Don't make environment a victim of politics

Development of infrastructure is no doubt important, but it should not be at the cost of irreparable damage to the environment. A case in point is work on the setting up of a metro car shed in the Aarey Colony in Mumbai

Abhay MokashiUpdated: Saturday, July 16, 2022, 04:15 AM IST
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Representative image | PIXABAY

Two incidents in Maharashtra remind one of the famous and meaningful sentence, “We did not inherit this world from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. Just as we have made the world into a harmful place for ourselves with our irresponsible approach, we are about to leave an uninhabitable world to our children.”

This sentence has been attributed to different individuals over the years, but the most reliable seems to be the attribution to a Native American leader, since the Native Americans have always been conscious about conservation of environment and have contributed to the cause.

Who said this first is not as important as the content of the message. It is so true that the world belongs to the next generation and as custodians and trustees, we need to protect the earth from damage so that we keep it habitable. Already plenty of damage has been caused due to over-exploitation of resources and the failure to adhere to sustainable development.

Climate change resulting in floods and droughts is the effect of our failure to protect the environment. Even now, many are in denial mode regarding climate change, though it is heartening to see that many scientists, environmentalists and international bodies have started giving importance to sustainable development and protection of the environment.

Development of infrastructure is no doubt important, but it should not be at the cost of irreparable damage to the environment. A case in point is that of the work on the setting up of a metro car shed in the Aarey Colony in Mumbai.

The government led by Devendra Fadnavis had insisted on setting up the metro car shed at Aarey Colony, which meant cutting down of thousands of trees, which in turn would affect the flora and fauna in the region, as well as several tribal hamlets. Environmentalists and concerned citizens raised their voice against the plan and there were several rounds of protests to protect the greenery. The protests were not led by any political leader or party, though some political leaders joined the movement later.

Environmentalists also moved the Bombay High Court to obtain a stay on the chopping of the trees, but the then government succeeded in getting an order in favour of the proposal to cut down trees in what is one of the few green patches of the metropolis. The High Court gave the go-ahead to cut 2,500 trees in Aarey Colony and armed with the order, the metro authorities massacred 2,141 trees in one night.

Those residing in the Western suburbs of Mumbai for over two decades, will know the damage already caused to the financial capital’s environment, due to the large-scale construction activity. As one drove from South Mumbai to the North West suburbs, at night, around 20 years ago, one would experience a drop in temperature after crossing Andheri and a further more noticeable drop on reaching Goregaon, where the Aarey Colony is located. Over a score and more years later, that drop in the temperature is negligible. With the construction of the metro car shed, the damage to the environment is bound to be escalated.

Even before becoming the environment minister of Maharashtra, Aaditya Thackeray had raised his voice against the project and in favour of saving the trees and the forest at Aarey Colony. On getting the responsibility of the environment ministry and having shown concern for the protection of trees, the government, led by his father Uddhav Thackeray, reversed the decision to construct the metro car shed at Aarey.

Unfortunately, one of the very first decisions taken by Eknath Shinde on becoming the chief minister was to scrap the decision to shift the location of the metro car shed from Aarey Colony, apart from the other decisions taken to reverse some of the work of the Mahavikas Aghadi government.

Politicians have a right to show one-upmanship over each other. It is the manipulative and devious nature that makes one a politician; we have many such politicians in the state and the country, but hardly any stateswomen/statesmen. While settling personal scores it is important for rulers to ensure that their decisions are not merely within the legal frame, but also that they are in the best interests of the public.

The notice sent by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPC) to Mumbai Police Commissioner to take action against Aaditya Thackeray, for using “using child labour” during the protest to protect the Aarey Colony trees, is politically motivated and a farce.

Thanks to the introduction of environmental studies in the school curriculum, due to a legal battle in the Supreme Court by Magsaysay Awardee and environment lawyer M C Mehta in the Supreme Court, schoolchildren have become aware of the need to protect the environment and it is natural for some of them to be concerned about the destruction of the trees.

Where adults have failed to protect the borrowed earth, it is for the owners of the earth to come out and protest. That is what these children did.

May better sense prevail and reasoned decisions be taken to protect the environment, which cannot be made a victim of political fights.

The author is a senior journalist and media trainer. He tweets at @a_mokashi

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