Environment Degradation Approach the young in schools and colleges
Nowhere else on the globe rivers have been accorded divinity as in India. One wonders whether anywhere in the world, rivers have been so brutally and violently treated as in India, that too in the post-Independence period. How many, even from amongst the staunch devotees, can have the courage and drink Ganga Jal at Dasaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi or Sangam at Allahabad? People are repeatedly informed that thousands of crores have been spent on cleaning of rivers and more funds are in the pipeline. Maybe, a very small proportion of the huge funds allocated for the purpose were sporadically utilised properly by some motivated officers but the gains invariably get lost in the apathy, ignorance, lack of application and above all, the omnipresent corruption that permits the spoilers to have field day abashedly. As a result the facts before the people are very different, pollution levels are increasing, rivers are getting choked, civic bodies, and industries unhesitatingly ignore the rules and regulations and even every effort by the civil society to persuade them to perform their duty truthfully and sincerely. Encouraging signs of positive action do come from groups of young person’s working on their own, seeking voluntary support from the people. If one visits Assi Ghat in Varanasi, clear indications of successful efforts by the voluntary group are distinctly visible. Motivated young persons are seen devoting time and energy with great sincerity and commitment. They are neither politicians nor aspiring youth leaders. They just work and work together. There are many more such initiatives spread over at various places in the country. Their efforts and outcomes get effaced as the civic bodies that remain just unconcerned because of the rampant corruption and some Industrialist continues to flout all the provisions of law on waste disposal; duly assisted clandestinely by the bureaucracy and the politician.
When Jairam Ramesh took over the Ministry of Environment in May 2009, a very significant revelation went rather unnoticed. One of the Hon’ble members of the National Committee that was responsible for scrutinising projects or environmental clearance was found to have cleared eight of such projects with which he was associated on record in very senior capacity. When it was pointed out, he simply (and honorably) withdrew from the committee. And there lies the point. Some people can play havoc with the system and are permitted to walk scot-free? The trend flows downwards. The culprits of killing rivers have just not cared for following the provisions concerning permissible waste disposal techniques. To them, the easiest way is to dump everything in the nearest River and keep the palms of the monitoring mechanism well-greased. For a show, they even put up plants that are outdated and remain perpetually non-functional. Now that Jairam Ramesh has shown guts and has decided to issue a fifteen-day notices to all the establishments that are dumping their garbage in the Ganga from Kanpur to Kannauj, the culprits have already begun to harp on “what would happen to poor people who are dependent for their daily bread on the polluting establishments?” Sufferings of tribals and the deforestation get submerged in the power equations that benefit only a select few. The tragedy is that those responsible for ensuring adherence to the provisions of the concerned acts are never held responsible for permitting non-compliance for decades together. Jairam Ramesh has shown nerves of steel on issues like BT cotton and the bauxite mining in Odisha by Vedanta. Even Posco projects may face severe lawful scrutiny. Some whiff of fresh air that indicates honesty of purpose and courage of conviction is flowing from the environment ministry. It is a rare instance and one simply hopes that it shall continue, in spite of forces that have invariably succeeded all these years to thwart every such possibility.
While a couple of actions certainly generate confidence, it is the long-term strategies that must be planned and put to action. Environmental degradation caused by waste disposal is directly linked to erosion of social and ethical values, spread of corruption to CWG-2010 proportions and the unholy alliance of politicians and bureaucrats. The present monitoring setup—both at the centre and the states—just does not have the face to work in the spirit Jairam would like them to invoke. The only possibility is to go to education and to the youth. Though education alone cannot be expected to create congenial conditions, it can play the most vital and critical part in preparing young persons who understand the meaning of education in the comprehensive sense. It is time that young persons in schools and colleges internalise the essence of “self, society and nature”. Mahatma Gandhi wanted education to “draw out the best from the body, mind and spirit”. Only those who understand the sublime nature of man-nature relationship and the necessity of maintaining the delicate balance can really appreciate the need for environmental conservation. It is indeed relevant to recall an initiative that could change the scenario on attitudes towards environmental degradation on various counts.
On December 18, 2003, the Supreme Court of India directed the NCERT to put up a syllabus on environmental education as an independent subject in all the schools in the country. After nationwide consultations this syllabus was prepared by the National Council for Teacher Education and submitted to the Hon’ble Court in April 2004. It was passed on to all the state governments/UT for a thorough professional examination at their end. Though some states asked for more time in May, 2005, none made any objection to the proposal and the contents of the syllabus. While preparing it, it was kept in mind that curriculum load would not increase and that it would be left the choice of the state governments and the boards to make such changes as are required to bring in the local element of the curriculum. On July13, 2004 in presence of all the state governments and the school boards, the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed orders that the syllabus be implemented forthwith. The occasion was very significant on two counts: First every state agreed that environmental education be treated as a separate subject and the next; the syllabus prepared by the NCERT found total support and acceptance from all the states. Several of them began work in all sincerity on it. It must be noted that the state governments of all political hues supported the idea and its implementation on the basis of its professional soundness and urgency for prevention of further degradation and plundering. But that was not to be. The central government decided to scrap all that was done in the years before it to power in May 2004. In that sweeping decision, this decision, though taken in the time of the same government, was also thrown to dustbin. Some excuses were given and the new curriculum framework of 2005 buried it unceremoniously. Uninformed and politically-motivated actions and maneuvers can result in severe damage to professional initiatives. The consequences have to be borne by the future generations.
Better to wake up late than remain in sweet slumber and lose all. India has lost six years in providing a great opportunity to its next generation to appreciate and understand its role and responsibility in saving the planet, preserving the assets provided to mankind by nature and to prioritise the mutuality of man and nature. Will someone have the courage to reconsider the position?
By JS Rajput