Goals. However, in 18 Indian states and UTs, over 82 percent rural households, which is national average, remain without tapped connection.

Suresh Rohilla, CSE’s head of water management team, says that: “To add, dependency on groundwater has increased between 2004 and 2013.” SoE in Figures, Environment Performance Index, says 70,736 rural habitats, with combined population of 47.4 million are living on contaminated groundwater. Traces of new contaminants are reported in the country, suggesting a decline in quality of groundwater.

• The state of India’s sanitation: Under program of the Swachh Bharat Scheme, 72.1 million household toilets were constructed; however, little was done to popularize the use: making scheme ineffective. Funds which were allocated for spreading of awareness among the people, and crucial for success in rural areas, have been unused. The situation in urban areas is worse, according to CSE’s water and sanitation experts: with a million households awaiting 6 months for toilets in order for them to be constructed.

• The state of India’s energy: Subsequent to missing targets for two consecutive years, the Center, it appears, is losing interest in meeting target of 175 gigawatt (GW) of renewable energy by 2022. The poor performance will hit job-creation potential of scheme, which was estimated to be 300,000. Only 9 percent of roof top solar target has been met.

On other hand, even as the Centre’s Ujjwala Yojana covered all states, LPG distribution only significant in 15 states. And here, substantial portion of rural population relied on unhealthy firewood for cooking.

• The state of India’s forests: Whereas India’s forest cover registered a 0.2 percent increase between years 2015 and 2017, there were concerns over growth pattern. Said Richard Mahapatra, managing editor of Down To Earth: SoE in Figures, Environment Performance Index, shows bulk of increase has taken place in open forest category which includes commercial plantations: which is worrying. And this happened at cost of moderately dense forest category, which is the area close to human habitation.”

When it comes to forest clearance, in 2017, Central government, on average, gave clearances to 6 developmental projects a day in the forest areas. Overall there is a 146 percent increase in forest land diversion for nonforest activities in the last 1 year, with maximum diversions in Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Odisha, which accounted for 54 percent of total diverted area.

Adding to woes is increasing number of forest fires in country: which have gone up 125 percent within 2 years (2015–2017). The government has failed to utilize funds to contain forest fires and missed 2 NGT deadlines for coming up with national policy to fight fires.

• The SoE on environmental crimes: Since National Green Tribunal (NGT) was set up in the year 2010, number of environment related police cases are gradually decreasing. But, number of court cases has gone up drastically.

In the year 2016, number of registered environment related crimes stood at 4732, whereas 1413 cases were pending under police investigation. Cases, pending in courts, stand at 21,145. This makes up 86 percent of total environment related offences in country. With NGT forced to close regional benches in 2018 due to less staff, situation would to worsen.

The number of environmental cases disposed per day is 9.3 on average, according to the 2016 data. At the pace, it would take 6 years for courts to finish existing backlog. To worsen matters, 15 states registered increase in environmental crimes between 2015 and 2016: Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Assam among states witnessing highest number of registered environmental crimes.