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Real threat to environment is increasing population

8 Jun. 2011 11:33 PM IST

Sunday, June 5, was World Environment Day. A day when polyester-fibre ribbons were cut and bulky books and reports using bleached fine stationery and funds from international agencies launched in CFC-using air conditioned wood-panelled halls.
A day when the elites had the satisfaction of doing something for the environment and when schools encouraged children to use wax crayons and synthetic paints to paint trees and animals (which most of them have never seen except from the balcony of the resort-room in vacation or a fleeting glance of a black-buck when the family went on tiger-watching safari but failed to see one) on fine grade virgin-paper.
Some enthusiastic urban yuppies parked themselves for a few extra hours in front of the PC to shoot a thousand mails to countless like-minded about their wish to switch off power for an hour on a particular day to ‘Save Environment’. This will be followed by couple of parties and boozing sessions to finalise the plans, which are then communicated through more emails, phone calls, bike rallies, SMS and so on.
India’s problem with the environment is best illustrated and manifested at the safari parks. Moneyed and fat, gutkha-chewing and power-wielding urban families land in the finest forest resorts in subsidised diesel-burning expensive SUVs with the most expensive cameras and gadgetry to watch tigers and (lions if the place is Gir forest). Early in the morning, hundreds of them turn out, ready to shell out `3,000-`4,000 for an entry permit, entry ticket, guide charges, vehicle fees etc, outside the forest department offices.
A caravan of 50 SUVs, each loaded with about eight to 10 people, all searching for a tiger. Soon the guides create excitement over a wireless message about a tiger spotting some distance away. They wear an earnest air to convince you. When you return frustrated, they congratulate every one. “Boss, do you see that? You are damn lucky! The tiger passed just 5-minutes back…. See that fresh tiger-potty…. It wasn’t there 15 minutes earlier. Its still watery….”. I will spare you the banal details of what all the guides hard sell.
The cubs, the children and adults then go back with souvenirs of Save the Tiger T-shirts and caps. Can any one in a sane state of mind actually believe that the tiger or even a wild sparrow wait at a corner under a thicket when a circus of a dozen diesel-guzzling and noise-belching vehicles pass by? Do 500 people who have spent about `10,000 per head for a jungle vacation really believe that a tiger will be waiting to give them a ‘darshan’ amid high-pitched-cacophony in all the spoken languages of India?
These people maybe silly, like most of us are, but they are not ill-meaning. They just don’t know what to do about the environment: so they decide to spend their hard-earned money to at least see it. Someone needs to tell them what they can do to not ruin it; there is no need to make a patronising statement to save it.
The whole circus of environment protection in India is heading towards becoming a farcical industry. They are far from talking about the real problem. Under the disguise of development and growth, the spineless politicians and money-multiplying industries will want to avoid talking about it. The economists have re-packaged the weakness as strength. The real problem lies in the ever-increasing population of India. With 1/5 of the world’s population, we have only 1/20 of the world’s land. We also have the world’s highest population growth rate on such a scale of population. For a simple comparison, we don’t even have one-third the land resources that China has.

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Shyam Parekh