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Environment enters Punjab discourse
By Devinder Sharma

Alarmed by deteriorating environmental, social and physical health of Punjab, concerned citizens and organisations join hands to put pressure on the political parties to present a time bound programme to improve the condition of the state.


Baba Balbeer Singh Seechewal addressing a meeting on environmental awareness

The diatribe between the two major political opponents in Punjab seems unending. In a build up to the impending assembly elections, there is hardly a day when we don’t get swamped by charges and the counter-charges. While the underlying idea seems to settle political scores, there is hardly anything refreshing in the way charges are being traded.

Claims and counter-claims notwithstanding, an initiative taken by several social, religious and environmental activists and organisations, comes as a whiff of fresh air in this murky political climate. Last week on December 14, more than two dozen environmentally conscious groups and individuals formed “Vatavaran ate Samaj Bachao Morcha” (Save Environment and Society Morcha). So as to protect health, environment, agriculture and the society from any further deterioration, the Morcha aims at making it mandatory for the political parties to present a time bound programme to improve the state of polluted environment, water, deteriorating health and at the same time take appropriate steps to prevent farming from turning poisonous.

There couldn’t have been a better and timely initiative. Punjab being the seat of Green Revolution, excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides all these years has turned the soil infertile and poisonous, and at the same time leaching of chemicals into the groundwater has contaminated the water source. Political parties however have remained insensitive to the destruction wrought on the environment as a result of which deadly diseases like cancer are proliferating. Indiscriminate use of drugs and intoxicants too has played havoc with human health. A recent UNDP study had shown that as much as 74 per cent of the youth in Punjab had consumed drugs at one stage or the other. In other words, both the soil as well as the human population has been drugged.

Punjab being the seat of Green Revolution, excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides all these years has turned the soil infertile and poisonous, and at the same time leaching of chemicals into the groundwater has contaminated the water source.

The Morcha’s aim is reach out to all political parties and leaders and apprise them of the growing destruction of the natural environment. It will impress upon these parties to accord environment protection highest priority in their manifestoes and in their respective governance agenda. The task does not end here. Not only the Morcha, but all conscious citizens and voters are urged to raise these concerns whenever they get to meet the prospective candidates or in political rallies and meetings. Surely, the task of environmental protection, which is so crucial for our future generations, needs more than efforts of a few environmentally-conscious citizens.

This is where we need to draw some lessons from Anna Hazare’s campaign for removing corruption. When a few of us had sat down in October last year planning for raising the issue of a strong janlokpal, we did not leave the task to our elected representatives. As founding members of the India Against Corruption campaign, we took upon ourselves the responsibility to fight corruption. We were hardly ten people in the beginning. Since we were determined, we were able to galvanise the nation to stand and fight for ending corruption. Similarly, people of Punjab too can make an effort and make a difference to their environment.

I don't know if there are similar initiatives in the other states which are ready to go for elections. Environmentally-conscious citizens must make an effort to bring together sensitive and caring people from different walks of life, build up a charter of expectations, and then create wider awareness so as to reach the political parties. Unless people exert more pressure, environmental and social problems cannot be addressed effectively.

“Vatavaran ate Samaj Bachao Morcha” is headed by Sant Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal. Some of the well-known personalities of the region form the advisory group, and it includes: Prof Jagmohan Singh, Dr Nirmal Singh Panjabi, Dr Bibi Inderjit Kaur, Balbir Singh Rajewal, Pishaura Singh Sidhupur, and Dr GPI Singh. The core committee comprises among others Umendra Dutt and Singh Sahib Giani Kewal Singh. For people of Punjab, this is an opportunity to save their beloved state from environmental degradation.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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