The Need for Environmental Governance

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Kartikeya V. Sarabhai was awarded the Padma Shri in 2012 for his exceptional and distinguished service in the field of Environmental Education. He is also the Founder Director of the Centre for Environment Education (CEE), established in 1984 as a centre of excellence of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India. He takes the time today to discuss the environmental future of India
WHAT ARE THE THREATS TO THE INDIAN ENVIRONMENT?
The main threat to the Indian environment comes from the rapid change in lifestyles and the increase in urbanization, industrial growth and consequent need for power, minerals, ports and transportation. A major concern is that global models of development that are at times inappropriate for India are being brought in. A good example would be the Bt technology for food and the rapid replacement of Indian seed varieties and farmers’ independence. The loss of wild bio-diversity is also a major threat.
Protected areas are a good strategy but by no means sufficient. Many species are intricately connected with what happens outside protected areas and strategies to conserve this need to be rapidly put in place.Land, which is a critical resource is perhaps the most neglected and taken for granted. In some of our most fertile regions we build factories and try to improve farm productivity in land which is otherwise poor. The threat is the loss of fertile land. The loss of green cover especially on the hill sides further adds to soil erosion which will be very difficult to replace. Similarly, water is the lifeline of our country.
Climate change threatens the monsoon pattern. Any change in the water cycle would be quite disastrous. Water, both on surface and ground water is being polluted and aquifers are rapidly deteriorating.
WHAT ARE IMMEDIATE STEPS THAT NEED TO BE TAKEN FOR BIO-DIVERSITY CONSERVATION?
Protection of indigenous crop varieties is important. India is the home to several of plants and animals that it has domesticated and preserved over thousands of years. Special characteristics appropriate for India and the particular environment have led to many varieties such as over 20 breeds of cows or the 2000 plus varieties of brinjals. Use of Bt technologies in varieties which are indigenous to India is very dangerous and the precautionary principal needs to be followed.
Without adequate regulatory mechanisms in regulatory mechanisms in place or clarity as to whose liability it is, allowing field trials is not a wise step.
Urgent and new strategies are required for the protection of bio-diversity outside of protected areas. In many cases traditional corridors where animals moved have been blocked not only causing human-animal conflict but also major accidents. Birds like the Harriers, which migrate to grasslands in India but feed in cotton fields around the protected area, are under threat. One needs a multi stakeholder collaboration to develop a conservation strategy. There are good examples of this and the government needs to support such efforts.
Traditionally much of India’s biodiversity was also linked with livelihood and craft traditions. With the erosion of bio-diversity the impact has been on both these. Crafts person have often switched to chemicals or other substitutes. Such non-agricultural plant material needs to be carefully put into a system of sustainable use and consumption. The same is true of other areas such as traditional fishing. The threat of industrialized operations not only destroys the fish stock but also kills local traditions and destroys local livelihoods.
An initiative on sustainable use of biodiversity has been taken and needs to be made into a full fledged program.
Key species which are under threat need individual strategies as the threat or reason for decline in each case is different. In many cases such as protecting the Tiger, Elephant or Rhino, an effective conservation strategy might suddenly collapse as a result of new threats and new technologies. These need to be monitored and new solutions found. In many other cases such as the Gangetic Dolphin, the success of the specie is also the success of the efforts to clean the Ganga. This requires careful strategy and public support.
Ultimately in a democracy it is only as a result of wide public support and awareness that conservation will be possible. India has been able to protect its bio-diversity to a large extent due to the deeply entrenched belief system and practices. But these are rapidly changing.
We need to bring more understanding and reach out to the young. The proposed national nature camping program wherein every child who goes to school will attend at least one certified Nature Education Camp is a step in that direction. Programmes such as these will need the necessary resource to make them possible. The Science Express Biodiversity Special which took a biodiversity exhibition around the country on a train is another example.
WHAT, ACCORDING TO YOU, WILL BE THE NEW GOVERNMENT’S ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY?
What is the policy of the government of India? In the past I have often been asked this question at international forums.
Unfortunately, there was never a single answer to such a question but multiple ones. Each ministry would have its own policy often contradicting another. The key to success lies in being able to blend environmental concerns with development, and to develop a sustainable development pathway for this country. The new government, with its clear and strong leadership, will be better able to bring a common vision on sustainable development to all the ministries and end what often looked like a set of disjointed policies made by individual ministries. Key areas which need to be addressed include agriculture, energy, urbanization, mining, water supply and the use of schemes such as the MGNREGA. While it is too early to say what the precise view of the new government will be on individual environmental issues, the pronouncement and the actions and new initiatives at co-ordination have been positive signs.
India’s legislation has shown a lot of foresight in many areas. However, there has been a major gap between legislation and implementation. The current government’s emphasis on better delivery, more transparency and speed will go a long way in ensuring that the environmental initiatives taken actually lead to protection of the environment. The current government seems likely to improve the quality of implementation in the field.
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