A news item around World Environment Day demands urgent attention of Indians and our government: the atmosphere temperature in many places in northern India has crossed 50 deg Celsius.
There is no better metaphor than this year's blazing summer to convince us that what we face today a climate crisis that cries for immediate remedial attempts. States of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have witnessed days with temperatures close to 50 degree. Most regions suffer from the risks of not only sunstroke and other health issues, but also of acute water shorage. If the governments see this as a passing phenomenon, they have not read the gravity of the crisis. Any government that puts together the warnings given by scientists about the frightening climate scenario and the big climate changes that have already happened, will move with urgency to save the situation. As such, we cannot help saying that the responses by the Central government are inadequate.
It is not long since cyclone Fani hit Odisha. It was at the same time that different parts of the country suffered from severe drought. Several Indian cities rank high in atmosphere pollution. And nobody need tell that all these are inter-related phenomena. Waste, including plastic has proliferated to the extent of destroying nature. Rivers and oceans have become contaminated, rendering creatures unable to survive in them. Even as we observed this year's Environment Day with focus on awareness creation against air pollution, there was no response from Centre-state governments indicating they are really seized of the problem. The prime minister made a statement about the culture of seeing nature as a goddess, and stressing the need for maintaining earth clean and green; he also exhorted us to join hands with environment, and directed us to plant trees. Minister of Environment PrakkashJavdekar gave a call to plant saplings, shoot selfie and post them in social media. What an easy solution!
Unfortunately the crisis of environment is not so simple as to be solved by statements and hashtag campaigns. In the first place, there should be a recognition of the problem, and that it is complex and demands urgent endeavours for solution. More than the optics of environmental activism, what is needed is a scientific approach, for which clear planning and homework are essential. But, the first Modi government has not done much on this score in the five years of its term. A crucial half of a decade has thus been frittered away.
Other than putting forward some programmes like Swacch Bharat and Clean Ganga (even they were not fully implemented), there was no comprehensive or long-term planning. At the same time, 'development' was placed above environment and nature. The policy of earlier governments of treating construction activities as development - even when that meant destroying nature - was implemented more intensely. Javdekar, who was environment minister for a term in the first Modi cabinet too, facilitated such 'development' by diluting environment protection regulations. He relaxed coastal zone regulations and allowed constructon ('development') within 50 metres from tidal boundary as against 200 metres earlier. Amendments made in Wetland Protection Act and National Waterways Act and those impinging on Forest Policy were not helpful for a healthy environment. Major relaxations were made in the conditions for forest/environment-related approvals of construction activities and industries. Thus, after making forest and ocean subservient to the ghost of development, planting samplings and shooting selfie does not solve the problem, but only worsens it. It is a basic scientific precept that by destroying the forest and then planting trees, we cannot restore forests that grew through centuries.
The crisis is not limited to a day, a summer or a geographical region. It is a crisis that grew out of the damage caused by exploitation of nature over centuries. Therefore, its solution should also be long-term and comprehensive. The decision at Paris Agreement on climate that atmospheric temperature should not be higher than 1.5 degree above that of the time of industrialization, was taken after elaborate studies and debates. India, as a party to the Agreeement, is bound to do several things in this regard. But what is required on top of all, is the readiness to fulfil them in a time-bound manner. The recent declaration of 'Climate Emergency' by the British parliament, and the preparation of an action plan in line with that, are a good model. It is high time that we started taking remedial measures against the environmental crisis - sincerely and in a planned manner. And of course, enjoyment of shootng selfie can wait.