June 5, 2005

World Effrontery Day?

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- on june 5, 2005, everyone celebrated the World Environment Day, including India's Union ministry of environment and forests (moef): it published a one-page advertisement in leading national dailies. Among moef 's achievements, the ad declared, was that the bio-chemical oxygen demand ( bod , an indicator of water pollution load) has significantly reduced in all major stretches of the Ganga after the launch of the Ganga Action Plan (gap). m o ef had also ensured a steady increase in forests and tree cover and initiated groundwater quality monitoring for pesticide and heavy metals in 181 locations. The list is never-ending, but can be easily substituted by a single, telling, word: hyperbole.

The day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. It was created to make environmental issues the active agents of sustainable and equitable development. Sadly, moef has reduced the celebration of (and a re-dedication to) progressive ecological values into masculinist propaganda, an act of chest-thumping, triumphalism at its bureaucratic best. The advertisement's raison d'tre -- to herald / laud moef's environmental credentials in the public domain. But ground reality proves most of their claims hollow.

Unlike what moef would like all to believe, bod levels in the Ganga have increased -- as per a 2004 report of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, bod levels downstream of Lucknow range from 2.5-6.5 milligrammes per litre (mg/l), much higher than the permissible limit of 3 mg/l. And it is well-known that the government's monitoring of pollutants is mere lip-service -- in 2003, the Central Ground Water Board tested a number of wells across the country for arsenic contamination and found Bihar and West Bengal to be affected. Ironically, tests conducted by the United Nations Children's Fund and Kolkata-based Jadavpur University found that the states of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Assam were also affected.

By publishing the ad, therefore, moef has certainly raised a toast to World Environment Day. But the toast is a polluted one. The glass raised is actually a poisoned chalice, in which swim thousands of suffering Indians. And who else but the moef would quaff happily from it?

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