India is experiencing high levels of pollution, causing a major cause of concern to the environment and health. Recently, we have witnessed the shutting of schools and the diversion of flights in Delhi due to poor air quality. According to the WHO, apart from the national capital, 13 other Indian cities are among the most polluted.
Around half of the global population lives in rural areas. Strengthening the rural segment aims to improve village life by reducing excessive population moving out. There is a growing need for comprehensive research on rural pollution. Rural segment pollution includes water, air, soil, land pollution leading to environmental degradation.
Factors that help strengthen the rural segment and reduce pollution are:
- Minimising the causes of migration from rural to urban. Today, many people prefer to live in cities and towns because of jobs, infrastructure, and education. As people relocate to more developed areas (towns and cities), the immediate result is urbanisation. Housing, population density, industry accumulation, and traffic have increased pollution in cities.
Automobiles emit a significant amount of carbon monoxide into the air we breathe. The strategy is to focus on improving rural life. In India, 65% of the population is under 35, and 70% of the young live in rural areas. The key is to create job opportunities to reduce youth from migrating. Encouraging entrepreneurship among rural youth, clean energy industries, dairy farming, and farming creates job opportunities.
- Greening rural development will improve pollution control in three ways by:
- Conserving water quality and quantity through increased water use efficiency in agriculture and reducing the pollutant load in sanitation waste.
- Improving vegetative cover and biodiversity
- Reducing soil erosion
- Controlling pollution through the use of improved cookstoves. Using biomass such as firewood, coal, dung cakes, and kerosene increases indoor air pollution. In Odisha, for example, use of biogas uses half of the resources than the conventional method, resulting in a higher socioeconomic and health status.
- Protecting and restoring lakes and water bodies will improve water quality, biodiversity, and ecosystems. Planting trees and/or bushes along streams and rivers help control soil erosion. Agricultural wastewater must be treated before it can be discharged into nearby lands and water bodies. The use of fertilisers in the proper quantity can significantly reduce the amount of chemicals that enter water bodies. Keeping animals and their waste out of streams reduces nitrogen and phosphorus levels.
Factors to make the rural segment more sustainable
- Agriculture extension and research facilities: Farmers should diversify their crops, practice horticulture, animal husbandry, and organic farming. Diversion of crops that consume more water to less water-intensive crops. For example, diversion of cotton to pulses, oilseeds and maise in shallow soils. Intercropping or mixed cropping be promoted in dry areas. The Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) is a national initiative to promote organic farming.
- Availability of credit. The government should take the necessary steps to provide farmers with loans at lower interest rates and from formal sources of credit.
- Infrastructure development. Providing electricity, construction of new dams, canals and digging wells in villages. On the one hand, this would meet farmers' irrigation needs, while on the other, people involved in such construction activity would gain employment. Increasing connectivity for transportation improves interstate and urban-rural coordination.
- Sanitation and public health: Sanitation in rural areas is undertaken primarily by local sanitation plans and strategies. There is a need to monitor and manage faecal sludge and communicate with communities the benefits of investing in sanitation. Education and awareness campaigns ensure that people understand the importance of safe sanitation. The Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen – the rural clean India mission – of the Indian government aims to eliminate open defecation.
Rural wastewater treatment mainly consists of a partial treatment through a septic tank. However, most wastewater is directly discharged to nearby lands and water bodies, resulting in land and water pollution. Integrated decentralised wastewater systems treat and dispose of small volumes of wastewater from single households, thus improving water quality.
- Women's empowerment is critical not only for the well-being of individuals and families but also for overall economic productivity. Encouraging work from home facilities and part-time jobs can enable many rural women to take up jobs.
- Conversion of agricultural land to housing land has a negative impact on the local environment, resulting in land degradation, increased flooding, and a modified climate regime.
- Deforestation can be reduced by expanding and protecting forest land. Managing existing planted forests to meet wood demand reduces pressure on natural forests. Harmful practices like bush burning, overgrazing should be avoided. The burning of crop residue contributes indirectly to the increased ozone pollution and affects the soil’s quality.
- Improving groundwater quality: Proper disposal of agricultural by-products like pesticides and nitrates, chemical pollution from local industry is essential to prevent water pollution. Improper sanitation, sewage mixing causes shallow water pollution. The release of Fluorine and Arsenic formed by the interaction of rocks causes groundwater pollution. Treatment of water by using Nalgonda technique to decrease fluoride and integrated waste management at the community level. A Gujarat village uses more advanced methods like reverse osmosis technology for treating drinking water.
The way forward:
Pollution is a problem that crosses borders. It has no boundaries and engulfs everything, and requires effective control. Pollution from rural areas is transported into cities (and vice versa), where it accounts for a sizable portion of pollution, making coordination of urban-rural and interstate responses critical. A dense network of air quality stations in rural India is required through a public-private partnership scheme.
Nonetheless, we can accomplish this by installing low-cost monitors and collecting data on a cloud network. Authorities must devise effective pollution-reduction plans. They must also ensure that the programs are implemented and run successfully. Only then will we be able to sustain and control overall pollution and thus achieve the essence of a pollution-free India.