A decade ago, I was travelling in a bus that commuted along NH 1 and NH 7 within Punjab. It was April referred to as the cruelest month by some poets. In India, it represents the aftermath of spring and an unpleasant reminder of hot and humid summer waiting ahead. Tones of wheat heaped up in fields and unending rows of trucks outside the godowns soothe one with the plenty the soil has produced but the hot winds that dehydrate everything and the drowsy workers make this abundance appear bleak.
On a particular stretch I felt that heat has suddenly reduced. The road was lined up with trees on both sides and this meager green cover extended to three or four rows of bushes into the fields. Everywhere, the stillness was clear as the day temperature crosses 40? C and as per local dialect you can’t hear even flapping of wings. Irrigated by the tributaries and canals of Sutlej, the area has the most fertile soil and favourable weather conditions for agriculture.
Barely after 2 years, I read a hoarding - R & R Projects. The rows of trees were gone. A bulldozer was leveling the soil made loose by enormous roots of trees standing there for years. Burning smell of asphalt had replaced the sweet odour of Eucalyptus. The still are bore that day tumult of noises produced by rows of workers digging and filling the road for its widening, dozing of machines, sounds of trucks bringing construction material and the honking of horns by the vehicles trying to cross constricted ways.
A few months after the 8- laning of the road was completed. It was another express way to facilitate men in need of speed. The accelerators stand up with a toll to retard your velocity for a few seconds and promise you hassle free driving at maximum speed your vehicle allows. The ministers boasted of their marvellous attempts towards progress. The developers were exasperated over the westernization and beautification of the countryside. The signing authorities could make no comparison between the number of full grown trees felled and the little and negligible plantation done in the name of bushes whose very leaves could be counted on dividers. Again there is silence with no speed breakers, with lack of green cover that disallows any habitation by birds what to say of any movement. The widened horizon of human beings has constricted their territories further deep into the fields where 2-3 trees barely stand per acre in bumper crop producing land.
Another 3 years pass by and the adjoining roads on the highway offer lucrative money in terms of toll and thrill offered by speed. We are meeting the challenges offered by the globalization. Virtual medium ensures speedy flow of communication and roads ensure fastest reach of commodities.
The constriction of the narrow forest zones of Punjab lining up its major roads has increased massively. With the dunes and hillocks cut, forest cover depleted, tree lines receded asphalt has surrounded the fields. It’s a slow volcanic eruption where heat and black mass have started threatening everything green and living.
We inhabit a country that talks of giving back to the panchbhutas, of cleansing the atmosphere around us, of choosing a simple life style that accounts for co-existence of other species within the ecosystems but the talks are not meant for execution. We have turned into demons that shower smoke, fire and heat and desire to bring catastrophic destruction of the world so beautifully carved because satans reside in darkness, smoke and fire of the black hell.
It’s time for us not to befool ourselves as lacking environmental awareness. We already are aware of the global warming, of the rise in daily temperature, of heaps of non-biodegradable waste, of extinction of birds and animals for lack of habitat, of pollution of air and water, of severe draught across the country, of melting of glaciers, of stone eyed wait for the rains and the dismissal of the thought in the name of El Nino effect, of concrete jungles over the face of our land and of Tsunamis playing havoc near the sea-coasts. The materialistic nature of our people advises us to reap profits till we live and not to bother about posterity.
We require not awareness but an action plan that can’t wait for next 5 years or so. The speed and urgency is required to set up green tribunals and conduct green audits for every little human activity ranging from seasonal agriculture, rainwater harvesting, tourism, real estate to widening of inland highways. Let the fines be imposed on ministers, authorities, developers and others concerned who treat denudation of green cover lightly.