INDIRA GANDHIJI (1917 – 1984)

THE ENVIRONMENTALIST

- Dr. N. Sai Bhaskar Reddy

Indira Gandhi was born on November 19, 1917 was born to Pandit Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru. She was the first woman prime minister of India. She held the office from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 until her death in 1984. Gandhi was first elected to Parliament in 1964.  

In her political career, Poverty and Environment had been the two most important issues always on her agenda. In 1964 as minister of information and broadcasting, she most importantly encouraged the making of inexpensive radios and started a family planning program. In 1971, Gandhi was re-elected by campaigning with the slogan “Abolish Poverty.”

Ms. Indira Gandhi the then Prime Minister of India participated in the historic U.N. Conference on Human Environment at Stockholm in 1972. For the very first time the world focused on a crucial issue, the future of our planet Earth and the concept of environmental security. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was the only foreign head of government to attend the Conference apart from the host PM Mr. Olof Palme.

Her immortal speech is still referred to in almost every major document on environmental issues; in particular her courageous words which shocked the audience to attention “Are not poverty and need the greatest polluters? And also she said that “It would be ironic if the fight against pollution were to be converted into another business, out of which a few companies, corporations or nations would make profits at the cost of the many”.

The conference made it apparent to all attendees that each nation needed to adopt comprehensive legislation addressing health and safety issues for people, flora and fauna. The United Nations, organizers of the conference, requested each participant to provide a country report. The findings by the Indian conferees shocked even the most pro-development advocates in India. Stockholm served as the genesis for the series of environmental measures India passed in the years to come.

In 1976 to control population growth, Gandhi implemented a voluntary sterilization program. As a result, adversaries criticized her and her administration in general. In not for the few unpleasant incidents, today India would not have faced the monstrous problem of Population growth and a deterrent to development and poverty alleviation.

About population growth critically she said that “To bear many children is considered not only a religious blessing but also an investment. The greater their number, some Indians reason, the more alms they can beg. (1975)”

During her tenure by 1969, a bill, the Prevention of Water Pollution, had been introduced. Ultimately, a modified version, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, passed in 1974. Institutionalizing a regulatory agency for controlling water pollution marked the first true commitment on the issue by the Indian Parliament. The Water Act also established the Pollution Control Boards at central government and state government levels.

In the aftermath of the Water Act, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi moved to enact a series of environmental measures. The Department of Environment, created in 1980, performed an oversight role for the central government. DOE did environmental appraisals of development projects, monitored air and water quality, established an environmental information system, promoted research, and coordinated activities between federal, state and local governments.

In 1981, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was passed. After her death during the Rajiv Gandhijis tenure as Prime Minister the historic Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, was passed by the Parliament designed to act as umbrella legislation on the environment.

She also lent her support to Chipco Movement – In 1980, she declared a complete ban on commercial green tree felling in the Himalayas in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

She was the first Prime Minister to give serious thought to the whole concept of Environmental Education and awareness.

“I do not suggest that we should develop newly structured courses and curricula, but that we should introduce a new orientation to learning processes and attitudes. For example, an awareness of environment and the need for conserving basic life support systems like soil, water, flora and fauna, the need for population stabilization and family planning, etc., should grow naturally into the student from the young age. Since opinions are usually formed in the formative years of one’s life, teaching aids, methods and open door field visits should be so structured that living in harmony with the environment becomes a habit with each young individual”.

“Our environmental Problems are not a side effect of excessive industrialization but reflect the inadequacy of our development”.

For her contribution towards Environment after her death two important Awards are constituted in her name: The Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Awards were constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1986 to recognize outstanding contributions of individuals and organizations in the field of afforestation and wastelands development. Starting in 1993, 12 annual awards are given to individuals, educational institutions, panchayats, voluntary agencies, government agencies and the corporate sectors. Each award carries a medallion, a citation and a cash component of Rs 50,000. The Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar, Instituted in 1987,  consisting of a cash component of rupees one lakh, a silver trophy and a citation, is awarded every year to an organization and to an individual for significant contributions in the field of environment.

And also in her name the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (IGNFA) has also been established at Dehradun for the training of Forest Service probationers.

She was a great admirer of the might Himalayas and the beauty of Chinar and Deodar trees, once she had specially gone to Kashmir during autumn to be under the beautiful falling leaves of Chinar trees. Unfortunately on October 31, 1984, she was assassinated.  For her love for nature and the Mighty Himalayas, her ashes were sprinkled all over the Himalayan range.

Her initiatives and next steps to protect environment and nature would be remembered for generations by the Indians and the world.

References:

http://planningcommission.nic.in/plans/planrel/fiveyr/8th/vol2/8v2ch4

http://www.fov.org.uk/hinduism/11.h

http://www.netpem.org/speech/cnamofin

http://www.worldbank.org/nipr/india/india-back

http://womenshistory.about.com/library/qu/blqugand

http://www.kings.edu/womens_history/igandhi

Desh Bandhu, Harjit Singh, Maitra A.K., “Environmental Education and Sustainable Development” – Indian Environmental Society, New Delhi, 1989

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The author Founder and CEO, Geoecology Energy Organisation http://www.e-geo.org . Had done Ph.D in Environmental Impact Assessment and having experience in the field of Environment, Climate Change, Sustainable Rural Livelihoods and Knowledge Management.