- Environmental gains made during COVID-19 lockdown are temporary: Experts
- Lockdown cannot be the solution for clean air and water: Vimlendu Jha
- The biggest tool against climate change is education: Bhumi Pednekar
New Delhi: In April, for the first time in decades, the residents of Jalandhar in Punjab got to see Himachal Pradesh’s Dhauladhar mountain ranges that are 213 km from the city. The dramatic drop in air pollution levels due to the lockdown is said to be the main reason behind the spectacle. In May, Olive Ridley turtles, the smallest and most abundant of all sea turtles, made their way to the sea from Odisha’s coast. From clean air, clear blue sky, improved water quality to animals freely moving across the city, the Earth healed itself during the Coronavirus induced lockdown.
Unfortunately, it took the Coronavirus pandemic to put forward the fact that it is possible to have a clean and healthy planet. But as experts say, what we should not forget is that all of this came at the cost of a lockdown and these are temporary gains. At NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India’s 12-hour #SwasthyaMantra telethon on October 2, experts discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the environment and how we can sustain the environmental gains.
Talking about the steps required to turn the temporary gains into permanent, Vimlendu Jha, Environmentalist and Founder of Swechha, Delhi based NGO, said,
Lockdown is not a solution and it’s not something that we can afford to do every month. The solution is to slow down, rethink and rewind. The two steps are required; firstly, we need to look at our actions and how it impacts the environment negatively. Secondly, the government needs to think that what we call development is actually a catastrophe to our planet. Constructing and broadening roads are important but if you have to axe trees for those roads which lead to people developing asthma and visiting hospital then what’s the point of those roads?
Mr Jha believes that COVID-19 has taught us two things – simple life is possible; to prioritise things. He said, we can lead a life where we have clean air, water, birds chirping around and nesting in our balconies but for that we need to pause and rethink our actions and their impact. Mr Jha added,
Development can’t be at the cost of human health and human environment. 15 lakh people die every year because of air pollution. Every second child has Asthma. We need to relook, rethink, rewind, and revisit some of our habits as an individual, as a society and as government.
Actor and climate warrior Bhumi Pednekar also joined the #SwasthyaMantra telethon and resonated with Mr Jha. Bhumi who herself is trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle and bring a change at an individualistic level said,
The biggest tool to fight climate change and have a healthier environment is going to be education and literacy. It is important for our future generations to come. They have an equal right to live in a world that is prosperous, abundant and habitual. The fact, that there will be a point in future where humanity will not have access to basic things like clean air or water or basic nutrition scares me.
Bhumi stressed on the basic yet pivotal learning of the COVID-19 pandemic that is to co-exist with nature. Bhumi is of the opinion that we, the privileged and educated lot have been unfair to nature and still don’t understand the need to co-exist. She said,
Climate change cannot be reversed. We have already done the damage. But we can slow it down.
Talking about protecting the environment by solving the problem of waste, Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, stressed on the concept of ‘waste to wealth’. Mr Gadkari emphasised adding value to the waste in order to attract people towards waste management and in turn solve the problem of poor waste management and protect the environment. Sharing an example of the same, Mr Gadkari talked about Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s plan to provide a decomposer or a capsule produced by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Pusa that will convert stubble into manure which can be used in the fields. Mr Gadkari said,
Delhi Chief Minister has decided to distribute culture free of cost which increases organic carbon. This way, farmers will be benefitted, productivity will be increased, organic farming will be promoted, it will be good for health, and the problem of stubble burning will also be resolved. Farmers will themselves adopt this.
Mr Gadkari informed that 80 buses in Nagpur are running on bio-CNG generated from sewage. He also said that his ministry has spent Rs. 1,300 crores for saving the tigers and are now committed to the transplantation of trees. Transplantation is the technique of moving a plant from one location to another. Mr Gadkari shared that the technique will be implemented during the construction of the Dwarka Express highway in Delhi.
Swati Thiyagarajan, environment journalist, believes that transplantation is a great technique but to ruin virgin forest and then transplant makes no sense. She said,
When you kill virgin forest, you are not only removing trees that have taken 300-400 years but also the ecosystem that is 1,000 of years old with biodiversity which you can never replicate.
Ms Thiyagarajan reiterated that economic development cannot be at the cost of environment. She suggested having stringent environment impact assessments (EIA) while raising the question on the new draft EIA 2020 that dilutes the environmental laws that industries need to follow. Making a case of the impact of industrialisation on the environment, Ms Thiyagarajan said,
We had a massive well blow up in North East. The fire raged for 2 months before it could be brought down. The oil well had violated laws and was near Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, which is Asia’s largest fresh wetland. The fire spewed petroleum, ash and tar everywhere and killed critically endangered dolphins, thousands of migratory birds and ruined so much of the sanctuary. The local people had to leave their homes because they couldn’t breathe.
Ms Thiyagarajan clearly stated that today if we discount the environment for economic gains, tomorrow we will have more pandemics that will ruin the economy.
So how do we ensure both the development and well-being of nature? Bittu Sahgal, Founder, Sanctuary Nature Foundation, recommends nature based solutions. He said,
The damage we have done is in the name of economy, but economy is the wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. The techno sphere is the wholly owned subsidiary of biosphere. Bring the degraded forest and wet lands back. Bring the wet lands back. This needs a large number of people to be employed. We would probably employ between 30-40 million people to bring natural India back through labour and human based solutions that will cause GDP to bubble upwards.
Harish Hande, Magsaysay awardee and founder of SELCO India, who has been working on bringing solar energy to the poorest sections of the society, also shared his views on protecting the environment. Talking about whether the future lies in renewables and if it is the only way forward, Mr Hande said,
What we have actually forgotten is that India has been mostly decentralised economy. In the decentralised system, solar makes a lot of sense. What I mean by solar is not just putting solar plants but to ensure decentralised utilisation of solar energy to create democratise livelihoods, democratise the delivery of health and democratise the delivery of education. Start making bubbles of 100-300 km where you start looking at production and consumption of those 100 kms. That is the only way to actually look at efficiency and utilisation of energy and thus solar makes economic and social sense as well as leading to consuming less. It is how you create those bubbles.
According to Mr Hande, COVID and climate change crisis majorly affect poor across the world and by using solar we can help them. Mr Hande trusts the disparity of wealth exposed by COVID can only be solved by solving the problem of environment and added,
Environment sustainability and financial sustainability can be solved with social sustainability. We should use COVID-19 as a platform for research and development for the world. The solutions for Assam are replicable for Tanzania and the Philippines. The solutions for Madhya Pradesh where you interact solar energy and drought resilient solutions for the farmers are good for Ethiopia and Central Brazil.
Mr Hande also noted that every country needs to work towards environment and then only we will be able to resolve the issue.
Shantanu Moitra, Score Composer, Musician and Pianist too called to go back to the basics to protect the environment. He said,
The value of our ‘Kulhad (earthen cup) ki chai’ is not only romantic but very eco-friendly.
At the telethon, Mr Moitra shared a very heart-warming story from one of his travels which tells us that we need to make the environment a part of our life. He said,
I saw a girl and asked her to bring her family for a group photo. The girl didn’t return for a while and her mother told me that she has gone to call everyone in her family including plant, cows, calf, and a dog.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.