India : An Ecological Pralaya?

We can understand that India wants to de-link child labour from trade issues. Because, although the West is right in pointing out that there is indeed a terrible exploitation of child labour India, by people who make shameful money out of them: beedie factories owners, carpet makers, cracker factories etc., at the same time, child labour is a reality of India, which cannot be wished away, as many poor families depend on the earnings of their children to survive. And it is anyway not for the West, which is itself disgracefully exploiting cheap labour in Third World countries, to give lessons to India.

On the other hand, one is a little surprised to hear India’s protest against the West’s insistence to link trade with environmental safeguards and norms. It would be all right for Indians to ride on the high horse of offended honor if India’s ecology was in a good state. But the simple truth is that it is near the point of no return – and no government, be it the Congress or the BJP, has ever given a hoot about India’s environment, except to pay some lip service. We have since seen for instance how the BJP made a political appointment out of the Ministry of Environment, showing how low India’s ecology is on its agenda. But did they think for a moment that the Ministry of Environment may be as important as the Defense Ministry, because two nuclear bombs dropped by Pakistan on India will not do as much harm as India as fifty years of greedy saw-mill owners in league with corrupt politicians and forest officers have done to India’s environment ?

Do you know that by the middle of this century there will be no more forests cover left in India ? That its population will have long crossed the 1,3 billion mark and will overflow everywhere, stifling any progress, annihilating all efforts ? That India’s cities will be so polluted by their millions of cars that it will be impossible to breathe any more ? That India’s rivers will be so poisoned by industries, that all living life will long have disappeared from it (and that there will be no drinking water left, except imported mineral water) ? And that India will be littered with so much plastic (bags, bottles, buckets, etc.), that it will be materially impossible to ever get rid of them (indeed the land of Bharat should be renamed « the civilisation of plastic »…) This is 21st century India for you.

Many experts have already pointed out that hardly 11% of India’s classified forests have adequate density. In 1950, 1/3 of India’s area was still forested; each year India loses through deforesting a territory bigger than France, that is nearly two million hectares. And of these, only 3% is protected… And even that 3% is in deep distress, because of population pressure, big dams (like the Narmada), and industries. The main culprits of the deforestation are the contractors, the ones with big money, particularly the saw mill owners and the Forest Department, although it claims that it does selective tree felling, has absolutely no understanding of ecological balance. But without doubt, the greatest culprits of the massive deforestation, the dwindling of animal life, the thinning of underwater tables and the increasing desertification of India, are the politicians, in connivance with the contractors, who in turn bribe the forest officers, witness how Veerapan was able to plunder the forests of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for ten years. The Konkan railway, the Narmada Dam, or the increase of the prawn farms, are all examples of these criminal wrongdoing. And unfortunately, except for Maneka Gandhi, who was the only serious Environment Minister India ever had, there have never been as many harmful projects to ecology as lately. Fortunately, there is a growing ecological awareness in India, and movements led by Medha Patkar, Shri Baghuna, or the lawyer Mehta, who are doing wonderful work. But they often stand alone, because as long as the people of India will not be educated, their work is doomed.

But ultimately, is it fair to blame only the politicians, or even the British, who started the massive deforestation for their railways and killed hundreds of thousands of tigers ? Is there not something else in the Indian psyche that is to blame? Where is the root of this massive unconcern for one’s environment; this total disregard for beauty, whether it is the terrible ugliness of the cities in Punjab, or the appalling filthiness in Tamil Nadu ?… And, maybe, for once, the Hindus are to blame. The Ganges seems to be the perfect illustration of a religion which enjoins a thousand purification rites and yet has allowed her own Mother earth to be defiled. Here is a river that Hindus have held most sacred for centuries, nay millenniums; to bathe in it is to purify oneself of all bad karma; to die here is to be reborn in Light. Yet what do all Hindus do with their sacred Ganges? They defecate in it; they throw in all their refuse; they let their dead float down the mighty river, AS IF THEY THOUGHT THAT THE SPIRITUAL PURITY OF THE WATER CAN NEVER BE OBLITERATED BY MATERIAL DIRTINESS. But ask any scientist what is the degree of pollution in the Ganges today and he will also tell you that it is near the point of return. What will happen to India if it loses the Ganges, which is its very soul?

So for once, India should use the West: let them have their own way, however hypocrite and moralistic it is. Use them for the good of India, so that a little bit of ecological concern is drilled in this country, which allows its very body to go wasted. Because we have already seen how India has been forced to adopt certain environmental measures just out of greed, when European countries refused for instance to accept any textile export which was not azo free, or leather which was not chemically poisoned. The West has grown an ecological consciousness and knowledge which India totally lacks and we should learn from them.

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