“Who is the finance minister of India?”
“Shri P. Chidambaram” replied the young listeners, unanimously.
“Make no mistake my friends, monsoon is our true finance minister” stated Sunita Narain, the renowned Indian environmentalist, while addressing a group of youth delegates assembled at the University of Delhi. About 80% of annual rainfall in India occurs during the monsoon season which provides the much needed water for agriculture and basic human needs. Experts warn that rainfall in India is likely to become much more variable due to climate change and has serious implications for millions of poor farmers and the India’s agricultural productivity. Clearly, the buzzword of the past few decades, ‘Climate Change’, is not a hoax anymore but a reality. More droughts, floods and extreme events are pointing to this fact. Will this country be able to sustain growth without water, food and livelihood security? The Indian monsoon and its increasing variability due to global warming, thus require our urgent attention. “We need to rethink our present urban development models and reinvent our city planning with sustainability at its core”, suggests Narain.
It was a unique gathering of youth from across Delhi, at Miranda House College, who called for an environmentally sound urban planning for the capital. The so called cellphone and social networking addicted youth what we might dub “Generation Y”,Â are actually quite concerned about the environmental, economic, and social conditions of the capital. The recently concluded Delhi Youth Summit on Climate-2013, organised by the NGO Delhi Greens, brought together around 100 young participants to stimulate a wide-ranging debate to generate a dialogue on various urban environmental challenges in the wake of climate change. A collective conscience is underway, a commitment to preserve environment is rapidly gaining momentum. These voices are not of activists, pressure groups, experts and leaders, but the voices of those whose common future is at stake.
These youngsters believe that India must act on climate change on the ground level. “We have to take responsibility as individuals” says Shreemoyee Kumar, a college student attending the summit. We make choices every day that affect the environment, do I throw away this paper? How much water should I use? Which mode of transport should I choose? In their recommendations for government, civil society and public in the youth charter, they demand strict ban on felling of trees, proper water and sanitation facilities, efficient and safe public transport, quality public space, bike lanes and walking space, comprehensive recycling and composting programmes, renewable energy and enforcement of efficiency measures and responsible green leadership. The call for equality and access resonate throughout the summit with participants seeing inequality, poverty and poor environmental management as unjust and unacceptable.
Despite the oft-repeated claim by the Delhi state government that the city is one the world’s greenest capitals, the young citizens strongly feel that something is not well. In the past decade, around 23% of Delhi’s area includes green cover and water bodies, has been lost to infrastructure development and rapid urbanization. A recent study conducted by the National Remote Sensing Centre for the NCR Planning Board (NCRPB) highlights that the city has lost 32,769 hectares of green cover and 1,464 hectares of water bodies. “The Delhi Ridge and its forest, which is a part of Aravalli hills, is one of the oldest mountain systems in the world and natural heritage”, says Faiyaz Khudsar, the park manager of Yamuna Biodiversity Park. Ridge is known as ‘Delhi’s Lungs’ and serves significant ecological functions such as controller of pollution, climate moderator, and groundwater recharge, prevents soil erosion besides being a safe haven for birds and wildlife. However, it is shrinking due to the pressures exerted by developmental activities such as housing, mining, petrol pumps, and unsustainable land use. “This is a dangerous trend as Ridge is losing its diversity and native species”, cautions Khudsar.
Frameworks for sustainable and equitable city planning are being discussed and explored across the world, and some countries such as Australia and Brazil are trying to bring in these values in their planning processes. In the quest to become world class, Delhi should not alter the vital natural processes that ensure the availability of clean air, water, shelter, green cover and right to sustainable livelihoods.“The environmental ethic missing in our economic and governance regime has to be revived through socio-political and legal means rather than unrelenting technology led urbanisation” asserts Aastha Kukreti of Delhi Greens.
“What should I do when I see trees being felled, Yamuna being dirtied, powerful lobbies polluting this city?” asks a participant.
“These questions do not have easy answers but are important and as stakeholders of this city we must report these activities to civic agencies and media, use provisions of Right to Information Act to seek details, file public interest litigations and if required approach civil society” advises Darpan Singh, a journalist at Hindustan Times. The right of citizens to wholesome environment is sorely neglected in our existing urban agenda. However, these needs will have to be fought for and protected by people’s movement, civil society groups, and individuals. These young citizens feel “this is just a beginning”.