We can call our knowledge of the planet and the problems plaguing its environment ‘sound’. We do not need to look at the textbooks or eco journals if asked about the major environmental issues. Climate change, pollution, environmental degradation and resource depletion â it’s all on our finger tips.
But if asked about what ‘steps’ are we taking towards eco conservation, most of us would stumble for answers. “We understand the criticality of eco issues on an academic level but fair poorly on the empathy scale,” says Rhea Rosalind Ramji who is running an NGO called Wildlife Protection and Conservation Trust in Bandhavgarh.
Dr Rachna Arora, Technical advisor for Indo German Environment Partnership Programme for GIZ agrees on this.
“All of us are aware of what can be done but do we actually have the mindset to do our little bit on a regular basis? Why do we restrict our eco consciousness to Environment Day and Earth hour only?,” she asks.
Most of the time we try to wash our hands off our responsibly towards environment by either donating money to eco causes or shifting the blame on the government.
“Almost 98 per cent of our volunteers have been from overseas. Indians just aren’t interested when we ask them to donate their time and efforts rather than money. A greater difference is made when people give their time and energy. There is a lot to be gained from actually working on projects rather than trying to ‘buy’ a clean conscience by impersonally donating money,” says Ramji.
Experts believe that women play a key role in changing this sloppy attitude towards environment.
They are capable of moulding hearts and minds of the next generation and inculcating ecoconsciousness in them.
Bringing environmental issues to the fore, it was dynamic eco leaders like Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan; Maneka Gandhi, renowned animal rights activist; Vandana Shiva, sustainable development expert; and Sunita Narain, the head of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment who paved the way for eco socialism.
Femail features a few dedicated environmentalists, leading by an example, saving the planet and inspiring us to be the change we want to see.
Dr Vandana Shiva: The pioneer
She is a physicist, ecologist, activist and author of numerous books. But the world knows her best as the fierce and fearless protector of environment. Dr Vandana Shiva’s ecological journey started early. “I was born in the Himalayas, and travelled as a child with my father, a Forest conservator.
As a student I became a volunteer with the ‘Chipko’ movement,” she says. Since then, every issue threatening the bio-diversity of the land and the people dependent on it gives her a reason, inspiration and courage to raise her voice. “I chose to focus on bio-diversity because of ‘Chipko’. I took up the cause of ecological farming because of the Bhopal disaster and violence in Punjab in 1984. When I realised that big corporations want to patent seed and collect royalties from farmers, I decided to focus on it in 1987,” she shares. Dr Shiva’s ecological philosophy of ‘Earth Democracy’ has evolved from the age old concept of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam-Earth Family.’
“India was one of the most ecological civilisations. However, with the rise of the new greed economy and consumer culture, we have lost our ecological consciousness and sensitivity,” she feels. According to her chemical farming and the patent on seeds are also to blame. “Around 2, 50,000 farmers are trapped in debt due to costly seeds and chemicals. They have committed suicide in the last decade. The chemically grown food isn’t worth having either,” she informs.
‘Navdanya’ is a national movement founded by her to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, that has helped create ninety eight community seed banks. In Vidharba, the capital of farmer suicides, the organisation has set up community seed banks to help farmers grow organic cotton that helps local groups to make Khadi under the project ‘Fibres of Freedom’. She has also started a ‘Seed Freedom Campaign’ to stop the patenting of seeds and protect the farmer from the seed slavery.
Kanchi Kohli: The eco advocate
Challenging the human greed and questioning the laws that fail to protect the country’s natural heritage, Kanchi Kohli fights against the voracious and the powerful to protect the sanctity of the environment and the rights of the locales dependent upon it. It was while working on a conservation project of two river ecosystems in the ecologically fragile district of Uttara Kannada in Karnataka, she realised that working on environment cannot be disconnected with the people in the area. “The solutions can only emerge through a consistent process of engagement with local concerns rather than considering them subservient to national or international interest,” she says.
A member of ‘Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group’, Kanchi has been instrumental in carrying out research, campaigns and advocacy outputs related to environment, bio-diversity and agriculture and its interface with the industrial infrastructure and energy scenario in India. She feels that the push towards commercial resource extraction and land use change has led to intense conflicts around environment and social justice in proposed project sites. As far as environmental regulations are concerned, she feels that there is a huge disconnect between policies on paper and their implementation on the ground, where impacts are felt to the maximum.
Kanchi strongly criticises the ‘commercialisation’ of nature and its adverse effect on environmental conservation. According to her, we need to pause and analyse the irreversible damage our irresponsible actions have caused. “It is not just about compensation and payment for the use of a resource as is being seen at different levels of governance and policy making; it’s about connecting with nature and assessing both its chaos and comforts,” she concludes.
Rhea Rosalind Ramji: The wild child
Bandhavgarh holds a special place in Rhea Rosalind Ramji’s heart as here she found the love and purpose of her life. “I first met my husband Shailin in Bandhavgarh in 1996 and almost after a decade, we founded our NGO called ‘Wildlife Protection and Conservation Trust’ in 2008,” says Rhea. It was their love for the place and the wildlife that they bid adieu to their lucrative jobs and comfortable life in London and shifted to Bandhavgarh permanently.
Rhea devoted herself to the conservation work. She realised that there was a discordant relationship between the forest department and the indigenous tribal people who had been displaced when the National Parks were created. “Even though the government pays a fair compensation, the displacement causes a certain amount of resentment, especially when the money is spent. Many retaliate by starting forest fires; encroach on forest lands; and in extreme cases turn to poaching as they do have a formidable knowledge of the forest,” she explains.
Her NGO aims at creating an environment which offers more choices to the communities who live and struggle next to the forests and the wildlife. “We try and involve tribals in eco-tourism efforts so that a living tiger and a healthy forest become more profitable for them than a dead tiger and a deforested jungle,” she says. The projects ranges from conducting language courses for the park guides, training on tracking, arranging guidebooks for them, organising medical camps in villages, providing desks for the school, building toilets for the girl students, arranging drinking water wells and getting volunteers to teach at the government village school. “By addressing the issue of conflict and competition for the same space between tigers and tribal communities, we can aim at creating a win-win situation for both,” she declares.
Dr Rachna Arora: Promoter of waste management
For Dr Rachna Arora, work is where the heart is. “I chose environmental science as my subject for post graduation because I wanted to specialise in an applied stream which is related to whatever happens in our day to day life,” says Rachna. She pursued her interest with a PHD in Environmental Chemistry from Department of Paper Technology, IIT – Roorkee.
Today she is working as a technical advisor for Indo German Environment Partnership Programme (IGEP) for Deutsche Gesellschaft fÃ¼r Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). “I work towards integrating informal sector workers in electronic waste management system and also with marginalised coastal communities for increasing their resilience to climate change threats,” she shares. According to her, the alarming rate of E-waste generation has become a major global concern and Ewaste recycling has become an important economic activity. She feels that we must change our consumption patterns to save the planet from becoming a big dump. “Small steps like increasing the life of the product by reusing it can indeed help,” she says. She strongly supports the need to give a formal identity to the otherwise non-existent ragpickers and incorporate them as an essential part of waste collection network so that e-waste would land in proper recycling units. “Our environmental legislations should impose ‘Producer Pays Principle’ so that whosoever is generating should be responsible for its disposal. Also, the election and politics needs to be ‘Climate Smart’ to set a strong example,” she suggests.
Jodie Underhill: On an uphill mission
When Jodie Underhill came to India in 2008, the beauty of the mountains left her awestruck. But the vast amount of litter all around saddened her. “I was almost shaken to find the ground, forests and drains full of litter,” says Underhill. She refused to ignore the problem and started a cleanliness campaign called ‘Mountain Cleaners’. Rag pickers are sadly invisible to a lot of people but a white girl with volunteers draws attention! I sweep the roads, scrub paan stains and pick up nappies and garbage that has been urinated on. I do whatever needs to be done to keep the country clean,” she tells. Mountain Cleaners is running several cleanliness projects in Dharamshala and Dehradun.
Jodie believes that the people need to take their responsibility towards environment seriously. “Either they do not understand the problem or don’t believe that their actions alone can bring any difference. We need to inculcate a sense of civic pride in them. Everyone wants a clean place, they just don’t realise that they can keep it clean just by being a responsible citizen. Clean India is definitely possible,” she sums up.