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The Hindu on : Environmental awareness

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Tuesday, May 01, 2001

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Environmental awareness

A HEARTENING development in the West is the increased clout of the ``Green'' parties who are part of decision-makers. The fact that there is a move to go slow or even phase out nuclear power stations is a welcome development. The ``Greenpeace'' movement is gathering strength, though everyone may not approve of its methods to prove a point. It is a cat and mouse game being enacted in several countries where the environmental activists are keeping a close watch on the moves of the business houses which seem to spring surprises.

Mining is a destructive activity which can damage the ecosystem for ever. Those who have seen the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited (KIOCL), in the Western Ghats, Karnataka, are aghast at the largescale destruction of the hills which has altered their very shape. Moreover, the residue, basically silica, is dumped in settling ponds which has polluted groundwater in the neighbourhood. A few years ago, one of the dams constructed to retain the silica residue got flooded due to excess rainfall and burst its banks spreading destruction far and wide. The Kudremukh National Wildlife Park is seriously affected by the mining activity in its neighbourhood whose lease, unfortunately, is extended for some more years despite opposition from environmentalists and lovers of nature and wildlife.

The ongoing agitations against the Tehri dam and the Sardar Sarovar Project have raised environmental issues to national and international importance. Big projects have big problems but our planners are enamoured by the size of the project, not by cost- effectiveness or timely usefulness to the people. ``Small is beautiful'' remains on paper because it doesn't hit headlines and has little incentive for those out to grab a share of the resources by hook or by crook.

Low priority

How environmental protection laws when enforced strictly can cause serious disruption of livelihood for thousands of people was demonstrated recently when the Delhi administration, after a fiat from the Supreme Court, had to order closing down of hundreds of polluting small and medium scale industries in the Delhi metropolitan area. That the administration and the owners of business dragged their feet all along till the apex court said ``Enough is enough'' is an indication how people at the helm procrastinate till they find that all doors are closed and they are forced to act. It again proves, if any proof is needed, that environmental issues receive the least priority until forced to act.

Delhi again hogged the limelight, due to wrong reasons, when the Supreme Court ordered that their earlier ruling against running of polluting diesel buses, and induction of CNG buses should be implemented forthwith. It is only after massive disruption and agitation which forced the Supreme Court to give a breather to the Delhi Government on the immediate introduction of CNG buses. That there are voices raised against total dependence on CNG to run buses is another issue.

Even a simple issue of limiting the use of plastics is embroiled in controversy. While some State Governments think by increasing the gauge of the plastics used for carry-bags the problem of pollution can be solved, others have taken the drastic, but commendable, route of banning their use altogether. The use of bio-degradable plastics has not received the attention it deserves.

The Railways, the biggest users of plastic cups, trays, and foil have allowed these to be thrown helter-skelter all along the tracks which remain an eyesore and an environmental hazard. A few national parks have taken the decision not to allow plastics inside their areas of control, a step in the right direction. What is needed is an all-out war against the use of plastics with alternatives like paper and environmentally friendly products like coir, jute and leaves receiving strong support for packing and for carry-bags. The use of plantain leaves during feasts, marriages and other functions in the South proves the point that it is possible to avoid the use of eco-unfriendly materials if one really is interested.

A dichotomy

A dichotomy exists in our society - we tend to keep our homes clean but have no compunction in throwing the garbage out, because there is someone paid to clean it up. This contrasts with the situation in advanced countries where littering, spitting and using public places as toilets are frowned upon. While we tend to imitate those countries in various ways, we have not taken such good points for adoption. Awareness of the environmental issues is minimal in the community. The politicians largely give a go-by to environmental issues because they are more concerned about losing people's votes. Huge trees are uprooted to make way for new highways. Lovely trees are cut to lay a foundation for a highrise building with no tears shed for their loss. Environmental issues, thus, have no takers. It is the lone voice of Sunderlal Bahuguna or Medha Patkar which is heard in protest against destructive environmental policies of the state. Schools have failed to inculcate in the students a deep love and attachment to Nature. No wonder they grow up without any concern for the environment which asks little but gives plenty in return. Rapid receding of the Gangotri glacier, the source of the holy Bhagirathi, in recent times has brought the issue of global warming nearer home. Environmental issues are thus real, not scary sci-fi to be read leisurely.


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