THE Andaman & Nicobar islands, with their soft green cover, crystal clear water, thick tropical forests, rich marine ecosystems and ancient tribes almost 2,000 years behind modernity, living in harmony with nature are facing crisis at this point of time in history. The pressure on natural resources from a limited population was limited. Today, the mounting pressure of modern day commercial enterprise on the environment is all too evident.
There was a major water crisis in Port Blair in 1991, when its filtered water supply was cut down from 8 to 2 kilolitres per day. In order to run the hotel business, the entire pipeline system of galvanised iron had to be broken and replaced with plastic pipes to prevent corrosion so that clean salt seawater could be used for flushing toilets, reducing the burden on the municipality.
In order to create this awareness, the hotel started an afforestation programme in Port Blair by planting 1,500 saplings in the airport complex. Since the task was very large and the awareness on the issue equally dismal, hoardings had to be put up with the message that planting trees was the responsibility of every individual and organisation.
A well was dug, with the intention of harvesting rainwater which was used for gardening during the summer season. This method of water harvesting should be adopted in the cities that face a severe water shortage.
Soil erosion was a major problem because the hotel was situated on a hill slope. We had a very cost-effective solution to this problem. We used coir which was lying on the island as garbage. This solution has many advantages -- coir is bio-degradable, environment-friendly and is financially affordable.
In the tourist industry, garbage disposal poses a major problem. Many have tried to find a suitable solution but implementation and execution was almost next to impossible. We looked at this problem from a different angle and found that serving packed lunches in steel boxes instead of cardboard cartons was infinitely better and solved the problem of littering. Cooking oil that was normally thrown into the drain, adding to the effluent level, was converted into soap.
Confidential documents were shredded and mixed with wet garbage to convert them into manure to be used in the hotel garden. Other rough and old paper was bound together and made use of as writing pads. Our chefs were given caps made of cloth instead of paper, so that they could be used many more times instead of just once. Lining paper was replaced with velvet lining in all drawers in our hotel rooms. The objective was to reduce the use of paper products.
If consumers are educated on all the adverse effects of the manufacturing process of paper, where all the raw materials are forest products that demand deforestation, the industries can comfortably levy an additional charge on the product which can be then be routed back for the benefit of the environment.
Environment protection measures can be financed by industry, utilising the media to create public awareness. Each industry has to be given specific inputs of what its effects are on the environment. Constructive suggestions can then be made to industry on how to eliminate or reduce environmental degradation by cost-effectively re-engineering processes and technologies.
The government must give suitable incentives to industries which are environment friendly. Rating schemes should be started for companies, depending on their environment eco-friendly practices. Those companies who do not comply with industry standards of environment policies, should be fined and made to re-engineer their technologies to suit the situation as stipulated.
Alternative power sources like solar and wind energy should be harnessed and alternate energy technologies should be made available to all sectors so that the use of fossil fuel is reduced. Personnel in all industries should be given training in repairing, maintaining and installing alternate energy systems within their units. Clean, renewable sources of energy instead of conventional power can be used for streetlighting.
Experiments must be conducted in cities and towns in eliminating street lamps using conventional power and replace them with solar power. The initial cost of solar power will be high, but in the long run there is no input cost involved. It's cheap and, in these times of limited options, the best we can hope for.
Niranjan Khatri is working at the International Travel House, New Delhi
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