The UNEP has become 50. One can say, so is our set of environmental regulations. The world has tremendously changed over these 50 years. India’s Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s speech at the Stockholm Conference on 14th June 1972, she had stated that one can’t be truly human and civilised unless one looks upon not only all fellow men but all creations with the eyes of a friend. This holds huge significance in today’s world, too. Though, the world order has significantly changed in terms of education, income pattern, spending ability, military capacity; the question of humanity and being civilised, seemingly remains unchanged, even today. Indira Gandhi had mentioned “22 centuries ago the Emperor Ashoka defined a King’s duty as not merely to protect citizens and punish wrongdoers but also to preserve animal life and forest trees. Ashoka was the first and perhaps the only monarch until very recently, to forbid the killing of a large number of species of animals for sport or food, foreshadowing some of the concerns of this Conference.”
She had deliberated on India’s steps to deal with incipient environmental imbalances because of India’s concern for the human being- a species, which is also imperilled. In poverty humans are threatened by malnutrition and disease, in weakness by war, in richness by the pollution brought about by their own prosperity.
And, the moot question is, whatever she had deliberated 50 years ago, have those changed? How do you define poverty or poor may be a subject of policy matter. But, even today, we hear about 80 Crore poor living in India. Plethora of examples prevail across the country, where people are exploring cases of malnutrition and experimenting with various foods, which primarily differ from staple foods, and may be based on genetically modified articles. And, that’s a mere shift of challenge, not progress. Recent epidemics due to Coronavirus, ebola and et al are becoming increasing concerns, all over the world. And, over these 50 years, the whole world has seen the wrath of temptation and wars, maybe from Iraq to Ukraine.
In 1972, India’s Prime Minister had stated “There was not enough data and no helpful books”. Today, the world probably has enormous books, not only in print, but also in digital versions. But we don’t have trustworthy data. Many cities are fighting out air pollution, water pollution with measuring equipment, which are not calibrated due to lack of facilities. Even today, we are divided while debating on deaths emanating from pollution. Data is still being generated on the exact sources of air and water pollution.
Population in those days was probably picturised as a curse and cause of pollution. Today, the population is reckoned as a consumer market force, which can’t be unwantedly tamed. Now, the populous countries like China and India are also major consumers of the world’s minerals, fossil fuels and so on. Hence, the increase in depletion of natural resources and environmental pollution. Nevertheless, the developed countries lead in terms of historical emission. But, developing countries are obstinately following the same path.
Indira Gandhi, in her speech had rightly said in 1972 that “Pollution is not a technical problem. The fault lies not in science and technology as such but in the sense of values of the contemporary world which ignores the rights of others and is oblivious of the longer perspective.” She had also said that “The profit motive, individual or collective, seems to overshadow all else. This overriding concern with self and Today is the basic cause of the ecological crisis.”, which has not changed. What’s changed is the regulation to make business easy, when questions of accountability are taken to the temples of justice. Industries and businesses, and sometimes governments in the name of economic development have been destroying forests, and natural resources, and also relentlessly throwing emissions.
The late Prime Minister of this huge democracy had stated that “No programme of population control can be effective without education and without a visible rise in the standard of living. Our own programmes have succeeded in the urban or semi-urban areas. To the very poor, every child is an earner and a helper. We are experimenting with new approaches and the family planning programme is being combined with those of maternity and child welfare, nutrition and development in general”. In today’s scenario also, India’s incumbent Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is emphasising on L.I.F.E. India, despite its rich cultural heritage, often gets inclined to adopt western traditions, and also governance. Indians must not forget Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed ”. Today’s India, in many fronts, leads the world. Indians must rely on traditional values to ensure environmental protection.
Nilamani Mishra is a former State Cadre Officer in Panchayati Raj Dept., currently President of Civil Society Balangir, Member of Western Odisha Forum, and also an agriculturist. He has written three books including the much appreciated “Our Balangir — Past & Present”.
Printed on 9th March 2022 issue of Enviro Annotations