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Updated 02:00 IST[Late CityTuesday, August 24, 1999, New Delhi
 

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Opinion 
 

In tune with nature
(Sunderlal Bahuguna on a new lifestyle)

The 20th century has been the century of material development. Material prosperity was regarded as the source of peace and happiness. So all the efforts were towards the achievement of prosperity. But from where does this prosperity come?

By converting Nature into cash. Thus the natural wealth was not only depleted, but it was destroyed on a mass scale due to thoughtless exploitation. Its biggest evidence is the squeezing of the forest area. Eucalyptus and other fast-growing species were encouraged in the name of afforestation. Eucalyptus is like a child born in mool nakshtra, which proved fatal to the parents — soil and water. Eucalyptus allows no undergrowth of bushes and grass. The birds cannot nest on this tree. It is used only for paper and rayon industries and for the oil from its leaves. If we measure it in terms of profit and loss — the profit is too little and the loss is too much. Nature has bestowed living beings with three gifts — oxygen, clean water and fertile soil. The yardstick to measure real development should be the increase in these basic capitals. But the facts are different, as there has been an increase of sixty per cent in greenhouse gases in the last thirty years. The use of fossil fuels (coal etc) and atomic energy is increasing. The dazzle of electric light and the sound of electric fans has finished the common man’s thinking power and the production process of this energy is adding poison in the atmosphere.

The other gift of material civilisation is water pollution and too much consumption of water. The eyes of the farmer glitter with the hope to get bumper crops when he spreads urea and other chemical fertilisers in his field. He is astonished by the increasing demand of the chemical fertilisers to get the same yield, but he is helpless. The soil has become addicted and like an addict the soil needs more to get the same amount of emotion. We are farmers of many centuries in India, but in the US, where they are the farmers of only three centuries, dust storms are a new phenomenon in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The chemical fertilisers scatter the living particles of soil, which hold each other due to natural moisture and it is converted into dust. The effect of chemical fertilisers and the pesticides has been even more disastrous on water. These are not only poisoning the ground water, but also the surface water. Probably the living beings have acquired the capability to assimilate these, but it has definitely affected their vitality, inspiration and freshness.

How to compensate Nature for the cost of affluence, which Nature had to pay during the 20th century? The challenge to find out the answer is before the well-wishers of mankind —social scientists, humanitarian scientists and politicians. This should not be the concern of a few for whom the flattering adjective of environmentalist has been used while the others have shirked their responsibility. The basic question is whether we will continue to live under the illusion of accepting affluence as development or will we change the definition of development? There should be two basic characteristics of development. It should have continuity and it should not harm even a small minority. Let us examine the mega-dam reservoirs on these lines. These projects claim to solve the water problem — drinking water and irrigation. But for how long? The life of reservoirs is limited due to siltation. Forty-two sq km of the most fertile valley land will be submerged because of the Tehri dam. The same is true of Sardar Sarovar. The life of Tehri dam according to the dam-builders is 100 years, but according to independent experts it will not be more than 30 to 40 years. Not only the beautiful hill area of 42 sq km, but the inspiring memorials of the Vedantic saint Swami Ram Tirth who took sanyas, lived and immersed himself in the river, will disappear for ever. One lakh people will be uprooted.

More than this, the Meerut region, the most fertile area of western UP, where the farmers are being given the allurement of more water to grow sugarcane (though at the cost of foodgrains) will be devoid of fresh top soil, which they get from the Himalayas every year. The exponents of chemical fertilisers have given the people the false notion that more production is only due to fertilisers and water. How long will the fertilisers and water produce more in the absence of fresh top soil? This is a selfish plan to plunder the right to life of the coming generations in order to become prosperous.

What should be the plan for the sustained supply of oxygen, and maintenance of water level and the soil fertility? Its scientific answer is through tree farming. It is also essential to meet the increasing subsistence needs of the growing population. Tree farming can give five to 10 times higher production from the same area. Trees rise towards the sky and we utilise the space for production, which is not possible in crop farming. So far seasonal fruits have been given importance as tree products. These cannot be preserved for a long period. So the immediate task is to find out more durable and nourishing fruit species for different ecological zones. Among these fruits the first priority should be given to dry fruits. In the hills, walnut and chestnut come under this category. The second place goes to cashewnut and almond, and the third is oilseed-giving trees like olive. It is often asked what is the alternative to sugarcane, because without sweets not only human beings even the deities are not satisfied. And the reply is honey. Honey is a tree-product. The bees make hives on the trees. In the hills there is an excellent flowering tree — the bird cherry, which has been named as the ‘divine’ tree by the grateful hill folk. This tree flowers in November and December when there are no flowers for the bees to live upon. Then there are the seasonal fruit trees, about whom everybody knows.

The need is to find out different species, which may give fruit round the year. When tree products are adopted as staple food, there will be less need of hospitals and medicinal drugs because most of the diseases are born in our kitchens where tasty, spicy and fried food is prepared. Human beings are not only the children of Mother Earth — animals, birds and other living beings are also her children. Trees producing leaf-fodder and seeds will also be needed. Similarly trees for fuel (to warm the houses), timber, leaf fertiliser and fibre for clothing will have to be grown. I have given them the name of five ‘F’ trees — food, fodder, fuel, fertiliser and fibre. Such land use will not only conserve the basic capitals of Mother Earth — soil and water — but will also increase these.

The economists so far have sung the glory of the increase in capital produced from the exploitation of the wealth of earth, but it was like putting on a gold ring after selling the rose. With the coming of the 21st century, we will have to establish a permanent economy. Gandhi was the first visionary of this. E. F. Schumacher, the celebrated author of Small is Beautiful made it a science. But there is need to give this idea the shape of a people’s movement and to adopt a lifestyle based upon it.

Historically, the advent of the 21st century is a psychological event, because it is not only a century but an ending of a thousand years. We are entering a new era, with the achievements and failures of two thousand years of experience. The lifestyle to be developed in this should not be the carbon copy of the past, but entirely a new one, which may guarantee permanent peace, happiness and satisfaction — not prosperity alone — to all the children of Mother Earth.


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