“Connecting People to Nature”- Are we?
By B N KUMAR
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi just pointed out in his latest edition of Mann Ki Baat broadcast, June 5 is being observed as World Environment Day and this year’s theme for the event is: Connecting People to Nature”.
The UN says on its web site, the theme “urges us to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and to think about how we are part of nature and how intimately we depend on it.” “It challenges us to find fun and exciting ways to experience and cherish this vital relationship.”
Billions of rural people around the world spend every working day ‘connected to nature’ and appreciate full well their dependence on natural water supplies and how nature provides their livelihoods in the form of fertile soil. They are among the first to suffer when ecosystems are threatened, whether by pollution, climate change or over-exploitation.
Nature’s gifts are often hard to value in monetary terms. Like clean air, they are often taken for granted, at least until they become scarce. However, economists are developing ways to measure the multi-trillion-dollar worth of many so-called ‘ecosystem services’, from insects pollinating fruit trees to the leisure, health and spiritual benefits of a hike up a valley, the UN says explaining the Day and the theme.
So far, so good!
Now let’s take a look at the Indian scenario and I would like to focus on Navi Mumbai, my Karm Bhoomi, where I am living for well over four decades. Can we fund fun here? The answer is a vehement no!
The once picturesque Parsik Hills are being systematically destroyed in the name of quarrying. Decades ago, the Government took over lands from farmers, fishermen and salt pan workers (called agris) and handed over to the city planner and developer CIDCO for development of Navi Mumbai. CIDCO allotted pieces of Parsik Hills to few project affected people, popularly known as PAPs, for quarrying. It was a win-win for both CIDCO and as the former needed stones for urban development and the latter compensation for losing their sources of income.
The quarrying, however, did not stop with licensed areas. Many recklessly plundered the hills to such an extent that the scene shocked not only the silent suffererers of Navi Mumbai, but then Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
Thackeray, who used to frequently travel on the Sion-Panvel Highway, stopped on a Monday morning on Turbhe flyover from where one could get a clear view of the destruction of the nature. In an impromptu move, Thackeray drove to CIDCO Bhavan at CBD Belapur and summoned the Sena-BJP alliance CM Manohar Joshi there.
In the presence of Joshi, government and CIDCO officials, Thacheray addressed a Press Conference instructing the government to ban Navi Mumbai quarrying with immediate effect.
Local media has been reporting about the health hazards of quarrying which caused tremendous air pollution. In fact, a survey done by the micro-biology department of Modern College, Vashi, showed that over 60% of school children in Turbhe suffered from respiratory diseases. This was attributed mainly to air pollution.
Recently, The Hindustan Times reported that Maharashtra Pollution Control Board officials confirmed that pollution levels in the area (Navi Mumbai) were a major concern. “Our sub-regional officers are investigating as we have received many complaints from locals,” said Anil Mohekar, regional officer, MPCB.
Quarrying that was stopped on the order of Bal Thackeray, was subsequently resumed and the blasting of the Parsik Hills continued unabated.
A PIL has been filed some time ago with the National Breen Tribunal (NGT), Pune, which has called for affidavits from several stake holders including the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, CIDCO and the Collector. All eyes are now on BGT which is scheduled give its verdict on July 19.
A petition addressed to CM on change.org is also being initiated by socially concerned citizens.
One hopes that the state government will act in right earnest and checks the plundering of Parsik Hills which face the imminent danger of vanishing if reckless quarrying continues.
Aren’t we destroying the nature and harming of people instead of connecting people to nature?