‘Criticised for being too selective in allowing projects that hurt environment’: Former PM Manmohan Singh
Singh conferred the award on Sir David at a virtual event. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were also present during the online function.Updated: Sep 07, 2020, 21:13 IST
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said his government was criticised by industrialists and others for being too selective in allowing projects that impacted the wildlife habitat, and asserted that during his tenure India was an active voice in international forums on environment issues and made positive contribution to the protection of the planet.
“In India, during the time that I was Prime Minister, we were conscious of our duty to accelerate economic development and raise the standard of living of our people, especially those in poverty. This is, after all, the first priority of any government,” Singh said while presenting the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for 2019 to British broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
“At the same time, we were very selective in allowing projects that impacted the wilderness or the habitat of wildlife. Indeed, we were criticised by industrialists and those who thought we were being too restrictive. But I believe that if a proper balance is not firmly held, the results are deleterious and self-defeating,” he added.
“We were also an active voice in international forums and discussions on issues concerning the environment and I like to think we made positive contributions to the protection of the planet,” the former Prime Minister said.
Singh conferred the award on Sir David at a virtual event. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were also present during the online function.
The former Prime Minister expressed concern over the destruction of environment across the world.
“How acute the situation is cannot be clearer than from the pandemic that has gripped the earth, coincidently almost exactly one century after the great influenza epidemic. To some, this is nature’s way of telling humankind to loosen its tightening grip on the resources of the earth, to be less exploitative, to respect the needs of the natural world, especially the animal kingdom, more and slow down the pace of environmental destruction,” he said.
“But it doesn’t need an epidemic to tell us that we are not in good shape. Climate change, the assault on the oceans, the pollution of the atmosphere, the junk floating about in space, the reduction of forest cover, the extinction of life in rivers, the reduction of natural habitat for any life other than humans – all this is evident to anyone who has eyes to see,” added Singh.
Sir David Attenborough was named the recipient of the award in November last year. His name was selected by an international jury chaired by former President Pranab Mukherjee, who died last week.
“To be sure there is an acute dilemma here. Millions of us live in abject poverty. Millions around the world do not have access to enough food, clean water and surroundings, a minimum acceptable standard of living. In the name of development, nature bears the brunt, with its long-term crippling effects on that very quality of life we are trying to improve,” the former Prime Minister said.
“But like Sir David, I believe that it is possible for us to respect boundaries, to be aware always of the costs of economic development, and to refrain from excesses, from ignorant or willful actions that ultimately rebound on us,” he added.
In her speech, Sonia Gandhi described Sir David as one of Nature’s “most staunch conscience keepers” for over half a century
“Sir David is already well known to us all through his prodigious creativity in educating the humankind with brilliant films and books about the natural world. And he has, of late, been the most sensible voice warning us that we, more than anything else, are responsible for the accelerating threat to the environment on our planet,” she said.
“When environmental protection has become all the more imperative, when climate change and continued loss of bio-diversity is threatening livelihoods and public health, indeed life on earth, there could not have been a more appropriate choice for an award in her name than Sir David,” added Sonia Gandhi.
She said Indira Gandhi despite being born in a political family saw herself as a child of nature, developing a special affinity for mountains, forests, birds and animals from an early age.
“As Prime Minister, she became an unwavering champion of environmental protection long before that cause had become popular both in India and abroad. While helping India accelerate the pace of investment and expand its economic infrastructure, she was very sensitive to the imperative of maintaining what she would often call ‘ecological balance’. Her political innings were a search for that balance and a journey of educating her colleagues and the people to preserve that balance,” Sonia Gandhi added.
“It is not a surprise, therefore, to find that the legal and institutional framework India now has for protecting its wonderful bio-diversity had been put in place during her tenure as Prime Minister. It bears her personal imprimatur,” the Congress chief said.
Describing Sir David as the world’s leading authority on the natural world, she said his passion has been inspiring and is also to reiterate what we all acknowledge.
Accepting the award, Sir David said, “We have to change from being nationalists to being international”.
He said the world is heading towards an unprecedented crisis. “We have taken over the natural world and are destroying it,” he added.
The Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development was instituted in the memory of the former Prime Minister by a trust in her name in 1986. It consists of a monetary award of Rs 25 lakh along with a citation.
The award is given to individuals or organisations who work towards ensuring international peace and development, ensuring that scientific discoveries are used to further the scope of freedom and better humanity, and creating new international economic order.
Sir David’s work has received widespread recognition across the world. Apart from his knighthood, he has received awards from the Royal Geographical Society, UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize, the Micheal Faraday Prize, the Descartes Prize and Fellowship of the Royal Society, and several Emmy and BAFTA awards.
Sir David’s current series with the BBC Natural History Unit - Seven Worlds, One Planet - is broadcast on BBC One on Sunday nights.