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Increase in tree cover? Media should shed tokenism: World Environment Day

By Shankar Sharma* 

The Vijaya Karnataka's (VK's) coverage today on World Environment Day is a good effort, and hence deserves our appreciation. Few examples of good practice in protecting our environment, as mentioned in the coverage, are worthy of emulation by the larger society. However, such instances of good practice are very rare and too tiny in number in a country of 140 crore people, and are mostly due to the untiring efforts of few individuals and some communities. They are so few among an innumerable number of serious blunders in our society, that they can be equated to a drop in the ocean of irresponsible and/ or ignorant omissions and commissions.
Hence, the need of the day seeks our society, especially the print & electronic media, to go beyond such tokenism, and embark on a massive public awareness campaign on the serious omissions and commissions on our part in protecting the critical elements of nature, so that course corrections can be applied urgently. For anyone with even a moderate view of what is happening on environmental protection, it should be clear that much of the root-cause of the degradation of our natural resources, and hence of the Climate Change, are due to the wrong policies of the state and central governments. Unless civil society makes an effort to repeatedly and effectively highlight such policy mistakes in all possible public fora, the consequences of Climate Change will increasingly become grim with the passage of each day/month.
The news article in VK about the so-called increase in the tree/forest cover in the country can only be treated like a pinch of salt. Such increase in forest cover, as claimed in Karnataka for example, should be challenged, and the details such as where, when and how such forest expansion has taken place should be sought. Media reports have carried a number of statements/ opinion pieces by domain experts challenging the govt. claim on such increase in forest cover. What is also undoubtedly clear is the fact that there have been scores of "developmental projects" for which hundreds of hectares of thick natural forests are being diverted, even from protected areas, every year since the last decade or two. Hence, it would be fatal to equate a few thousand tree saplings planted in a year on roadsides, or on dry lands, or in plantations to the enormous loss of vegetational cover in natural forest regions, and to feel elated about it.
The unacceptable levels of pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil, as being reported regularly from different parts of the county, must be a grim reminder of the poor environmental upkeep in our country. The unprecedented heat waves in May this year, ever increasing peak temps. across the country each year, the recurring floods in many regions of the country, landslides in the Western Ghats and Himalayas, droughts in other parts etc. cannot be reflecting the good practices at the national level.
If few of the experienced environmentalists and domain experts are asked about their views, it is most likely that all of them will be concerned with the status of our general environment, and are likely to say that there is not a single economic sector in our country, which has policies and practices for a sustainable future. VK should also consider publishing a series of opinion pieces by such people.
Hence, may I suggest that while rejoicing on a tiny number of good practices, we should also be seriously concerned and should be doing whatever feasible to persuade the state and central govt. to act rationally and with all the seriousness our situation demands?
Few of the recent items and reports, as in the links below, should highlight the associated issues:
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*Power & Climate Policy Analyst

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