Future of environment with future generation: Open letter to MoEFCC

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Open letter by Prof Mansee Bal Bhargava1 to the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of Government of India, along with Farmer-Entrepreneur, Vivek Shah and Young Thinkers led by Gautamee Baviskar and Kruti Desai:

This is an open letter for the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of Government of India, from Future Generation of the Country regarding the Future of Environment with focus on ‘How to teach and learn Empathy for Environment’.

The letter is an outcome of a Webinar held on the World Environment Day, June 05, 2020 on, ‘How to Teach-Learn Empathy for Environment (Flora and Fauna)’, which was hosted by Prof Mansee Bal Bhargava of Amity University Chhattisgarh, Raipur and curated by Farmer-Entrepreneur, Vivek Shah of Brindavan, Ahmedabad. Mansee invited young thinkers of different age groups (including a gender balance) ranging from Primary School to PhD Aspirants living in different parts of the country. Ten participants agreed to share their thoughts through a set of questions asked by Vivek. In addition, 30+ youth from different locations in the country joined the discussion and echoed similar thoughts as of the interviewees. Here is the Text from the event including the Open Letter to the Honourable Minister of MoEFCC:

The event is mapped in a global events map on World Environment Day. What is interesting to find in the global map is that from over 1800 plus environment related events organized in the different parts of the world, some 800 plus events were organized alone in India. This infers that either India is upfront in talking about the environment or taking up issues related to the environment, both of which are great signs however, what we see on the ground in terms of the environmental degradation and what we read in annual environmental updates is equally the truth about a grim situation more so with the rising distresses from the climate change impacts. What is more worrisome is that the MoEFCC seem isn’t doing enough to improve the natural and built environment locally and further to address climate change nationally.

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In India, it is observed that people have an ‘aptitude’ towards the environment but their ‘attitude’ towards it is questionable and requires looking more critically especially those who are in the decision making positions and can make a change. Indian culture and traditions are deeply synced with nature. On the one hand, the people in India worship the natural elements and flora and fauna like the banyan-peepal tree, the rivers-lakes, the cows-cats, etc, however, on the other hand, they exploit nature for fulfilling their greed.

The Article 21 of the Indian Constitution gives all its citizens the freedom of life and liberty as a fundamental right, i.e one has the freedom to live in the way one wishes. The Article 21 states that, ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law’. Along with this fundamental right of liberty and freedom, the citizens are also entitled to a fundamental duty – a duty towards protecting the environment both on the land and below water, which is also a global agenda. The Article 51–A(g) of the constitution states that, ‘It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, Lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.’

Ironically, we come across more cases of environmental exploitation than protecting our environment. Our attitudes and deeds are completely paradoxical. For example, the recent instance of locals feeding a pregnant elephant with cracker stuffed pineapple in Malappuram, Kerala is a clear exhibit of how we fail in our fundamental duty and how humanity fails again and again. What is also worrisome is that while there was an outrage for the mother elephant’s death, we are silent on many unethical environmental practices ongoing in the country, all in the name of development.

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We have witnessed during the lockdown that earth heals itself when there is lesser/no human engagements in the outdoors. But unfortunately, it was this time of inactivity that was taken into advantage by some developers and the government and the country witnessed the highest rate of environmental clearances for the approval of the developmental projects. Around 30+ developmental projects got clearances from the MoEFCC, including the extravaganza like the Rajpath, several of them without proper environmental impact assessment, in other words, at the stake of the environment. A pattern that the environmental clearances worry us is the government’s unwillingness to make the governance participatory by involving the citizens (). Despite the government’s pledge for sabka saath sabka vikas, the government seems to be focussed on Development of the few and not all since if all are involved, then environmental approach needs to be more inclusive in terms of gender, age, indigenous people and bio-diversity rich area protection, afforestation, wetland rejuvenation, etc.

This problem comes from the fact that empathy for the environment is very superficially taught to us in our school-college educations pedagogy which gets upscaled in the higher level by the decision makers who are unsympathetic and/or ignorant to the environment and their long term benefits where the future generations matter. Therefore, the webinar was centric to the idea to generate a discussion on how to teach/learn empathy for the environment. The webinar discussion was held primarily around empathy towards environment while we are on the development and growth path, with extended discussion on the emerging climate change crisis, the well-being and attitude and aptitude of people towards the environment.

It was discussed that, there is a huge gap between ‘Awareness’ and ‘Action’ among students as well as among practitioners and that gap is of ‘Awakening’. Right from young age, school children are made ‘aware’ about the environment. They are introduced to the things that surround them – the flora and fauna, water bodies, forests, gardens. They are also taught about how to protect the environment and the natural resources that surround them and what should not be done in order to protect these resources as part of their science , social science and environmental science subjects. The curriculum ‘introduces’ the students to things that shouldn’t be done in order to protect the environment rather than teaching about things that need to be done to protect the environment and to bring a change in the existing condition. Unfortunately, these subjects remain limited to the primary and secondary school syllabus and are not included in higher secondary and college syllabus. Students in most college educations, except those in environment, learn about development, technology, machines, aesthetics, economics, city planning, but fail to comprehend the impact of their designs and decisions and actions on the environment.

There is also a gap in how the environment subjects are taught at schools and colleges and how they are perceived by the students. The lessons about environment protection and conservation remain confined to the textbooks. The subjects are taught as extra/elective subject however the methodology in which it is taught remains like the core subject. This results in creating a lesser impact on the students. The students are unable to draw parallels between their actions and decisions and the effects it will have on the environment. Therefore, the methodology of teaching such a sensitive subject should be more field work oriented. The teaching must include a ‘practical’ approach towards working for a better environment with hands-on assignment and activities. It was also pointed out that the students weren’t ‘corrected’ by the mentors when they chose not to value the environment and the natural elements. However, on the other hand we also had speakers pointing out how students choose to not get involved more when there is a fieldwork-based teaching process which includes physical activity and a little harder work. From this it can be inferred that both parenting and schooling should work in a complementarity to teach and inculcate empathy towards the environment to the young minds. The environment subject needs to be ‘integral’ to home living and school/college education. The subject needs to be ‘integrated’ in the school/college curriculum ensuring students think of the environment before making any decisions, consciously or unconsciously, that are likely to harm nature.

It was also discussed that, everybody seeks immediate results. There is a lack of patience which is required in activities related to the environment. You can design a bridge and execute it in 2 years but if you plant a tree, it will take years for it to mature to a tree before you can enjoy its fruits and shade. We are rushing like everything should have been done yesterday. In this rush, we forget to create an ecologically and economically sustainable society. We are continuously adopting the failed models of development of US and other developed countries, which are poster boys of development however, they are unhealthy, unhappy and environmentally degraded models.

The practitioners, architects, teachers, and entrepreneurs, as well as students questioned the current ongoings in the country and showed concern about the depleting resources and loss of natural habitat for both humans and animals. We observe a huge decrease in the green cover in the cities and the alarming rate at which the forest cover is getting reduced in the country. One of the recent examples is that of the Hasdeo Arand Forest, the largest forest cover in central India, Chhattisgarh, where there is a proposal for chopping down the 170,000 Hectare cover of the forest for the coal mining. In metropolitan cities like Mumbai there are limited green breathable spaces however, there is constant increase in the rate at which these cities are developing with a huge compromise on the environment. While the local authority attempts to compensate greening with development, however that can never be justified as we see in the case of Arey Forest and then we have the high bullet train planned that may compromise a lot of mangrove area.

If we look at history, the human habitation of thousands of years ago was built in synergy with the environment. Over the years the habitation patterns of animals haven’t changed much but we find a drastic change in the habitation pattern of the humans. We have shifted from being nomadic species to settled species. Climate and culture played a major role in this adaptation and impacted the way in which built forms were made. The present trend ignores the climate, environment, and cultures. The built structures often aim at providing luxury and comfort to the people and imitates foreign cultures blindly while exploiting the environment. We often come across extensive use of materials like glass and concrete in the name of modernisation, whereas these materials are not so suitable in the climate and landscape of our country. The climate, people, beliefs, and the socio-cultural dynamics of our country hints us towards an inclusive habitat, where both environment and humans coexist complementing each other. These concepts of sustainability and ecology and empathy for the environment were already in place in our ancient culture. Somewhere in the race of fast results and development we are missing to turn and look up to our traditional roots. We need to incorporate our ancient socio-culture in the present life. If we talk about empathy it means interconnectedness between human and other elements of nature. The word empathy itself urges towards connecting to nature for basic needs and disconnecting from our greed. We are rooting to economic development and growth rather than ecology and environment. We are going off track in terms of empathy and humanity which calls for a need to reorient ourselves as human and integral part of the ecosystem and not superior.

With technology that we have today the habitation and other infrastructure can be adaptable and made inclusive with green technology. Our attitudes need to be in sync with what is happening around us, addressing the issues like, the forests being taken down and shrinking of the waterbodies. These events are just the response of the impulse state of mind. We need to answer the larger question of how responsible we are irrespective of whatever field of study/practice we belong. So whether we are architect, farmer, politician, or technocrat, our common goal must be to – protect the environment. To do so, pledges are taken by the group for bringing in a change and feeling responsible about our duties, such as,

  1. A collective action at community level, where there is interaction among people from different age groups, exchange of ideas and empathy towards nature. Hands on workshops for students and actions towards urbans farms, tree plantation, organic farming, waste minimisation, animal care, etc.
  2. Evaluating the environmental loss with economic loss and environmental gains with economic gains. The development and fast paced life is a result of greed. We can evaluate environmental degradation to the money that an individual would lose due to these actions on healthcare or buying resources like clean water, air. This will help people quantify their losses as well as understand the importance of environmental resources.
  3. India as a country makes it a fundamental duty to show compassion to all living creatures and protect the environment through article 51 A clause of the Indian Constitution apart from that India is signatory to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Green Growth programmes. To achieve the global goals, local actions need to be resonating and we all need to chip in with small-large eco-efforts. However, the idea of the government seems to be different as per its economic development where several projects which would have not been possible in normal circumstances have got approval in the lockdown period which seems wrongful and undemocratic as such important decisions were expedited without proper study and debate. People are raising their voices and asking questions.
  4. We must simply follow the existing rules, laws, acts, programmes honestly which may resolve several environmental problems rather than finding new solutions to the old problems. We have one of the best environmental laws in the world, what we need is to stick to the root and follow the rules and make only strategic amendments. There is awareness about the environmental issues however, we are short of sensitivity. It is important that people are aware about those guidelines as well as the government makes it a point to check and intervene whenever any of these rules / guidelines are not followed.

We conclude with reinforcing that we must show empathy towards the environment and understand that development is not always about doing ‘more’ but about doing adequate and right that is in sync with the ecosystem rejuvenation. It must be a collective effort from the present as well as future generations to change the way in which ‘the environment’ is preached, perceived and pursued at home and school/college- in order to do our fundamental duty of protecting the environment which in turn is crucial to save the humanity.

Mr. MoEFCC Minister, we like to conclude with a query as, when we the Juniors wish for a Future that is healthy, happy and hygienic, in other words, a sustainable habitat, why are the seniors building and approving habitats that are not environmental friendly, that are lifeless like machines and definitely not inclusive and healthy and don’t seem to bring happiness. We learn in the lockdown time that we need, clean, green, and safe habitats and we also learn that if we develop slowly as in the lockdown time, we can be greener, healthier and may be happier. We want our, the Future Generations, Voice be heard on Decisions for the Future. Jai Hind!

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Names of the Interviewed Youth:

  1. Tejas Shukla, Student, Primary class (4th Standard), Jabalpur
  2. Tanvi Jyotshi, Student, Higher Secondary class (12th Standard), Bhopal
  3. Gautamee Baviskar, Bachelor Student, Ahmedabad
  4. Swara Ganatra, Bachelor Student, Ahmedabad
  5. Abhishek Chandrana, Bachelor Student, Ahmedabad
  6. Akansha Khandelwal, Bachelor Student, Raipur
  7. Nishtha Joshi, Bachelor Student, Raipur
  8. Kruti Desai, Young Professional, Daman
  9. Aakash Srivastava, Young Professional, Mumbai
  10. Neeraj Dave, Master Student, Rajkot and right now California
  11. Akshay Anand, Teacher, Aspiring PhD Student, Gandhinagar

Youth Attendees were from SAL School of Architecture Ahmedabad, Amity School of Architecture and Planning, Raipur and Nirma University Ahmedabad.

1 Entrepreneur | Researcher | Educator. Environmental Design Consultants, Ahmedabad, India Professor, Amity School of Architecture and Planning, Amity University Chhattisgarh, Raipur, India. mansee.bal.bhargava@gmail.com

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