India in Peril | People & Places | Smithsonian
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India in Peril

Rakesh Jaiswal, founder of ecofriends.org, talks about the country's growing list of environmental problems

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What will it take for a nationwide environmental movement to succeed in India?

The environmental awareness has increased, but there's no movement as such on a national scale. I don't think it's appropriate to call it a movement if a few hundred people participate, protest, demonstrate on some issue in a country which has more than a billion people. We can't imagine a nationwide movement till there's a demand from people everywhere and from every walk of life for a clean environment.

What are the main obstacles to environmental clean-up?

India is faced with numerous natural hazards, multiple health hazards, various combinations of poverty, population explosion, increasing materialism and consumerism, industrialization, urbanization, poor infrastructure, energy crisis, poor agricultural practices and so on.

An estimated 60 percent of cultivated land suffers from various forms of land degradation. The water resources are heavily contaminated. Rivers and lakes are dying. Various animal and plant species are endangered and on the verge of extinction.

We have the best of environmental laws and regulations in place but very lax implementation of these laws and regulations. Environment and pollution related issues are a low priority for the government, industries and people.

What used to be a horrible air pollution problem in Delhi has been dramatically improved by only allowing natural gas buses within the city. Do you think that is a success story?

The air quality has improved in Delhi. Everyone, the government, the civil society organizations, the media claim this. People also have this perception. It's not only CNG [clean natural gas]; various factors have played a role simultaneously. The metro, shifting of industries from non-conforming areas, cleaner fuel (low sulpher diesel and lead free petrol), stricter emission norms. CNG may have played a bigger role.

Are there cultural or religious beliefs in India that advocate caring for the environment?

Nature is worshipped in India. Air, water, rivers, animals and trees are treated as deities. But simultaneously air is polluted, rivers are profaned, tigers are poached, elephants are killed for tusks.

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