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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Prosperity Through Environment

Prosperity Through Environment


Protection of the environment in all its forms has been receiving much public attention at domestic and international forums. The question is by no means new but it has acquired much greater urgency than ever before because of the ceaseless pollution of the atmosphere, the reckless destruction of the multi-faceted gifts of Nature by thoughtless human beings. Among the offenders are people who are, or should be, aware of the folly of their deeds and the irreparable damage they are doing to the safety and prosperity of mankind, the present and the future generations. Hence the environmentalists' clarion call.

Human existence depends upon the environment. Few persons would now question the statement that we have been poisoning or destroying valuable resources on earth (including water) and also in the air—all in the name of economic development. In fact, development, expansion and growth are the key slogans in the modern world; nothing else seems to matter. Senseless poisoning is proceeding with unbelievable speed. While genocide rightly receives severe condemnation, ‘‘ecoside’’—ruthless murder of the environment—has only recently become a cognisable offence.

After all, it is the biosphere, that is, the air and water encasing the earth, besides the green cover and the wildlife, that sustain life on this planet. In chemical terms, it is the mixture and fine balance of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapour that is vital for life. These are operated and maintained by multiple biological processes. For centuries man took for granted that the bounties of Nature were inexhaustible and that the resources get renewed automatically. Both these assumptions have lately been proved wrong.

The struggle now is for adequate renewal of such resources as man has to use every day, and also for preservation and protection of as many resources as possible. Attempts are being made to check the reckless destruction of precious environment. Scientists have warned that mankind might have to return to the much-dreaded ‘‘ice age’’ if the reckless destruction of trees, other greenery and natural resources continues at the pace associated with ‘‘modern’’ progress, especially in industry.

A look-back in this regard would be helpful. Oddly enough, it was only in 1972 that the first systematic international effort was made to take stock of the situation and plan adequate steps to counter the process of destruction. The step was the UN Conference on Environment held in Sweden. The conference was poorly attended, for political and other reasons. Then came the UN Habitat Conference on Human Settlements in 1975 in Vancouver and the UN Desertification Conference in Nairobi in 1977 to check the ruinous growth of deserts.

But in many ways the year 1990 marked a specific advance in the programmes for saving mankind from disaster. The occasion marked recognition of the basic fact that the environmentalists are fighting for the concept of sustainable progress with the belief that environment and development are not opposite poles. In this connection, the observation of the Brundtland Commission (in its report published in 1987) was recalled. The commission said: ‘‘Economy is not just about the production of wealth, and ecology is not just about the protection of Nature; they are both equally relevant for improving the lot of mankind.’’

The Montreal Protocol was very much in the news in 1990. The aim of the Protocol is to save the precious ozone layer from chemical damage. All enlightened countries now concede that destruction of the ozone layer will have serious consequences on human, animal and plant life.

There is no denying that the major culprits in causing pollution and damaging the ozone layer are the developed countries. These countries have benefited all through the years by using cheap CFCs and have harmed the global environment. If they want the developing countries to restrain themselves from following the same course, they should assist them. Though the developing countries produce only a small proportion of the world output of CFCs, they require massive assistance to switch over to new technologies and to less harmful substitutes. Therefore, a large fund is needed.

The Government of India’s growing concern over this problem is obvious from the establishment of a department and Ministry for Environment and the series of laws passed to check the practices that endanger the environment. Among these are: The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, the Water (Pollution and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Environment (Protection) Act, May 1986, the Forests (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which has been frequently amended to make it more effective. Besides, there is a full-fledged national forest policy, several programmes and projects to conserve the environment and check the destructive practices.

There have been many social conflicts over the issue of natural resources in India. The controversies over the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the Narmada Project are among the outstanding examples. Competing claims and Inter-State disputes over water and forests are quite common. As in the case of land disputes, the controversies over the natural resources involve vested interests. There are, in many cases, unequal antagonists; several agrarian conflicts have ecological roots. The grave consequences of some of the dam construction projects have been highlighted by the numerous agitations carried on by voluntary agencies and courageous individuals. The Chipko movement started by the brave Sunderlal Bahugana to save the Garhwal forests won well-deserved international recognition.

The social good has to be weighed against individual benefit and a rational balance needs to be struck. The writing on the wall is clear. If the present generation fails to preserve and protect Nature’s bounty, the coming generations will hold us guilty of betraying an invaluable trust. But in their excessive zeal the environmentalists ignore a vital aspect. India needs more foodgrains, more water, more electricity, more industries for manufacturing and finishing goods for domestic consumption and exports—all for the social good.

Dams over rivers and construction of large power houses to harness energy sources enable the economy to flourish. These amenities can be made available only by sacrificing some of the greenery. If the building of large dams is to be halted in response to the environmentalists' agitations, where are the additional foodgrains, irrigation facilities and uninterrupted power for industry to come from?

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