How The Last Week Turned Out To Be One Of The Saddest Weeks In The Environmental History Of India

By Kabir Arora:

Mr. Modi’s recent speech, which received a standing ovation from the Indian delegation in a largely empty United Nations General assembly, is a representation of our collective ignorance. The popularly elected Prime Minister hinted that yoga is a way to mitigate climate change. One is not sure whether he was ridiculing the threat of climate change or mocking the ancient science of Yoga. This is not the first time Mr. Modi has shown his ignorance about climate change. His past statements are well documented where he declared that climate is not changing, our lifestyle is.

Picture Credits: Tawheed Manzoor
Picture Credits: Tawheed Manzoor

A request out of utter humour was posted on the Indian Youth Climate Network Page – “Our sincere requests to our ‘popular’ Prime Minister- please don’t make unnecessary linkages. Yoga is good for health but definitely not a strategy of mitigating climate change. Changing in lifestyle as you stated is needed and should start from your own very self, maybe you should learn from your counterpart in Uruguay. Too much to ask for, is it?!” received absurd responses, which were later removed by the admin.

Many of them actually made connections between yoga and climate change mitigation. According to one of the commentator, yoga helps to still the mind, and that ways we can face climate change. Most people who read it were not able to make any sense of it. It shows our collective ignorance and failure of scientific understanding.

India was founded by its makers to promote scientific understanding. Constitution starts with the declaration of ‘we the people’ and not with invocation of God or Almighty, or any particular religious or spiritual tradition. It seems that as Indians, we have missed the point altogether. We have failed to inculcate scientific values and prefer giving copies of Bhagvad Gita to everyone. While we have low understanding of science, we have become over-obsessed with technology. Let me make myself clear here – technology doesn’t always translate into science, rationale or logic. There are differences which we will not get into now.

Let’s move back to environmental governance and ignorance of the political class in India. A day before the Prime Minister’s visit to New York UN Assembly, Mr. Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change sang the old raga of ‘historical responsibility’ of emissions and just made a fool of his very own self in the UN summit on Climate Change called by Ban Ki Moon. The variability in climate will not cause natural disasters in historically responsible developed nations alone. For the weather patterns, these artificial nation state boundaries mean nothing. We all need to take firm commitments, whatever we can afford. And India has a vast potential to take shared responsibility on her shoulders. We have an opportunity to take a leap from the dirty polluting model of development. A pragmatic view is what we are lacking in our leadership. This is something which we need to remind our Environment Minister of.

While all this was going on, another saddening development happened i.e. unveiling of intention of government to bring changes in the environment protection framework. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recently set up a High Powered Committee under the leadership of T.S.R Subramanian, former Union Cabinet Secretary, to review almost all the environment related acts i.e. Air Act, Water Act, Environment Protection Act, Forest Conservation Act, Wildlife Protection Act. The committee is visiting different cities to collect suggestions and recommendations to propose amendment in the act. Mr. Subramanian, in his words, has confessed that the industry was not happy with environmental ‘obstructions’ and for the same reason, a committee was set up to review the laws once for all. The credibility of the committee is already being questioned.

Still, many of us felt that we should meet the members of committee during their Bangalore visit to make our voices heard. On the first day of consultation in the city, committee members declared that they have not yet finalized their stand and have not discussed much in their internal meetings, and are very open to ‘specific’ suggestions, recommendations and comments. When someone in the audience questioned Mr. Subramanian on the same and said it is very shameful that the committee had no internal discussion on the issues pertaining to recommendations given in the other cities, the chairperson took a defensive tone. He said that they have already taken a stand and will not put it out in public, but they have very much finalized it. This made a mockery of the whole process.

First Mr. Subramanian announced that they are open to suggestions and have not taken a stand, but later declared that the stand is already taken and cannot be made public. And the mockery of public affair didn’t end there.

When I started listing down recommendations for solid waste management rules which were notified under Environment Protection Act, the committee members showed ignorance of the subject and stated that they are not sure whether the solid waste management rules and environment protection (act) are anywhere related. That was far more disheartening. This didn’t end there, the next day, the committee members walked out from the consultation altogether when environment groups raised questions.

The ignorance which the Prime Minister and Environment Minister have shown was very visible in the attitude of arrogant committee members. All three developments in the same week are definitely not at all positive. All in all, it was the saddest and darkest week in the environmental history of India. While the global leadership is moving towards a greener future, we have development fundamentalists at home who are all set to destroy environmental and economical sovereignty and security of India.

Kabir Arora is a board member of Indian Youth Climate Network and National Coordinator of Alliance of Indian waste pickers.

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