The newspapers are full of reports of human suffering that is being caused by extraordinary heat during this summer. Temperatures are soaring all over the country, whether in North or Central or South India or in its eastern parts, with mercury in Churu in Rajasthan, a traditionally hot place, topping 50 degrees Celsius. What makes the situation worse is the acute water shortage that accompanies the extreme hot weather. Reports in newspapers are frequently seen of men and women crowding around wells with long pipes in vain attempts to reach the rapidly falling subsoil water level or trudging long distances over dusty roads in the hope of finding a water source.
The prediction that global warming will take its toll is proving to be true. The hinterland of the country is the worst sufferer as are the people inhabiting it. It is the poor who suffer most not only because of the heat but also because of general unavailability of water for quenching their thirst or for cooking and ablutions. The rich and well-to-do are able to somehow manage with their money power and extra hands that they hire to service their needs. But it is the poor who get the worst of it, especially the elderly and feeble who are unable to gather their essential needs.
In India global warming has already started hitting the poor where it hurts them most. And yet hardly anything is done to mitigate their almost regular annual travail to get over the heaps of trouble that they have to deal with. Almost all political parties swear by the poor but they have done nothing to prepare for mitigation of hardships of the poor that were anticipated with the onset of global warming. While there has been failure in the past there seems to be failure in the offing in the future as well.
The new Modi government has allocated only half a minister for dealing with crucial matters relating to environment. Prakash Jawadekar is the minister – half for environment and another half for Information & Broadcasting. Is environment in the current times of global warming and consequential climate change so unimportant as to deserve only half a minister? This is strange as when cabinet formation was in the process in late May the impact of general warming had already made its presence felt in some parts of the country.
In his earlier avatar as Minister of Environment and that too for half a tenure (the other half was shared by Dr. Harshwardhan) Jawadekar was known among environmentalists to have diluted the environmental laws. His efforts were seen only as that of a facilitator for forest clearances instead of a conservationist that a minister for environment needs to be. And hence, hundreds of square kilometers of forests were allowed to be cleared for polluting industries. He was, after all, feeding his government’s chase for development and higher and higher rate of growth in the country’s GDP. Somehow, he and the government overlooked the fact that high rate of GDP growth does not necessarily make people, especially the poor, happy. What happens, as has been seen in the past five years, it is Mukesh Ambani and his ilk who prosper in a regime of high rate of GDP growth whereas the poor suffer from shrinkage of their resources.
Five years of Modi government has not been good for conservation of the environment which include purity of the air we breathe, easy availability of water for everybody’s needs, especially for the poor and so on. If the government is keen only on “vikas” (development) and an overriding wish to become a super power all these fetters like those of environment have to be shaken off. What impact does it have on people in course of time remains to be seen. There is no gainsaying the fact that the hardships for the people will surely be enhanced.
I do not know why governments are so indifferent to the problems created for the people by adverse impacts of environment. Of course, all that we find adverse today are because of thoughtless tinkering by us with nature. Many actions that are taken by governments are mostly in the name of development coupled with the wellbeing of people but most of them end up harming the natural surroundings putting people in dire straits. Our people have to fight relentless battles against the adversities inflicted on them spending most of their resources and energy.
From the indications one gets today it seems that the people in this country are going to face severe privations because of environmental degradation. Trees that are the protectors of environment are facing threats from human activities. One wonders how many of those who are ready with an axe to cut down trees know that trees contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil and supporting wild life. Trees control the climate by moderating the effects of sun, rain and wind. Both above and below the ground trees are essential for the ecosystems they reside in. Roots reaching far below underground hold the soil together preventing erosion. Besides, trees store and absorb rainwater that reduces runoffs. When we consider forests which, in fact, are a great assemblage of trees of various species, bushes, etc., their benign effect on the natural world increase manifold. Many of them are beneficial for humans and animals and many others are good for the natural features. When we clear the forests we are deprived of all those benefits, putting humans and animals to a life of acute stress.
India has set a target for itself of a forest area of 33% of its land area but its total area under forests is only 21.74% - a deficit of around 12%. This figure includes only forested areas and excludes areas that are supposedly under tree cover. While a marginal increase of around 1% has been registered in forest cover there is hardly any concerted effort to maintain forests and enhance their area keeping in view the target of 33% of land area.
As the temperatures are already vaulting, looks like, there is little that we can do now. Already we are late and it seems it is going to be very difficult to undo the damage to the environment that has already been done. Nonetheless a beginning has to be made and action has to be taken on war footing to restore our physical environment as best as we possibly can and as fast as possible.
At the same time, our people have to prepare themselves for dealing with intense heat on account of global warming and the loss of tempering effects because of reduced vegetative cover. Over the oncoming years heat is likely to become more and more intense making life difficult for humans and animals. Already, predictions have been made that if business of conservation of the environment continues as usual the temperatures could hit 50 degrees Celsius in large parts of the country by mid 21st Century turning most of it into hostile and inhospitable for life on this planet as we have known it.