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Pandurang Hegde: Killing the environment on the altar of greed


In his recent monthly address on radio, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “there’s close linkage between drought and environmental degradation and there’s a need for a mass movement to save forests and to conserve every drop of water.” The statement does recognise the problem but do the government’s policies and its implementation reflect these concerns?

Pandurang Hegde, Deccan Herald

In his recent monthly address on radio, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “there is close linkage between drought and environmental degradation and there is a need for a mass movement to save forests and to conserve every drop of water.” The statement does recognise the problem but do the government policies and its implementation reflect these concerns?

Chipko, the mass movement to save forests, was launched by the hill women in the Himalayas. Following this model, people from forest dwelling communities in many parts of the country launched similar movements. Nevertheless, the pressure on forests is mounting. They are being sacrificed at the altar of development.

Laws that protect the rights of these communities over the resources are diluted to make way for appropriating forests by the corporates involved in mining or building big dams.The forest cover is dwindling at a faster pace than its regnerative capacity.

The call to conserve water is not new, it has become stale like the polluted water of our lakes and rivers. According to a study, 70% of the surface water and growing percentage of ground water reserves are contaminated by toxic, inorganic pollutants, rendering it unsafe for human use. The irony is that the increasing urban population sucks the fresh water from the hinterland and gifts the toxic polluted water back to the nature.

It is no secret that the Central government headed by the prime minister has come forward to dilute the laws that control water pollution. The toxic effluents from the ever increasing industrial complex are given green signal to kill living rivers.

According to the Global Footprint Network, there is a growing ecological deficit in the country’s available natural resources and its use. It says, “India now demands the biocapacity of two Indias to provide for its consumption and absorb its wastes.”

The amount of productive land and sea required to produce the resources it consumes and absorb its waste, has doubled since 1961. Following the footsteps of the US and China, we have exceeded the use of nature’s capital and living on the resources of future generations.

A century before these catastrophic results of present crisis of our civilisation, Gandhi said “Earth can meet the needs of the people but not the greed.” With the famous quote, he also warned that if India ever followed the kind of development model based on excessive consumption of natural resources, we might need several earths to make it happen.

While our political leaders may not admit to this prophecy of Gandhi, there are clear indicators that the high growth economic model of development that we have aspired for, has resulted in the overuse of our nature’s capital of soil, water and air.

The soil is degraded and poisoned, availability of clean drinking water has drastically reduced and the air in our cities is so polluted that it does not provide necessary oxygen to survive.

The grand lifestyle of over consumption that the middle class and rich practice and those who aspire for this, conceals the real costs of the wasteful use of resources. It has shown that degrading ecosystems is incapable of supporting our greed.

Chasing GDP

The fact is that as a nation, while chasing the GDP model, we have lost the rationale of judging our needs and greed. The need for ‘roti, kapda and makaan’ (food, clothing and house) is not only reasonable but necessary. However, at present, owning two or three vehicles, numerous gadgets and owning several houses has become a norm. These actions put enormous pressure on the natural resources.

Greed is essential to motivate and succeed, but beyond that it becomes unproductive not only for the people but also for society. Like our increasing billionaires, the middle class is chasing the mirage of unending greed to acquire and dispose, to consume products and nature.

This predatory nature of greed within the minds of the people sows the seed of environmental destruction, alienating him from nature and making him immune to the realities. Otherwise, how can we as citizens of this country tolerate the polluted air, water and poisoned food? We need to restore healthy balance in our daily lives reversing the trend of degradation, putting less demands on nature.

Many people think that this is a utopian concept and not practical to follow. But the country is full of small groups of people who are practicing this. Small scale local econo-mies, decentralised energy production, organic farming etc are the ways to regenerate and heal the earth. It is possible to live wisely and sustainably.

There are people who are trying to lead a life with lesser ecological footprint, practising voluntary simplicity of not acquiring things and resources for individual needs but seek the betterment of the community. It is only by practicing ecological life style the permanent economy can become a reality.

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