World Environment Day - India should Launch a National Mission for Ecological Restoration of Degraded Lands and Wastelands
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

This year India is hosting the 43rd edition of the UN World Environment Day, celebrated on the 5th of June, this time the theme being “Beat the Plastic Pollution”. In 2015, over 320 million ton of plastic waste was produced globally as compared to just 1.5 million ton in 1950. Plastic waste is thus growing at 8 percent per annum. Already, the world’s oceans are choked with plastic which is killing marine life. Even on land, the cattle die because of eating plastic.

The World Environment Day is a good time for introspection and reflection. Why is the environment in such a sorry state of degradation despite years of efforts around the world? What impact will the degraded environment have on our lives if nothing is done?

Despite numerous initiatives and schemes, environmental degradation has not been arrested. The loss of bio-diversity is accelerating at an alarming rate. The impact of the global warming is visible in our daily lives. Efforts of the international community to stop and reverse the decline of the environment are not succeeding. The fragile eco-systems which provide vital services for the sustenance of the life on the Earth are being destroyed recklessly. The concept of sustainable development, in discussion since the seventies, has failed to take roots.

According to Prof CR Babu, a Distinguished Fellow at The Vivekananda International Foundation, “More than 43 percent of earth’s surface has lost its productive potential. About 60 percent of the global landscapes are degraded and 70 percent of the areas in 25 hotspots of bio-diversity are cleared. In India, about 20 percent of the total geographical area (TGA), i.e. 65 million hectares, are classified as a wasteland as per the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) 1999-2000”.i

Despite this depressing scenario, there is no escape from the joining in collective efforts to save the environment and save the life on earth. India, with nearly 15 percent of the world’s population and only 2 percent of the land area is acutely affected by environmental degradation. Sadly, the Indian cities are amongst the most polluted in the world. The most majestic and the holiest of the rivers have been converted into sewage drains with no aquatic life left in them. Pristine land has been converted into mountains of garbage. Fertile agricultural land has been polluted by poisonous chemicals. Food and vegetables grown on these are laden with pesticides. Unplanned urbanisation has created unlivable, soulless cities without basic amenities. India’s monuments and rich cultural heritage have been swallowed by expanding cities. Virulent disease and epidemics take a heavy toll on human, animals and plants every season.

Not that the Government and people are completely are unaware of the problems. However, the socio-economic models and institutions that we have adopted over the last few decades are not in harmony with the environment. No government, no matter how rich and resourceful, will be able to deal with these problems of monumental scale alone. Partnership between the government and the people is a prerequisite for any successful initiative to save the environment. The top-down approach to planning would not help. People’s cooperation is essential just as the government has to be sensitive to people’s needs.

The environment cannot be saved unless each one of us is ready to make serious changes in our lifestyle. This is particularly true of the rich and upwardly mobile. The environment can satisfy our needs but not our greed. The distinction between greed and need must be made. How many of us own more than one car? How many air-conditioners and heaters do we use? How many pairs of clothes do we own? How much plastic do we use? Do we segregate the waste in our homes? How much food do we waste? Do we recycle water in our localities? Do we recycle water at all? Are we serious about rainwater harvesting? Do we pay for the pollution that we cause? These are the questions every citizen must reflect on. Unless citizens realise their responsibility towards the environment, nothing can be done.

The governments, of course, have the main role and responsibility to clean up and protect the environment. Faulty planning, rapacious exploitation of resources have played havoc. The first and foremost is to plan the cities and infrastructure better, taking the environment onboard. Efficient public transport in every city is the first requirement. The concept of smart cities must include environmental protection and conservation as essential ingredients of planning. Many ecological system, like the wetlands, ponds, and aquifers have been destroyed. Any planning exercise must include the restoration of these ecological systems. The new infrastructure that is being built must include due protection to ecological communities.

Prof Babu suggests that the Government should consider a 10-year ‘National Mission for Ecological Restoration of Degraded Lands and Wastelands’ to restore at least 5000-hectare of wasteland every year. This will help stop soil erosion and revive aquifers and springs. Aabandoned mines, mined out areas, highly degraded catchments, watersheds, barren and rocky habitats, barren embankments of rivers and desertified landscapes should be mapped and taken up for restoration, he says. Restoration of degraded land can yield huge benefits. Not only will the ecological service provided by nature be restored, availability of food and water will increase as biotic communities are revived. Such a mission will help create jobs as well.

So far, economic growth has been at the expense of the environment. Such growth cannot be sustainable. Planning must be based on a holistic understanding of the relationship between the man and the environment. There is a need to refocus our curricula of social sciences, natural sciences, and professional courses to emphasise the importance of the environment for mankind. We are already witnessing the ill-effects of the lopsided approach to development. The living condition of our vast population can be improved if the surrounding environment is improved.

Indians have a deep regard for nature. This is evident from the numerous verses found in our Vedas. Numerous hymns in the ancient Hindu texts praise and worship the nature and pray for its bounties. For instance, the Rig Veda forbids the destruction of forests and the Atharva Veda describes plants as the saviour of humanity. The Atharva Veda has a 63 verse long hymn which states:

“Let what I dig from thee, O’ Earth, rapidly spring and grow again;
O’ Purifier, let me not pierce through thy vitals or thy heart.”

Padma Purana 56.40-41 says, “the cutting of a green tree is an offence punishable in hell.”ii It is a sad commentary that in a country where nature is worshipped on a daily basis, the environment is suffering so much.

The flawed concept of exploiting nature for the benefit of man has destroyed the environment. This is having a deleterious impact on the man himself. It is essential to rediscover the respect for nature which the ancient religions always had. This must be instilled in modern conscience.

End Notes:

i. Based on a presentation by Prof CR Babu, Distinguished Fellow,VIF on 14 May 2018.
ii. I am grateful to Dr Arpita Mitra, Associate Fellow, VIF for providing these quotes from the Vedas and the Puranas

Reading References:

1. The Rig Veda VIII.1.13 says, “forests should not be destroyed”.
2. The Atharva Veda VIII.7.4, - “plants are the saviours of humanity”.
3. In The Rig Veda, “Vanaspati is the lord of the forest and is invoked in ritual offerings”.
4. The Atharva Veda XII.1 has a 63-verse hymn dedicated to Prithvi. One of these verses is: “Let what I dig from thee, O’ Earth, rapidly spring and grow again; O’ Purifier, let me not pierce through thy vitals or thy heart.”
5. The Yajur Veda XIII.37: “no persons should kill animals helpful to the air”.
6. Atharva Veda VIII.7.10: “plants and herbs destroy poisons (pollutants)”.
7. Padma Purana 56.40-41: “the cutting of a green tree is an offence punishable in hell”.
8. Padma Purana 96.7-8: "A person who is engaged in killing creatures, polluting wells, and ponds and tanks, and destroying gardens, certainly goes to hell."
9. Varaha Purana 172.39: “One who plants a Peepal (Ficus Religiosa), one Neem (Azadirachta Indica), one Banyan (Ficus Benghalensis), two Pomegranates (Punica Grantum), two Orange (Citrus Reticulate), five Mango trees (Mangifera Indica) and ten flowering plants or creepers shall never go the hell”.

Credit: Prof C.R Babu
A 15-year old restored desertified site at Asola Wildlife Sanctuary of Delhi, India, showing a mosaic of Acacia woodland and grassland.

(The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct).

(The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

Image Source:

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
2 + 0 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us