You are here

The Indian Military and the Environment

P. K. Gautam was a Consultant at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • May 18, 2009

    Environmental degradation, climate change and ozone depletion are complex challenges which need to be addressed by society. The equipment intensive military with high budgets, fossil fuel consumption, and extensive use of chemicals also owns prime real estate such as military stations and cantonments.

    Military and Protection of Ozone Layer

    Halocarbons that include Chloroflurocarbons (CFCs), halons and hydrocholorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) contribute to ozone depletion and climate change, while hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) and perflurocarbons (PFCs) contribute only to climate change and are among non-ozone depleting alternatives for Ozone Depleting Substances (ODSs). Gases under the Montreal Protocol including its amendments and adjustments are ODSs like HCFC, CFCs and Halon. Perfluorocarbons and hydroflurocarbons fall under the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol. Concentration of important halogen containing gases, including CFCs, are now stabilized or decreasing at the Earth’s surface as a result of the Montreal Protocol on Substance that Deplete the ozone layer. Concentration of HCFCs, the production of which is to be phased out by 2030, and of the Kyoto Protocol gases HFC and PFC, are currently increasing.

    In case of ozone depleting substances (ODS), the “good” thing is that it was easy to identify the point sources – in this case the chemical industry. In true letter and spirit of Montreal Protocol which deals with the protection of ozone layer by eliminating ODS, India has entrusted the banking of Halon (a critical fire fighting gas used in aircraft, ships and tanks) to the military and the DRDO. A joint service committee has been set up to reduce and finally eliminate the use of ODS in defence applications and find replacements that do not harm the stratospheric ozone layer. Besides Halon gas for firefighting, the other vital technology is represented by gases used in refrigeration. For coordinating the effort on protecting the ozone layer, Headquarters (HQ) Technical Group, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (TG EME), New Delhi has been made the nodal agency by the Perspective Planning Directorate of the Army Headquarters. On 29 April 2009 a national seminar was held at TG EME to come to grips with the problem and evolve an action plan. The Vice Chief of the Army Staff was the Chief Guest indicating the concern the military has on environmental matters.

    Ecological Traditions of Indian Army

    The national seminar demonstrated the continuation of good practices by the military on environmental issues. The military as a cultural practice has been performing green tasks as a way of military life. This is not surprising as Indian soldiers are mostly from rural and agricultural backgrounds. Soldiers in any case are trained to be frugal, known to survive battles in deserts with a ration of just over 5 litres per man a day and still use animals in operational areas. This helps indirectly save fossil fuel use and reduces carbon emission particularly in the fragile Himalayas. The cantonments, barracks, pickets and posts have large green cover. In the military, an arboriculture plan is considered important for field firing and training.

    Visionary leadership even raised an ecological cell under Quartermaster General Brach in the early 1990s. A unique feature of the Indian Army is that it has eight ecological task forces, and it is probably the only army in the world with troops dedicated to greening arid deserts and barren mountains. If one happens to go down the Chattarpur road in Delhi towards the erstwhile Bhatti mines (also hugging north of the Gurgaon – Faridabad highway), one can visit and see how 132 Ecological Task Force of the Rajput Regiment has greened the Bhatti mines. The ETF financed by the Delhi government is probably the first military unit which has secured Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) funds through the efforts of the Delhi government from Germany. If the CDM scheme proves successful, it will generate enthusiasm for the ETF project. The army has been performing the job since the early 1980s. It may also facilitate the raising of many more ETFs in future if policy makers have the will and funds to implement it. There is no dearth of young servicemen retiring who can take on green jobs which need dedication and discipline.

    Even non-ETF establishments, units and formations are pursuing water harvesting/re-use, green awareness including non-use of polythene bags (much before it was banned by some states). Solar energy and other renewable sources are being developed in remote border regions. The phase out of ODS is now high on the military’s agenda. Military engineers are attempting to design energy efficient equipment and gearing up to face the day of peak oil. But as in any institution, much more needs to be done. This is one field where the Indian military can be a role model.