Death of environment too big a price to pay
The death of environmentalist G. D. Agarwal after 112 days of fasting is a very tragic event. His fervid support for India’s long river had been a lifelong plea to preserve a natural resource so it may serve the nation’s people better. There are huge lessons to be learnt from the Union government dealing with the hydrologist and environment technocrat who turned a spiritual devotee of Ma Ganga. His death is symptomatic of the futility of trying to awaken India — a country whose Prime Minister’s constituency is Varanasi on the Ganga — to the importance of preserving the environment. If we can’t take care of the one river that means so much to the people who live along its 2,500- km path, then imagine the plight of national environmental resources spread across the land. The fasting activist was convinced that in four years nothing had been done to ensure the minimum flow of water even as the resource was used extensively for power and industrial purposes.
The grandiose schemes drawn up to restore the Ganga remain mostly on paper. Its total water flow has also come down over the years from lesser build- up in the nearly 10,000 glaciers thanks to denudation of the once pristine Himalayas, in India and the other eight countries in which the mighty 2,500 km range with nine of the world’s ten tallest peaks exists. The fact that apple production is down is also indicative of the larger environmental damage — as reflected in reduced snowfall — that man is causing on natural resources like mountains that give rise to great river systems. Global warming might have more to do with higher snowlines and retreating glaciers, but there too India’s contribution could be more deleterious thanks to the inability to give up thermal power and ineffective policies against extensive crop burning in the winter.
India is known to be good at firefighting and moving at the eleventh hour to complete projects. But when it comes to long- term planning, there is little to commend save for the solar policy that might just help a tad towards making use of alternative, renewable sources of power generation. The crop burning is just one of many major problems that affect the environment. Farmers still find it cheaper to burn the stubble and straw and pay the fines burning might invite. The challenges are huge but if we do no heed the warnings like those contained in the IPCC report on global warming and climate change, we could end up paying the penalty as we have more of the world’s poor who will be the first to be hit. “I have lost Ganga,” were Agarwal’s plaintive last words. The fear is India may have a lot more to lose than its sacred river if we don’t read the signs. The environment is a sacred resource and the moderns should know it. The fasting activist was convinced that in four years nothing had been done to ensure the minimum flow of water even as the resource was used extensively for power and industrial purposes