MEF's Speech on the World Environment Day

Following is the speech of Shri Suresh P Prabhu, Hon’ble Minister for Environment & Forests on the occasion of the World Environment Day - June 05, 1999.

Let me say at the outset how happy and proud we feel to have in our midst the Hon’ble Prime Minister who has taken out time from his heavy schedule to participate in this function being held to commemorate the World Environment Day. We feel greatly enthused by his presence.

The World Environment Day is observed each year after the historical Stockholm Conference on Environment in 1972. The objective is to draw attention to some of the ways in which humanity is imperiling its own habitat and to emphasize the urgent need to change attitudes and behaviours.

This year the theme for The World Environment Day is "Our Earth-Our Future-Just Save It". The theme highlights the complexities and sensitivities, which characterize the continuing debate about the achievement of sustainable development and the challenges that we face and their overall linkage with the survival of life on Earth.

Independent India has travelled a long way on the path of modernisation and industrialisation. From the very beginning, we are committed to the goal of providing a better quality of life to our citizens, with better health care, widespread education, clean drinking water, housing etc.

Despite our many and varied problems, we have still been able to take impressive strides in the improvement of socio-economic conditions of our people, even through much still remains to be done. The economic development that has been achieved has, however, brought in its wake many environmental problems.

The main environmental problems in India that immediately come to mind relate to air and water pollution, degradation of common property resources, threat to biological diversity, solid waste disposal and sanitation. Increasing industrialisation, urbanisation, transportation and intensive agriculture have put tremendous pressure on our natural resources and constitute the major cause of the environmental problems being faced by the country.

Poverty and the rapid growth in population present special problems for our country. Our success would be greatly determined by our ability to meet these challenges.

Pollution, from whatever source, has received the top priority in the Ministry of Environment & Forests. The quality of life in the country, by and large, depends on these efforts. The Ministry has prepared the National Environmental Action Plan for control of pollution from various sources such as industrial, domestic, vehicular, agricultural and noise.

For control of pollution from automobiles, stricter emission standards, introduction of unleaded petrol in major cities, installation of catalytic converters, introduction of low sulphur fuels and improvement in the fuel quality have been undertaken.

The White paper on the status of pollution in Delhi with an Action Plan for its control prepared earlier for Delhi is now being implemented. All these efforts have started yielding results. I am happy to inform that air pollution in Delhi has come down significantly in terms of SPM, carbon monoxide and lead.

The Ministry is also very much concerned about the protection of national monuments like Taj Mahal and recently a Taj Trapezium Zone Pollution (Prevention and control) Authority has been constituted to monitor the progress of implementation of various schemes for the protection of the Taj Mahal.

An area of great public concern is increasing pollution of our rivers on which millions of our people are dependent for their everyday needs. This is however an extremely complex problem and needs the full commitment and cooperation of the local bodies and the State Governments involved.

Unless proper sanitation facilities and sewage treatment facilities are set up in the towns adjoining the rivers and a constant effort made to see that these valuable water resources are not contaminated, the task of keeping the rivers clean would not be on a sound footing.

There is also the need to maintain a minimum flow in order to keep the rivers healthy. We are also aware of the non-source pollution in the rivers resulting from the increased use of pesticides and fertilizers. My Ministry has been giving priority attention to these matters and we have been seeking the cooperation of all those concerned. However, much remains to be done and this continues to be a major challenge for us in the future.

An important area which this Ministry has taken up recently is the problem of management of municipal solid waste. The problem of proper handling of municipal solid waste is posing a serious threat to the urban environment. My Ministry has examined this matter in detail and a set of guidelines under the Environment (Protection) Act would be issued shortly.

We have also identified the need for tackling the problem of plastics used for packaging and which tends to get littered all over the urban landscape. Among the solid wastes which require special handling are the Bio-medical wastes for which my Ministry has made new regulations. We are also in the process of notifying regulations relating to the disposal of fly ash.

An important mandate of the Ministry of Environment and Forests is the conservation of our biological resources. We are addressing forestry and wildlife and bio-diversity issues also very actively.

An action plan to achieve 33% per cent forest cover has been drawn up for implementation. A National Perspective Plan is being prepared to rehabilitate the forest and non-forest wastelands within the country.

The focus of afforestation activities will be on Joint Forest Management to ensure a better interface between the forest and people. In this effort, we need active participation and support of many Ministries in the central government and, above all, the State governments.

It would also require greater flow of resources to the forestry sector. This Ministry has recently taken some initiatives in this regard and I am happy to say that on my request the Hon’ble Prime Minister has kindly agreed to make some announcements in this respect today.

An effective wildlife conservation programme has been undertaken through the establishment and management of protected areas and restoration of habitats, protection of wild life in multiple use areas, rehabilitation of endangered and threatened species, captive programmes and education.

One policy in this regard is to strengthen the field machinery which is working under very difficult and adverse circumstances and also to take care of the needs of the people on the periphery of the National Parks and Sanctuaries and ensure their participation in the protection and conservation of the wildlife.

India is one of the twelve major mega diversity countries of the world. It has two out of the 18 bio-diversity hot spots in the world. These are in the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas. India is also rich in traditional knowledge and wisdom in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

A draft of the Biological Diversity Act has been drawn up for conservation, sustainable development and equitable sharing of benefits of biological resources. After a consultative process with stakeholders, including State Governments, a draft National Policy and Macro-level Action Strategy on Biological Diversity has also been drawn up as a macro-level statement of strategies, gaps and further actions needed for conservation and sustainable use of Biological Diversity.

An important initiative taken by my Ministry recently is in regard to filling up the gap in the critically important area of taxonomic work within the country. Taxonomy is the science of identifying and classifying of living organisms.

There is considerable gap in regard to the study of lower plants and animals like fungi, bacteria, virus and insects. Knowledge in this regard is likely to assume critical economic importance in the years to come. An All-India Coordinated Project on Taxonomy has been finalised and is being launched shortly.

For developing a State-of-Art botanic garden in the country and for the conservation of endangered and economically important species, a Botanic Garden is being set up at NOIDA. This Garden will be the first of its own kind in the country.

Conservation of all the variety of ecosystems like forests, wetlands, coral reefs, mangroves, Himalayas, desert and grasslands etc. have been given attention in the Ministry and this remains an area of great challenge for us.

My Ministry is working closely on issues of drainage and degradation of wetlands which holds importance for migratory and resident birds.

Environmental Information is a vital tool for Sustainable Development. The Environmental Information System (ENVIS) Centres are responsible for collection, collation, storage, retrieval and dissemination of information in their allocated areas, to various target groups.

The 25th ENVIS Centre has been set up at the well known Delhi based Centre for Media Studies with effect from February 1999. ENVIS has also developed a Home Page for the Ministry. It can be browsed on the internet. ENVIS, with effect from Oct 1998, has also started publishing a newsletter of the Ministry – namely, "ENVIRO NEWS" on a monthly basis.

The Sustainable Development Network Programme, assisted by the UNDP and IDRC have started functioning in the Ministry. We would continue to strengthen these efforts towards information dissemination for creating better environmental awareness in the country and to make our working more transparent.

A major initiative has been taken by the Ministry to review and expand the existing components of environment education at all levels of formal education. This matter was placed before the conference of Education Ministers held at Delhi in September last year and it was unanimously agreed by the State Education Ministers that steps would be taken by them to ensure that teaching on environment is strengthened.

For creating environmental awareness in all sections of society, the Ministry conducts each year the National Environment Awareness Campaign (NEAC) on a specialised theme relating to environment.

During 1998, under this programme, over 3900 organisations consisting of NGOs, educational and research institutions, women and youth organisations, Army units and State Governments participated.

This year, the theme for the campaign is "Keeping our Environment Clean and Green." Within this theme, attention would be focused on the following sub themes :

    (a) Keeping our sources of drinking water clean and protected.

    (b) Ensuring proper disposal of garbage and other solid wastes.

    (c) Control of air pollution.

    (d) Protection of trees and plantation and nurturing of new trees.

Official recognition of an individual’s or group’s contribution is important for providing encouragement. In recognition to this, the Ministry has instituted recently the Amrita Devi Bishnoi National Award for village communities to promote protection of wildlife and the E.K.Janaki Annual National Award on TAXONOMY. I would like to take the opportunity of today’s function to announce the awardee of National Fellowship for promoting excellence in environmental research:

(1)The Pitamber Pant Fellowship Award for this year (1999) has been conferred on Dr. Raghavendra Rao of National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow. Dr. Rao will work on the bio-prospecting of endangered medicinal and aromatic plant species in the Himalayas.

(2)The B.P. Pal Fellowship Award for this year goes to Dr. K.P.S Chandel, Ex-Director, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi. Dr.Chandel will carry specialised studies on genetic diversity of some economic plants in Shivalik Hills and Mount Abu.

When I assumed charge of this Ministry about a year ago, I had got the feeling that the Ministry of Environment and Forests was the favourite whipping boy of the media, the NGOs and large number of people who were critical of the Ministry. I found during the more than one year of my stay in the Ministry that the problems of environmental protection and improvement are far too complex to be solved by this Ministry alone.

We have with this understanding sought the cooperation of our sister Ministries and Departments, vast network of NGOs and enlightened individuals and the scientists and experts for getting their support and our cooperation. Awareness has been greater focus.

Above all, we have tried to make people’s participation the cornerstone in the implementation of all our programmes. In the attempt to pursue the participatory approach, I could gather the opinion of diverse sections of the people and I must mention that my meetings with MPs representing specialised constituencies or areas like the North Eastern region, Himalayan region, Coastal areas, Women MPs, Tribal MPs and MPs from Metropolitan cities have proved to be immensely useful.

I would like to emphasize that NGOs have been a major strength of my Ministry and I look forward to continued association of such voluntary groups with my Ministry, especially in spreading environmental education and awareness among the masses.

In the end, I again extend my warm welcome to you, Sir, and to all the distinguished participants to this function.