Our natural resources are common resources, and the government is expected to protect them on our behalf. This sounds ludicrous when you consider recent events.
After a long fight with several other ministries about coal mining in thickly forested areas, the ministry of environment and forests finally relented. And in Haryana, all along Faridabad, the tough stance of the SC is reduced to mere legal boundaries where no construction is allowed.
All the rest is mined, and the hills flattened, stones sold. This may be legal but is still a disaster, because it destroys the deep water tables, finishes forests as dust traps and fails to maintain any kind of meaningful green cover.
There is a second issue. Many such changes are brought about through a combination of advocacy by citizens' groups and policy makers convinced by these ideas, apart from the crossing of political expediency and luck. When these battles are won on the basis of individual tenacity, they become fragile victories.
They must be institutionalised so the burden of defending them is not inherited by successors, and change takes effect.
Does history teach?
Does history teach us policy lessons? I often think not, at least in the environmental context. I recently read reports about what Vietnam is doing to itself. It seems that Vietnam generates one million tons of hazardous waste every single day, of which only 60% is treated.
The rest contaminates, although most hazardous waste is still highly dangerous, well after treatment.
This after they were carpet-bombed with Agent Orange.
And in India, we should learn from our vulture catastrophe and reduce mercury emissions and remove it from water bodies because new science shows that in America, the White Ibis is unable to breed normally due to the impact of methyl mercury on critical reproductive hormones.
A policy that bans imports, phases out mercury based medical instruments and monitors these are some first steps.