One branch of study that commenced and has remained fashionable in most of the countries is – the branch of environmental sciences. The 80s saw its emerge, surge and bend towards the subject of environmental pollution and its control. Rhetoric, more than actions, have been the cynosure in this area right from its commencement. Non-professionals from all branches ranging from sociology, psychology, chemistry, biology, bio-sciences, safety, and chemical engineering to aeronautical science started writing, preaching, publishing papers in all sorts of journals regarding environmental pollution and remedial measures, practical as well as non-practical. I remember at least one dozen journals emerged in 1980s from the city of Meerut alone inviting articles for publications on environmental aspects. Research articles covering areas of mathematical models and statistical methods covered good amount of space in these journals. Talks in the educational institutions were nothing less than about APHA, AWWA, USEPA and IWWA. Wow, it was as if our scientists are going to have the cleanest cities in the world. Things were looking promising.
Institutes mushroomed claiming training, courses, certificates and 100% job guarantee in nooks and corners of smaller as well as bigger cities alike. Students thronged to get certificates from institutes of repute as well as institutes having questionable existences and capabilities. Everybody was a diploma in environmental science or environmental engineering from institutes like Chhualiberna Institute of Environmental Sciences (CIES). Let us not discuss where it is situated but it has got non-employable students having diplomas in environmental sciences and engineering. This is only one, out of may be a thousand or more, such self styled institute. So we have more environmental scientists and engineers than probably any other country in the world.
Next growth pattern was distinct in the then lesser known and poorly recognized pollution control boards. They moved to posh locations in the cities and state capitals. Most of these offices were refurbished and made air conditioned so that authorities sitting in those AC cabins can frame rules as to how a small motor garage making a business of Rs 2500 in a month can put up an environmental system in place for a few litre water discharges it makes from his dilapidated garage from where he earns sustenance for him and his family. But there was no one to question how much harmful emissions their freon run ACs are throwing out in to the innocuous natural atmosphere. There was no one to ask how much their vehicles are spewing harmful emissions when each one of them drove solo to their offices from home. One car per person. Opulently spacious rooms for the top officers were the perks. It is ok to have official decorum and demand of the status but these were surely bad non-alignment with respect to the need of the society and the talk those were made. Particulate matters were subject of discussions where mining is carried out using explosives for rock blasting.
One seminar, I remember, was conducted on "challenges of disposal of non-biodegradable wastes" where in learned research scholars, professors and invited CEOs made technical presentations and key note addresses on various aspects of non-biodegradable wastes. As youngsters and students, we felt proud of the intellectuals on the podium who were talking on promising hypotheses and models to curb pollution.
Some of them who had opportunities to visit good environmental institutes in developed countries went on citing examples of good governance, good citizenships and moral responsibilities. Few spoke about – what we should give back to our country. We were feeling blessed that these harbinger of good things would show ways and means to common people to have clean cities.
Then came a small break after the key note addresses to join for the tea and snacks. Lo and behold! We found tea and snacks are served in plastic cups and plates. Key note speaker nicely had tea in plastic cups, not at a single soul realizing that the gathering in the seminar itself is to deliberate ways and means to eliminate use of plastics from our life. What an irony we were noticing. What we learnt on that day was - talk as much as you can, preach as much as you can, but you may NOT WALK THE TALK. Our respect for the so called intellectuals crumbled. It is not sarcasm but it is THE REALITY. We conduct seminars now also. Speeches and delivered. Technical papers are presented. We travel to the seminar venues in big expansive cars, use plastic plates and bid farewell to key note speakers who have many other important things to do. People who have nothing to do attend the seminar with not zero outcome out of it.
Now, observe commuters in any city. You will find roads are congested and traffic is jammed for hours because cars have no space to move on the roads. And how many passengers one will find in most of these cars, may be just one with AC on. Are they answerable. No because they are in power and position. They are big shots in the society. No one can question them. No one can request them to frame a policy to make public transport accessible, comfortable and mandatory. They have money to spend for their selfish comfort. He can use it to destroy our natural atmosphere. The common man has to be the beast of all burdens.
Pride should not be in driving an expensive limousine. Pride should be in keeping the air clean and breathable. Each one of us has an obligation to keep air clean to our present generation as well as to our future generations.
Action point is simple. We must ask our elected government to provide accessible, comfortable and safe public-commuting in another 5 years of time so that at least air remains breathable for all. We do not need seminars for such a simple act to implement.