Speech at the valedictory function of the ECODEVELOPMENT CAMP, organized by the Society for Ecological Conservation and Development School of Environmental Studies University of Cochin, dated 27-10-1985
I am not a scientist by discipline and my knowledge of scientific matters is very rudimentary: It is limited to what little I have learned in life. I have only a layman’s idea of ecology. My understanding of the situation is that today it is a matter of human survival which calls for some restraint on man’s activities which upset what nature has provided for the survival of life.
We have to look at the whole problem against the background of the evolution of our planet. How life appeared and was sustained on earth and how among the various living beings, man obtained control on others F How he developed his own way of life utilising what nature provided? He has throughout tried to understand the laws of nature and, in his greed, tried to interfere with them to his advantage. What we call Science is essentially the embodiment of this process of subversion.
We have throughout been tampering with the laws of nature so that we may enjoy more of the fruits of nature and this we called civilisation. We find that different civilisations have come and perished like waves. We know only a few civilisations which had an even existence during the las 5000 years. Other civilisations come up and declined.
We speak of the proud achievements of our ancestors in this country. Others speak of their ancestors in their countries Be that as it may, these were attempts at gaining control over nature. Over the last 300 to 400 years, man has
understood certain aspects of the laws of nature which he did not understand in the past. From primitive nomadic life to settled life and forming to industrialisation step by step mon hos tampered with the laws of nature. At persent we have the industrial civilisation. With greater understanding of human nature and the laws of nature, we may pass on to a new civilisation! +
The industrial civilisation has amplified man’s physical strength as a prize for subverting the laws of nature. We have now reached a stage where we can amplify our mental power and utilize that for further subverting nature. I refer to the electronic age” or the “computer age” about which, naturally, the younger generation is so enthusiastic.
Of course, nature in its wisdom had provided certain balonces-different plants, diverse animals, many kinds of bacteria all living together to mutually help one another in sustaining life on this planet. That mechanism whereby life is sustained on this planet is what I consider to be ecological balance
Once we start subverting one law of nature after another, naturally we are against nature which is why today we speak of concrete gas chambers in big cities: The huge buildings that we construct get over crowded and then we also establish factories there. Now all these human activities pollute. Balance of nature is provided by plants and trees. We cut down all the trees around us which support life and help us and build concrete houses and establish factories adding poisonous contents to the atmosphere.
I come from a place where humanity learnt from a single event what havoc modern science can cause to man and his surroundings: I mean Bhopal.
You must have heard of Bhopal tragedy. To destroy pests certain poisons were developed and used in a controlled way. When the safety measures failed in an unwitting moment tonnes of lethal gas escaped into the air-a whole city, faced one of the worst catastrophies in human history: Within 24 hours, 2,500 dead. people fell
Now the world has become wiser of the dangers of such careless handling of toxic chemicals. People do not want such factories to be located near inhabited areas. All over the world an awareness has been created.
If we want industrialisation, it must be coupled with the provision for keeping the atmosphere free of pollution. Unfortunately, people who want to make quick profits avoid anti-pollution measures. The attempt is to provide as few provisions for environmental wholesomeness as possible. Both Government and private sector are to blame. The attempt is to make the largest margin of profit with the least investment. One of the major casualities of this altitude is air, thus being no provision for keeping the air free of pollution. How can we save the situation.
Now I should like to refer to population explosion as a major factor contributing to environmental pollution. Using some of the knowledge about the laws of nature, we have provided for better survival of infants. Life expectation in India has gone up. That is why India’s population doubled in 35 years.
When we won freedom, we started with 36 crore people and we had 30 crore illiterates. When we reached 74 crore we had 45 crore illiterates despite improving our educational facilities by 1700 per cent. This problem is further compounding our other problems. Hence a balance has to be maintained, whether it be installation of factories, or raising of plantations or adding to the population.
We cannot go on building concrete houses in a reckless manner going against nature’s designs. We must have industries, but these should be located in such a manner that they do not add to the pollution in the atmosphere. Human presence has to be balanced and distributed. These are vital policy matters which call for attention at the national level.
Education is an important component of development. It promotes awareness of the dangers of ecological degradation from pollution.
Our former Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi was one of the greatest champions of ecological balance. Let me mention an incident which brings out her great interest in environment. When she was being tried by the Shah Commission and the then Government was preparing to commit her to prison, in her concern for man’s future, she did not forget to write to the Kerala P. C. C. over which I was then presiding to take keen interest in the protection of the “Silent Valley”. I came out in defense of the silent valley but my inspiration was Mrs. Gandhi, who wrote to us about this. Whatever unpopularity it brought me and probably party at that time, I am sure that the national interest was served. Ecological balance is vitally important and, even if a section of people is hostile to begin with, a time will come when they will appreciate its importance.
When we insist upon industries to introduce any safety measures, they may not like it. When we ask people not to cut down trees but preserve them so that they may breathe fresh air, they may not understand it. When we touch various issues connected with the maintenance of ecological balance, we also come up against vested interests. Those who want to make a fast buck.
I am glad some youngsters have chosen to stay here for one week and join the ranks of those who are carrying on an unpopular but a great task. Excitement comes from swimming against the current.