Municipal authorities mercilessly chopping grass in parks in Mumbai and elsewhere are doing a distinct disservice to the city, to Nature and to people who love to walk on grass which is not only fun but also immensely beneficial to health. Mr Praveen Pardeshi, the former municipal commissioner of Mumbai, had a good understanding of these issues. Thick grass is essential for water absorption and can play a role in preventing flooding.

The civic body can also give incentives to housing societies which have not paved their compounds and are allowing the earth to absorb rain water. Those planting indigenous species should also be rewarded. There are many simple ways in which we can save the environment. And the environment nearer home, our cities and towns and villages needs equal priority as much as concern for climate change.

Two years ago the first global scientific review on the worldwide decline of insects was published and it was just really grim. It didn’t get much fanfare, even though it found that more than 40 percent of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, The Guardian reported.. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. At the rate insects are declining, they could vanish within a century. There is a long list of all the reasons that lawns are an ecological nightmare, but the insect situation may be the most urgent.

I am reminded of this when I see sadists mercilessly mow grass in some of our public parks reducing them into deserts. There are few sights more pleasant than luxurious growth of grass and the current monsoon season is the best for it. But some philistines don’t seem to appreciate thick green grass and crave to mow it to the minimum. It is also shocking to find that some of our parks are being dangerously concretised partly because the cement and construction lobby is so strong.

We need native grass varieties and shrubs and plants with a lot of biodiversity , not manicured lawns which are harmful for the environment. There is a big movement in the West against the craze for lawns which consume huge amounts of chemicals and mowing them means that many of these chemicals are washed into rivers and streams and the sea.

India has passed a biodiversity Act but there is little awareness about it and there is little awareness of imposition of monoculture. We are still impressed by the luxurious green growth of tea and coffee plantations and the like forgetting that this is not the best kind of greenery, it is quite bad for the soil, for the environment.

Mumbai’s municipal garden department seems to have little understanding of the importance of biodiversity and the government authorities are notorious for slaughter of trees for dubious development projects.

We generally think of climate change as a story of sky — of emitted gases, of atmospheric carbon levels, of storms. Author Kristin Ohlson would like to direct our gaze earthward, to take a long, hard look at the dirt beneath our feet. We may have overlooked a solution there.
In her sometimes breathless but important new book, “The Soil Will Save Us,” Ohlson lays out a thesis that farmers and climate researchers have been talking about for decades: that a change in farming and forestry techniques could sequester enough carbon in the ground to not only mitigate but reverse global warming he Biodiversity Act 2002 had established the National Biodiversity Authority at the national level, the State Biodiversity Board at the state level and the Biodiversity Management Committee at the Panchayat level with the objective of promoting conservation and ‘sustainable use of India’s rich biodiversity and associated knowledge with people’s participation.’ Ten years down the line, much remains to be done both at the Central and State level in order to implement the Biodiversity vision. The Committee mentioned that three states, Bihar, Maharashtra and J&K have not even set up their respective state biodiversity boards even after a decade.

Bikram Grewal , noted author of a book on birds, says ninety percent of conservation funds go to the protection of the tiger. But with birds, nobody cares.Same can be said about the need to preserve our insect life. As for birds, the Great Indian Bustard, is down to 50 birds and nobody even cares. It is mammal hegemony in the world of conservation that is endangering birdlife.

Grewal is equally vocal about the role of “progress“ in destroying precious habitats. “In the name of progress, we are cutting grasslands, cutting wetlands.

That apart we have to guard against sinister sections of the establishment. Can anything be more outrageous than the proposal to convert the wonderful wetlands in Navi Mumbai into a golf course ? The wetlands are a wonderful site for migratory birds. Do the authorities even know the basic fact that golf courses are extremely unfriendly to the environment ?

Even small ponds can be very nourishing living beings, promoting the environment. A pond that’s only a square metre in size could suck as much as 247g of carbon from the air every year.

The UK road network spans over 246,000 miles – reducing mowing on the grass verges that surround them to just once a year could save money and create thriving habitats for pollinating insects that return on their own each spring. The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” – the idea that regular immersion in nature is as good as therapy. In the future, people may not have to go too far to get their fix. Unfortunately, the focus on human ideas of “neatness” at present dominates any love for nature, experts point out.

And this is something that should arouse more interest among Buddhists, Ambedkarites. Ravi Kumar , a scholar, draws a direct link between Ambedkarian Buddhism (or Neo-Buddhism) and a perspective of ecological justice, for Neo-Buddhism proposes an organic relationship with all living forms. Ambedkar, says Ravi Kumar, invoked Buddha to reflect upon this aspect as follows:

“Love is not enough; what is required is Maitri. It is wider than love. It means fellowship not merely with human beings but with all living beings.”

Thus, Ambedkar proposes what Ravi Kumar calls “a self emphatic and reflexive ethical code for human beings while engaging with other species, meaning he was not satisfied with the dominant anthropocentric conception of the world but prefers an inclusive bio-ecological centric world wherein all species have equal rights for their existence.”

This later development in Ambedkar’s thought suggests that his views on technology and its relationship to nature were reshaped by a Buddhist perception of the interrelatedness of all things in the universe, while retaining a socialist/Marxist critique of the deeply iniquitous Brahminical caste order.

I have drawn on expert opinions, have not been able to mention individual sources in some cases.

Some of our environmentalists are doing a good job. But the scope needs to be widened. Some are too obsessed with international conferences and agreements of Paris and Kyoto and the like. But we need to go to the grassroots, that is really the most appropriate word when it comes to protecting the environment.

Gujarat is not one of the best functioning states but it has done well in one respect, it has planted Neem trees all over which are very useful for improving air quality.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on environment and public transport


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