Last month, I went on a Char Dham pilgrimage with my family and during the yatra, I witnessed the forest fires in Uttarakhand. It was indeed heart-wrenching to watch our national, natural wealth quite literally go up in flames. Upon conclusion of the yatra and returning to city life, I heard from friends that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on his Mann ki Baat, that India is "delighted" to host the World Environment Day 2018, on June 5.
Greetings on #WorldEnvironmentDay. Together, let us ensure that our future generations live in a clean and green planet, in harmony with nature. pic.twitter.com/HYUNlCCQ2P— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 5, 2018
As India hosts of this year's World Environment Day "celebrations", it will be interesting to hear what Modi says about India's contribution under his government to the betterment of the environment. It is most likely to be another show of pomp and the PM will make a trite speech without translating his words into action. While his words are not translated into action, his translators might, as in Singapore, say a lot more than he intends to.
Despite the "delight" of organising the World Environment Day "celebrations", Modi might want to introspect on what exactly India would celebrate under his administration. Should we be celebrating the fact that India stands 177 (out of 180 countries) on the Environmental Performance Index, 2018? In 2016, India was ranked 141 on the same index.
The PM is yet to make his stand on the Tuticorin killings on May 22 clear and initiate a debate over the rising environmental conflict in India. In fact, India has another dubious distinction of having the maximum number of environmental conflicts in the world, with the Environmental Justice Atlas (an international database) recording 271 cases in India. India is followed by Colombia with 128 cases, indicating how far "ahead" of the rest of the world we are in environmental conflict. Another fact that the Modi administration might want to "celebrate" is that in 2013, India had six out of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world. Today, we have nine out of the top 10.
The plummeting standards of the environment though horrific, should not come as a surprise to us, given the government's disdain for environmental protection which has actively weakened environment protection efforts in India since it came to power in 2014. After taking a hawkish view of NGOs soon after coming to power, the Modi government earlier this year disempowered the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
The NGT, was which set up by the Congress-led UPA government in 2010 to adjudicate on environmental litigations, was the third such tribunal in the world after Australia and New Zealand. However, instead of empowering the NGT, the Modi government misused the provision of a "money bill" to make changes to the appointment system of judges to the NGT.
India’s perspective on #WED2018, and its theme #BeatPlasticPollution – watch my interview on @rajyasabhatv https://t.co/EJLh1QMM7G. @moefcc, @ErikSolheim, @WED2018India, @UNEnvironment— Dr. Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) June 5, 2018
While the NGT Act of 2010 states that cases are to be resolved in six months, 70 per cent of the tribunal's strength is lying vacant. Surely this gives the Modi government no reason to celebrate.
The supporters of the government, as has become all too common in the fourth year, troll and harass anyone who questions the prudence of the Modi administration.
In their blind support for the ruling dispensation, they fail to see how our national interests are in danger. They often drum up the false binary of having to choose between the environment and the economy failing to realise that the two can prosper together.
In fact, numerous studies have shown that environmental protection is cardinal to sustainable development. Thus, instead of tarnishing those fighting for the protection of the environment, the government and its supporters should engage and debate with critics, if they truly care about India's national interests.
Merely dubbing critics "anti-nationals" neither solves the problem, nor makes them any more "patriotic". One of the fundamental duties of an Indian citizen according to the Constitution is to protect the environment and hence it is a matter of national service to be conscious of the environment.
Perhaps in the next Mann ki Baat, Modi can address the nation, especially his supporters and enlighten them about their fundamental duty. He has a whole month to introspect once he's done with, "delightfully celebrating" the World Environment Day.