The British brought in new revenue system that the people had nothing left to invest in the environment. They failed to understand and appreciate for instance, the sophisticated system of flood irrigation prevailing in Bengal and brought in new systems that actually worsened the whole relation and led to the Bengal famine. They also brought in every centralised bureaucratic system whereas India was built on community based governance whether in rural or urban areas. All this led to enormous changes.
The community spirit broke down and people were becoming more and more depended on the government. Unfortunately in the post independence period no change was made in the governing systems brought in by the British. It was left to the centralised bureaucracy to do every thing and elected politicians further encouraged the belief that it is the politician rather than the people who would take the decision and that since all natural resources belonged to the government rather than the people; it had the right to take all decisions.
Increasingly the government also proved to be not only extremely corrupt but also extremely incompetent in dealing with the diversity and extraordinary range of ecological and challenges it was faced with. Growing communalism further compounded the problem. Local community initiative was not important nor was local technology.
By the 1970’s given the scale of deforestation and land degradation became clear that some body had to respond to it and that was when the modem environmental movements like the Chapko movement, when people were rebelling against the government ownership of forest, began.
Women said that the government may own the land and therefore have the right to log and sell to contractors but since they were depended on them for their fodder, and water, they had a moral right. They would hug the trees rather than let them be cut down.
An indeed try the 70s it was clear that women were spending enormous amount of time collecting firewood fodder and water. This led to a generation of environmentalists who realise it was important to protect the environment and not just in the western paradigm of protecting it but they also felt very strongly that people have a special relationship with their environment and that it is important to develop governing system that will interact with the communities.
In the late 70s and early 80s as problems worsened, we saw some outstanding efforts to survive the Chipko process people planting trees, mobilising communities to take care of their environment. Anna Hazare returned from the army and in 15 years transformed some of the most degraded and destitute villages into some of the most prosperous in the country of the government was also beginning to realise the seriousness of the situation Rajiv Gandhi in his first address to the nation spoke of the governments decision to afforest 500 million hectares every year and to launch the Ganga Action Plan which would be a modal for other rivers.
The difference between him and Indira Gandhi was that while she saw environment more in terms of nature conservation and launched programmes like ‘Save the Tiger Project’ Rajiv Gandhi saw it more in terms of development of how millions had been improved by environmental changes. But it was very difficult for these politicians despite the best of intentions to bring about community based involvement and participation but on the other hand, learning from some of these extraordinary efforts. Digvijay Singh when he became the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh replicated the work of Hazare and launched the watershed management project that has been hugely successful.
The danger point for which we have no answer is urban environment where again there is centralised corrupt bureaucracy and where the vested interests are very strong. Here we are facing environmental problems created by economic growth. People forget that the first 15 years of what in economic history is called the post war economic boom, led to high level of pollution in the industrialised countries like Britain, America, Europe, Japan during that period the Rhine and Thames rivers were stinking sewers which led to major environmental movement that forced the government to work hard to clean it up. And now this is being witnessed in India and economically growing countries in South America.
So what do we do? The government system does not function and at the end of the century if any serious effort is being made it is by the courts. From the- district court to the Supreme Courts all are taking on environment cases which is an indication that the governing system is totally incapable in dealing with these problems.
Our towns and cities are filthy and national governments behave as if the nation lives only in four cities. It is a serious issue and as people become more prosperous they will realise that something must be done to protect their health as well. At present they are only interested in acquiring more and more industrial goods but when more children die, when more people become more asthmatic, when more cancers appear, there will be hue, and cry and at some stage it will have an effect on the political system but one does not see this sort of public pressure on the political system for the next 10 to 15 years.
Another distinct aspect is that India has always invested in scientific research to meet its national goals. Nehru invested in atomic energy to meet our energy security demands and in the mid 700 when India became totally dependent on the world for its food needs. We invested in the science of food security and we got the green revolution. But today we are facing the problem of environmental security no one is investing scientific research into it. India may be a great nation when it comes to making a bomb or flaunting but it is all nonsense when it comes to environment there is no one who can tell us of the ills of air pollution.
Rural environment is changing. The big advantage being that over the last 15 to 20 years an effort has been made to mobilise communities to protect the environment and in India nature bounces back very quickly. But in the urban sector there is absolute crisis. Courts are giving orders but this needs drive, honesty and competence none of which are there. The answer to this problem is left with the civil society which must raise funds, research and monitor and motivate public awareness, the media which must be more focused and the courts learn to give orders which must be implemented.
Sustainable development has become the new catchphrase. Every international agency and almost every country is talking about it according to World Commission on Environment and Development, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Economists have also provided a definition of sustainable development as being an economic process in which the quantity and quality of stocks of natural resources (like forests) and the integrity of bio-chemical cycle like climate are sustained and pushed on to the future generations unimpaired. Wild Life Sanctuaries (WLS) National Parks (NP) and Biosphere Reserves
First National park was established in 1935 in Nainital which is known as Corbet National Park. Today, there are 88 NP and 490 WLS.
In 1972 wild life protection Act was passed by the Parliament Project Tiger was launched in 1973.