Herald: Care and concern for the ecology should become paramount

Herald: Care and concern for the ecology should become paramount

Updated: 11 days, 16 hours, 54 minutes, 13 seconds ago

21 Jan 2023

  |   05:04am IST

Care and concern for the ecology should become paramount

Ranajoy Sen

After bidding adieu to the previous year, the New Year has commenced with hope and expectations. But, it risks being smothered with stressful events. The continuing conflict of arms in Ukraine and the distressful discernment of ecological disaster in India are ominous portents. Both could hammer away at the efforts for betterment in India and across the World. The war in Ukraine shows no signs of abatement; the cracking of the beautiful and crucial Himalayan hill town of Joshimath is a chilling portent of what might happen if wake up calls are still given a go-by.       

It is a foregone conclusion that the world has witnessed and continues to be observant of clashes of arms. This is not a new phenomenon. It has happened since time immemorial and could continue well into the future. Although, it is a fervent hope that such occurrences dissipate and get completely obliterated, the risk in human nature to start conflicts emanating from ego, anger, and greed remains all pervasive. Notably, it is a fount of greed which also leads to ecological degradation that would perversely affect any society. The scenes and instances of ecological disaster in India are glaring and continue to be a notable factor in the social discourse. The falling apart of Joshimath is possibly a warning bell that the danger from ignorance of ecological damage is progressing to a point of almost no return.  

Indian society has not been unaware of the dangers of ecological damage ever since the country gained independence. The Chipko movement, the prevention of the construction of dams haphazardly, soil erosion, the Bhopal gas disaster, and a brazen excavation of mineral resources to the detriment of ecological balance have been recorded in the annals of Indian social history. The Joshimath incident is possibly the latest inclusion to the list of despondent happenings. As one witnesses the sight of houses and other structures wearing down to the force determined from natural imbalance, one wonders what might be the fate of people inhabiting that town. Furthermore, tourism could take a major blow in that region. 

It has been argued and explicated numerous times that unplanned construction of hotels and other structures in sensitive locations are a recipe for future disaster. But, more often than not, the requisite heed is simply not paid to those urges and admonitions. In the pretext of development, roads and related logistics are built without taking into cognizance of the possible aftermaths. Moreover, people who have expressed legitimate concerns have been given the roughshod and often been physically roughed up by certain vested interests, while those supposed to be preventing it, looking the other way. 

However, there have been instances where governing authorities have stepped in to ensure that natural balance and ecological equilibriums are not tampered with. But, regrettably those instances have been few and far in between. In the pretext of economic development and generation of employment opportunities, the requisite balance between nature and economic activities have been tampered with in an unacceptable manner. Several rivers in India are dying or are in a state of acute neglect. Mountainous terrains are subjected to ill-planned development and harmful activities. It boggles the mind as to why should that be the case, repeatedly?   

If ecological balance is not preserved properly, then it will cast its adversarial affect upon the economy as well. When ecological considerations are given due recognition alongside economic activities, the returns are more fruitful and long-lasting. For instance, in many countries, hill stations are permitted to build only two storied houses. That keeps the ecological template in place while new creativity and developmental activities are undertaken within specified parameters. But, in India that is sadly observed more in the breach than in the norm. 

The Himalayan Mountains have been subjected to several ecological degradations. In the plea for attracting more tourists and pilgrims, patterns of development have proceeded apace which does more harm and benefits. Moreover, the construction of several hydroelectric dams has blocked the natural course of several rivers. That has forced water to spread into the surrounding areas. Additionally, construction of multistoried houses has slowly dissipated soil strength. The collective consequence has been an institutional depletion of the foundations of several towns and cities in that region. Joshimath is a prime instance of the aftermath that had been forewarned, but was ignored.  

Several years ago, former BJP leader and minister, Sushma Swaraj had raised the issue of degradation of Himalayan towns to the expediency of unplanned development. She explained in graphic detail in Parliament the dangers inherent in a process of continuous ignorance. Why did successive governments, at the centre as also in the state of Uttarakhand within which Joshimath is situated, not pay heed to the repeated warnings being presented? Are we too concerned with some outward glitter and show of economic ostentation in bits and pieces that the larger scenario remains elusive? If so, then that should be thwarted forthwith.      

It is a pressing imperative to strive for electing “Green Prime Ministers” and “Green Chief Ministers” in India. According to an editorial, published in The Hindu, way back in 2005, the most perceptible “Green Prime Minister” that India has had was Indira Gandhi. She was greatly concerned about ecological matters; it is on record that she prevented construction of dams and real estate if it was deciphered that it would have deleterious consequences in the surrounding region. It is a fervent hope, that our current politicians and political leaders would keenly learn from anybody who has something worthy to offer as regards ecological sanctity; even if it is from somebody across some political divide. That would be a worthy objective for this year and those beyond.       

(The author is a columnist with specialisations in International Affairs, the Economy, Indian politics, and certain feature topics)    

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