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Home / Columns / Carelessness of politicians has cost India big time

Carelessness of politicians has cost India big time

In this election parties set out plans to develop India. India needs development, it needs economic growth. But what sort of development what sort of growth, and at what cost?

columns Updated: Apr 06, 2019 20:47 IST
Mark Tully
Mark Tully
Illegal sand mining in progress on the banks of the Betwa river in Hamirpur district of Uttar Pradesh
Illegal sand mining in progress on the banks of the Betwa river in Hamirpur district of Uttar Pradesh(Ashok Dutta/HT Photo)

In the introduction to his collection of essays called Sadhana, Rabindranath Tagore says,”In these papers it may be hoped Western readers will have an opportunity of coming into touch with the ancient spirit of India as revealed in our sacred texts and manifested in the life of today.” In the first essay, Tagore describes the Indian mind:  “[It] never has any hesitation in acknowledging its kinship with nature, its unbroken relation with all. The fundamental unity of creation was not simply a philosophical speculation for India.” But where do we find the influence of that ancient spirit in today’s India? Where do we find that Indian mind at work? Isn’t it the Western mind, which Tagore said “seems to take a pride in subduing nature”, that guides India today?

In this election, parties set out plans to develop India. India needs development, it needs economic growth. But what sort of development, what sort of growth, and at what cost? Is the fact that the shortest way between two points is a straight line sufficient justification for forests to be hacked down to construct roads and railways? Do rivers have to be denuded of sand and stones, and mountains brutally laid bare to provide construction material when there are renewable materials available?

Then there is the carelessness with which successive governments have wasted the bounty of nature. One reason for the Indian mind’s kinship with nature was the natural beauty Indians were surrounded by. Yet no party has bothered to curb the ugly urban spread and the unplanned rural ribbon development that disfigures India today. The sacred status of India’s rivers is evidence of the respect the Indian mind had for them, yet through sheer carelessness they have become filthy.

The pollution of India’s rivers has led to a chronic shortage of drinkable water. According to the global non-profit organisation, WaterAid, over half the population live in areas of high water stress. Yet I recently came across an innovative scheme, designed by an Indian mind respectful of nature, to supply clean water, which is in danger of being destroyed by carelessness.

The trial scheme is the brainchild of the physicist, Vikram Soni. He took me to the Palla floodplain of the Yamuna on the border between Delhi and Haryana. There I saw pumps drawing clean water from the underground aquifers of the river to supply Delhi. The water is potable. The aquifers are replenished by the rains and the monsoon floods but it is essential to see that the water level in them never goes below the level in the river. If it does, the polluted river water will flow into the aquifers polluting them forever. The floodplain water is one of the last unpolluted water sources for the country as a whole and should be urgently protected.

So what did I find on the Palla floodplain? Equipment meant to monitor the water level in the aquifers through a system of sensors was not working. Strawberries and marigolds were growing in the fields whereas agriculture needs to be restricted to less thirsty crops like vegetables . Sewage is flowing into pits and leaking into the aquifers. Now the Delhi government has announced that it is going to dig 70 more wells on the floodplain in this area without consulting those whose research created the project.

So the implementation of a scheme to evolve a nature-friendly answer to development needs is carelessly neglected. If widely implemented on floodplains and used sustainably, it could provide drinking water to 500 Indian cities or towns. On the other hand, even more nature-unfriendly dams and a river linking plan are being planned. Promises are being made in the election campaign to listen to the concerns that have been expressed about the Arunachal Pradesh dams, but if the past is anything to go by, when the tumult and the shouting dies down there will be no change. Yet again the Indian mind is ignored , and the Western tradition of subduing nature is followed.

The views expressed are personal

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