On the way to Delhi from Noida, I was crossing the Yamuna as I do on most days. But today, somehow, this richa from the Atharva Veda inadvertently began playing in my mind: Prithivi Sh anti rant a rik sham Shantirdyouh Shantirapah Shantiroshdhayah Sh ant irv ana spa t ayah Shantirvishwe Me Devaah Shantih Sarve Me Devaah Shantih Shantih Shantih Shantibhih (May there be well-being on Earth. May there be welfare in the universe. May there be wellbeing in the heavens, in the water, in the world of medicine, in the world of flora and fauna. May there be well-being in the world of gods through divinity.)
Sadness gripped me even before I could finish the richa. The Yamuna riverbed was never very wide in Delhi. But the river was so deep that at one time Mirza Ghalib began his river journey to Kolkata from here. Isn’t it unfortunate that this river of eternity has turned into the Capital’s largest drain? On top of it we have the noxious air and the smog that impairs our vision.
This is the state of affairs in a nation of nature-worshippers!
No wonder the Supreme Court, the National Green Tribunal and a number of social organisations are crying in unison that India is facing a climate emergency, to no avail. Instead of evolving a consensus, leaders of the Centre and states are busy lobbing the ball in each other’s court. Don’t they realise that if this continues for another few years, nature won’t spare any of us? In nature’s eyes, the king and the commoner are alike. These questions are bound to be asked in such a scenario: Why doesn’t pollution ever become an election issue in India? Until when will we continue to invite devastation in the name of development?
It has become crucial to address these questions because the conditions have deteriorated so much. Last Wednesday, 15,000 scientists from 184 countries warned in one voice that unless urgent steps were taken, planet Earth will be damaged beyond repair. These scientists have put their signatures on an article in the journal BioScience titled: ‘World scientists’ warning to humanity: A second notice’. The scientists say the first warning was sounded 25 years ago but since it was ignored, crucial steps were not taken to prevent cutting of trees, dealing with holes in the ozone layer and climate change. Things went from bad to worse. As a result, the quantity of water decreased by 26 per cent and three million acres of jungles disappeared. In a quarter of a century, the decrease in mammals and birds was to the tune of 20 per cent.
The importance of water, animals and forests for humans can’t be overemphasised. According to the World Health Organization, 1.25 crore people perish every year owing to environmental causes. Of these, 65 lakh die owing to air pollution alone. This number is 11.6 per cent of the worldwide deaths. It is important to realise that 92 per cent of the world’s population is breathing in areas where the air is no longer safe for them. That is why about one million people in China died of pollution-related diseases in 2012. The India statistic was 600,000.
Those upset by the poisonous air in the national capital region should know that gas chambers have sprung up around them. Last year those Indian cities that were considered the world’s most polluted included Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna, Raipur, Delhi, Ludhiana, Kanpur, Khanna, Firozabad and Lucknow. In other words, half of the worst polluted cities are located in north India.
How would you describe it, if not call it nature’s emergency? That is why everybody from the country’s courts, to the man on street is waiting in anticipation. But is the ground reality changing?
The chief ministers of Delhi, Haryana and Punjab have been busy fighting Twitter wars for a long time. Many days later, when the CMs of Delhi and Haryana finally met, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh played truant. Are political differences and selfish interests more important for these politicians than the lives of those who have voted them into office?
Hitler had built gas chambers for the Jews, whom he hated the most. But our rulers have turned our cities and villages, where there voters live, into gas chambers.
Let’s not forget this. We are the descendants of those who sought well-being in the elements of nature. Today those very elements are looking towards us for their own well-being. Obviously, we exist because of them and not the other way round. Keeping them safe will ensure our own safety.