A guest post by Vijay Panjwani, Advocate Supreme Court of India from Gandhi Darshan, Delhi.
A beautiful cool sunny spring morning in the calm of Gandhi Ashram, Raj Ghat, Delhi can turn anyone into an environmentalist. It was 9.30 AM a full 30 minutes before start time. Taking the opportunity walked around in the vast open ground. In one corner is the Khadhi and Village Industries Commission [KVIC] North Zone Office with a compact Conference Hall. At another point is Indira Gandhi Open University [IGNOU] office and seminar rooms. The ground is surrounded by boards with poems from great poets and book extracts of well known authors. Faiz, Kedarnath Agrawal,Munshi Premchand are all over.
The seminar room was big and commodious for 200 Ganga activists, civil society leaders and swamis in all hues and shades of saffron clothing united in the goal of saving ganga river.
Most speakers emphasized that if ganga lives then only pollution issues would follow. The danger is to its very existence. There is widespread tunneling going on in the Himalayas coercing the river to change course. Seminarists want a stop to tinkering with the main current and the natural flow of the river to produce electricity. Electricity is necessary but other ways should be found to generate.
Interlinking of rivers came under critical discussion one speaker grand daughter of the Mahatma Gandhi Mrs Tara Bhattacharya questioned the wisdom of opposing a very sane project to reduce flood and drought conditions and demanded that someone should explain how it is harming the ecology. There was no response to a perfectly valid query.
The question of dangers to Ganga are connected with dangers to Himalayas. Some thought is needed on the efficacy of smaller dams and small dams. Why few large dams and not many smaller ones. These issues are to be explained anew through documentaries and short films and the internet by the I&B ministry. A small 50 seater permanent film theatre at Rajghat and Gandhi Darshan Complex would provide this information to tourists coming from all over India and abroad.
Like the Dandi March against salt tax the organizer Mrs Rama Rauta pitched for a similar agitation for clean air and water. It was on 12th March that the Mahatma launched the salt agitation for that reason each year at Gandhi Darshan the Save Ganga activists meet but with increasing frustration. The lament was that media ignores them, government is indifferent, public unaware, lack of funds, and local agencies only interested in starting treatment projects but deep into matters unrelated to regulating waste waters. A strong demand was made for declaring Uttarakhand a fragile eco-sensitive state. The ‘separation of river and sewer’ would help to reduce pollution load. It is also said that treated water to be put to other uses and not released in the river. Very laudable objects. Nothing new but definitely a reminder that alls not well in the Himalayas.
Admittedly PM is a busy man. In such a scenario it would be practical to appoint a vice-chairman in the Ganga Authority from amongst them. Businessman Rajneesh Mehra of A2Z group stressed on more sewage treatment plants but ignored the maintenance part. Most STPs on the Ganga banks are mal-functioning. There are many reasons and not just diversion and siphoning of funds.
‘Pay and pollute’ regime is promoted by an environmentalist like Padma Shree Miss Sunita Narain Director CSE an NGO registered by late Mr Anil Agarwal. Such a line is followed by CSE in permitting use of diesel combustion engine for passenger car/suv and other light vehicles. But such a policy overlooks the subsidized rates of diesel [for the rich] and the enormous amount of carbon emission into the atmosphere contributing to global warming and climate change. Such warming causes the Himalayan glaciers to melt more than acceptable summer standards.
The principle of ‘Pay & Pollute’ tilts in favour of the rich. It means if you have money you can pollute. This is what India is arguing against the developed west and Miss Sunita Narain supports it in international conferences in USA and other countries. Is there a contradiction when CSE says passenger car diesel engines should pay Rs 80,000 more as a one time carbon tax ? Those who cannot afford to pay that excess over normal price would be deprived of use of subsidized diesel. Diesel in India is subsidized to help the small and marginal farmer and also the goods transport sector. The subsidy was never meant for Sports Utility Vehicles [SUV]. SUV is usually a tall four-wheel drive heavy bodied luxury 8 seater with high ground clearance and costs around Rs 1.7 million [17 lakhs]. Followwing its success now two-wheel drive SUVs are also available and many more would be introduced this year. Respectable Tata group has surrendered to market forces. It is mass producing diesel cars for every pocket starting with 1.25 lac rupee Nano mini [wef july 2012].
Captains of industry have adopted corporate responsibility duties and one of them is to reduce and prevent future pollution load. Highly paid managers attend 5 star hotel [mid-day meal] luncheon meetings and discuss methodology of containing pollution levels. As a role model Sir Ratan Tata can simply stop manufacturing diesel car engines. The central government can issue a notification banning such manufacture and import. The Supreme Court would in all likelihood uphold the validity of such a notification.