Success Of Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan To Be Measured By Farmers’ Living Standard

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman announced a couple of months ago that ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ would be implemented and accelerated through a Rs 20 lakh crores package. Measures for boosting agricultural and industrial production, judicious utilization of mineral and other resources, strengthening communication systems, providing advance education & training, promoting health care and sanitation, skill development and providing employment opportunities to all citizens are some of the objectives of this ambitious programme.

All Indians are looking forward to the successful implementation of the programme. In this endeavour, it is necessary for the concerned authorities to give due emphasis on the following programmes:

  1. Promoting eco-friendly mining and integrated development of mine areas for sustainable development

The mineral resources which are not replenishable are most vital for industrial and, hence, socio-economic development of the country. Till now, most of the mines in different mineral-rich states were being leased out and the lease holders practically mine most of the rich minerals, leaving behind the low-grade ones which are much more in quantity compared to the high-grade ones. In due course, these low-grade minerals ultimately get lost at the mine sites. Further, most of the mining companies use backdated technology, resulting in loss of large amounts of minerals, forest and water resources along with causing a lot of noise and dust pollution in the area.

Mining scam is rampant in almost all mineral-rich states of India. As a consequence, both the states and centre lose huge revenue, the local people live in polluted environment and are harassed in various ways, large amounts of forests and water bodies get destroyed, and a lot of low-grade minerals get lost along with the over-burden. Therefore, the recent decision of Union government to auction the mines should give an opportunity to hand over the mines to technically more advanced and experienced mining companies.

It should be ensured that all acceptable grades of minerals are mined, and the low-grade ones are upgraded. Also, conditions provided in the auction should compel the auction holders to keep the area environment-friendly by protecting other valuable resources like forest, water, soil etc., as well as back filling the mined areas and harvesting rain water in the remaining mine pits to make the mine area productive and habitable after completion of mining. By auctioning the mines with proper plan for mineral resource conservation along with development of other resources and implementing those strictly, all stakeholders including concerned government would benefit immensely. Industry will then prosper, minerals will be conserved and the mine areas would be productive and habitable. In integrated mine area development programme, a large number of people will get employment. In order to make the mineral mining most effective, a high-power committee representing all stakeholders should be formed which should inspect functioning of the mines from time to time, keeping in view the mining and environment management plan recommended by the government.

  1. Extract more sponge iron to boost production of steel

In order to meet the increasing demand of steel with rapid industrialization, India has to produce much more steel by utilizing available resources. The most important bottleneck in this regard is non-availability of coking coal in the country to produce iron in blast furnace (BF). The reserves of coking coal in the country is much less than that required for iron-making in BF. Thus, it is necessary to produce iron by an alternate route, that is Direct Reduction Iron (DRI) by using non-coking coal. The DRI is also popularly known as sponge iron. In India, most of the sponge iron producers do not have captive mines of any of the required raw materials, namely hematite, non-coking coal and limestone. Therefore, they fully depend upon other agencies to get their raw materials.

Now the major constraints being faced by these industries are high price and non-availability of quality raw materials. As a result, most of the units are producing sponge iron much below their capacity and some have been closed down. In India, due to availability of large amounts of high-grade hematite and non-coking coal, the sponge iron industry has tremendous scope for enhancing its production. We need large amounts of steel, so it is essential to promote both non-coking coal and gas-based sponge iron industries. These industries besides supplying enough sponge iron for steel production, can provide a lot of employment to skilled and semi-skilled people.

  1. MGNREGA Funds be used substantially for wetland development

Floods and droughts have been occurring in different parts of the country more frequently because of improper management of land and water resources. Rapid deforestation and urbanization have helped most of the rainwater to drain out to the ocean. Nearly 20% of the area of India is drought-prone and about 40 million hectares of the land are affected by flood. In addition to this, the wastes and effluents of the industries and urban habitation are responsible for drastically polluting the surface as well as ground water bodies. Wetlands, which include rivers, lakes, tanks, ponds, water logged areas etc., are vanishing and also getting polluted due to various anthropogenic activities. In order to increase the surface and ground water resources, it is essential to develop new wetlands and revive the old ones with rainwater harvesting.

Wetlands help in increasing potential of surface water, recharging ground water, flood control and water storage, wildlife conservation, production of food including pisciculture, reduction of atmospheric pollution and temperature moderation, drainage easement, improvement of waste water quality, reduction of soil erosion etc. Rainwater harvesting methods in wetlands depend on local conditions and include practices such as bunding, pitting, micro catchment, flood water and ground water harvesting etc. The wetlands development along with rainwater harvesting programmes as mentioned above in different states and union territories of India, should be implemented using the funds earmarked in Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) involving the local people. Along with this Fishary in wet lands would provide some more jobs to a large section of rural youths.

  1. Harnessing renewable energy to save fossil fuel and mitigating hazards of global warming

Energy resource has become very important and is one of the basic needs for socio-economic development of mankind. Energy security is therefore, imperative for sustained growth of our economy. At present, nearly 80% of global energy consumption is from various types of fossil fuels. The conventional fuels like coal, oil, wood and natural gas during their combustion cause pollution and are mostly responsible for global warming due to release of large amounts of oxides of carbon, sulphur and nitrogen along with particulate matters to the atmosphere.

a) Solar Energy

Solar energy is a viable alternative for power generation and has the highest global warming mitigation potential amongst the available clean energy sources. Further, it is the single largest source of energy available on this planet. The recent technologies have been able to encourage the use of solar energy in small scale in the form of concentrated solar power (CSP) and also large scale photovoltaic (PV) system which is able to feed into electricity grids. In order to save valuable lands as far as possible, efforts should be made to install solar energy producing units over water bodies.

b) Biomass Energy

Biomass consists of all organic materials that stems from plants, algae, trees, crops including all land and aquatic vegetation and also organic wastes such as agricultural and domestic wastes, human excreta etc. A lot of developments have taken place to extract energy and heat from various types of biomass including organic wastes in an environment friendly manner. The bio-chemical conversion to bio-energy can be carried out in two different ways namely, anaerobic digestion to produce methane and fermentation to produce methanol. Liquid bio fuels include ethanol, produced from fermentation of sugars and biodiesel through transesterification of vegetable oils.

c) Wind Energy

The scope of wind power to supply clean energy to replace fossil fuels, is one of the important ones. Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy such as using wind turbine to make electrical power, wind mills for mechanical power, wind pumps for water pumping and wind power to propel ships. The modern wind turbine is based on the principle of converting energy of the wind into electrical energy. There is a great scope for production and utilization of wind energy in India and the technology is also available. The merits of wind power are, it is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, no cost for the fuel and uses little land.

d) Small Hydro Power

Hydro power can be harnessed easily from water flowing from higher altitude. When water is falling by the force of gravity, it can be used to turn turbines and generators that produce electricity. Harnessing energy from hydro power can be more consistent by supplying water through dams. Dams store water for producing hydro power as well as it can be utilized for irrigation, domestic and industrial purposes.

At present only 16% of the total energy used in the world is obtained from renewable energy sources. Better technology should be developed to make renewable energy more competitive to fossil fuels.

  1. Prioritize skill development in rural India

As per the 2001 census, about 72.2% of India’s population lives in about 638,000 villages and remaining 27.8% live in about 5,380 cities, towns and urban agglomerations. Most of the country’s landmass belong to rural area and are highly rich in various natural resources. Yet, compared to urban India, the living standard of the rural people is very poor; most of them are small farmers or daily labourers and many are unemployed. It is very important to take immediate steps to empower the villagers through proper education and skill development, and create enough facilities to generate employment opportunities in various developmental programmes by utilizing the vast and varied natural resources of the region.

Some of the important employment potential areas for skill development, are post-harvest operation of different crops, agro industries, water resource management, fishery, afforestation, mining and mineral processing in mineral rich areas, harnessing renewable energy resources etc. The rural mass should be trained and employed suitably in various developmental activities and industries. It is therefore, essential to prioritize skill-development programmes in rural India for better utilization of its rich resources while generating employment opportunity.

  1. Five activities to improve farmers’ living standard

While about 14% of the total work force in developed countries is engaged in agro-industrial sectors, in India only about 3% of the work force find employment in this vital sector. Poverty alleviation, providing employment opportunities and effecting economic development in rural areas are possible through provision of sufficient water for irrigation, organic compost and pesticides for increasing crop production, extensive use of solar energy, wind energy and biogas, adopting better post harvest technology, creating storage facilities to avoid loss of agro products and development of agro industries. It is suggested that, in all the rural areas following five activities should be developed involving farmers’ family with proper training – a) Development of wetlands with rain water harvesting; (b) Production of compost and fuel gas from organic wastes; (c) Extensive use of solar and wind energy; (d) Application of post-harvest technology; (e) Development of agro industries.

In this integrated programme, proper implementation, monitoring and evaluation by experts should be carried out. The degree of success of the programme is going to be a measure of the living standard of the farmers.

(Prof. P.K. Jena is a former Director General, CSIR India and Chairman, Institute of Advance Technology & Environmental Studies)

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