A political gimmick

When concern for the environment is merely cosmetic, can we hope for a change?

Published: Sunday 30 June 2002

the ritual drama of cleaning up of the sewer that passes off as the Yamuna has been enacted this year too. Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit, gingerly balanced on a rock, wielding a stick dipped in the river, made for a nice media splash. Soon after, the vip retinue left and a handful of volunteers staunchly waded in the muck a little longer. And the Yamuna flowed on, filthy as ever, as another environment day was observed, all the right noises were made and the mandatory round of seminars and discussions held.

Now picture another 'event': Union home minister L K Advani offering prayers to the holy Ganges. The honorable minister later commented that India was lagging in health and education sectors as the country had not invested enough in defence. Wasn't there a better comparison to be made? Isn't the average Indian contributing enough to meet the war clouds that one has to lose out on health and education as well?

What, one wonders, is the message our country's leadership is trying to give, particularly on a day like World Environment Day? Clearly, they are getting their messages all mixed up. If on one hand they are cashing in on every occasion to promote their political standing, on the other they waste no time in sabre rattling. And all at the cost of the common citizen, who continues to suffer come what may.

If only the chief minister were to look out of her office overlooking the Yamuna, she would see a lot more. Take for instance, her cabinet colleague Deep Chand Bandhu, who holds the slums lining the banks guilty of polluting the waters. Their removal and greening of the riverfront at a phenomenal cost to the exchequer is the happy picture being offered as a solution.

If the government aims to meet the Supreme Court's March 31, 2003 deadline to clean up the Yamuna, it has to go beyond these cosmetic measures. The solution is not to let the wastes, both industrial and domestic, enter the river and to increase the fresh water flow. For this the drainage network has to be improved while treating the two types of effluents separately and not mix them in the drains as is the practice.

As for the slums nobody thinks of the poor or builds for them. A long term solution should be chalked out. Not mere relocation to some remote location on the outskirts of the city.

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