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Burning Kadam tree for Holika dahan, washing parking, driveway with freshwater

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  
Open letter to La Habitat Ahmedabad and to similar housing societies...
Greetings,
This is a long pending letter to La Hab. The Holi celebration at LaHab finally pushed to pen the withered attitude of the township towards water and vegetation.
A brief disclaimer beforehand that my behaviour sways with how people deal with water and vegetation. It may be interpreted by many as having an attitude. My belief is that it is ok to have an attitude towards protecting environment in the current times of climate crisis. 
My family is among the earliest occupants of La Habitat in 2009. We bought a flat in the township because the property offered 100% white transaction between builder and us (with 60-40% black n white usually in the real estate market in Ahmedabad). 
Thinking that co-inhabitants moving into this township will be of clean practices, it was a naivety of the youthful days to (mis)interpret it to be directly proportional to be sensible and sensitive towards environment. 
Maybe most of them are sensible and sensitive to everything however, the collective of us represented by the Society Management (SM) alias the Resident Welfare Association have not really portrayed any such trait in the past fifteen years towards environment protection. For example, maintaining a water guzzling garden is really not environment protection!
Here is a brief of some of the insensible and insensitive decisions and actions we have taken towards environment. Ironically and interestingly, the insensible and insensitive decisions and actions continue with barely any resistance by we co-inhabitants. Just to highlight, LaHab can be classified as upper middle-class housing with almost 100% literate and that too many with IIT-IIM-ISRO-NIIT and international backgrounds. 
Whether the co-inhabitants are indifferent to what happens to the environment or are in a state of prisoner’s dilemma to bell the cat (SM) for their insensible and insensitive decisions and actions, require research or perception survey. Since, the annual general meetings and elections to change the SM (changed only once few years ago) are not true indicators to think that things especially the wrongdoings towards environment matter to them. 
Especially, the democratic process of decisions and actions (towards environment) are totally missing. Society’s environment management is a one-way process by the SM and that too delegated to one manager who not only seems ignorant but is definitely arrogant in delegating tasks to the subordinates. 

This Holi

Every year LaHab makes its own Holi bonfire. An err is that wood is bought to burn. They place the bonfire every year wrongly, firstly, on the asphalt road with ignorance about the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s shout to not do so as it cracks the road; and secondly, just below a Kadamb Tree (not in open air) with arrogance to be loud at the doorstep. The tree that hosts birds and insects is specially a house to several bats of the area. I counted around 30 bats on that tree one night. This was reminded to the manager, but in vain. 
When the bonfire was lit, the tree was almost on fire. There were nearly 100 adults and children enjoying the bonfire. Alas! no one was seen embarrassed for this insensible and insensitive decision and action towards the tree as well as the birds. Of course least about burning the firewood where right across the road, there are slums where the women struggle to find wood to burn to cook food. 
If that was not enough, the Holi play was planned with Rain Dance in the garden. The rain dance went on for 3 hours in the morning with anxiety loaded music at the loudest decibel possible in the borrowed speakers. Anyway, noise pollution is still far from environmental consideration. Right to produce noise is taken as right for granted, never discussed and consented. But, wasting water in the rain dance in a scorching summer must be taken into consideration since the country and the city are reeling under water crises. 
If that was also not enough, a day before, the parking and the driveways of the entire township were washed with freshwater, the water that we use for drinking and domestic purposes. 
Actually, Holi with wasting water is not happy anymore! Anyway, we urbanites neither farm nor harvest, then at least we must play Holi more sensibly and sensitively.

Everyday water and vegetation management 

Like Holi, Garba days, Uttarayan, Independence Day, Republic Day are all about noise pollution, waste of water, production of waste, amidst the celebration. 
Washing parking areas and the driveways is a regular activity just like some inhabitants wash their cars almost every other day. We do this using simple water pipes and not jet spray to save water. To add to it, the garden area is watered almost every day in the middle of the day under sunlight. 
LaHab central garden is long lush green space however poorly designed in terms of functional spaces, inclusiveness, connectivity, and vegetation. I still regret to have refused to design the garden when the builder has reached us in 2008 for landscape. Anyway, the garden houses mostly non-native trees and plants which can be attributed to the poor landscape design and rich aspiration of the developer earlier and now the SM. 
The Mehndi hedge all around the spaces stops inhabitants from going to the garden. Because of its surface area and stretch, it is also the main water consumer in the garden along with the lawns. Having inaccessible lawns and Mehndi hedge are definitely insensible and insensitive decisions and actions. 
Then, the ruthlessness in brooming away every piece of leaf fallen on the earthscape results in exposing the soil which looks almost naked. It shows that the SM and the mali have no clue that the earthscape is cooler with leaves on it. Leaves nourish the soil and is home to several insects. It seems we urbanite look at the other creatures residing in the garden as threat.
All trees are cut to size in columnar shape. Members are not allowed to pluck flowers or any fruits that grow in the garden. But then, malis are always seen cutting the trees and plants for pruning. They are barely seen growing anything useful. Ironically, when trees/plants of medicinal value like Neem, Tulsi, Drumstick are cut, they are not offered to the members. You can find Papaya, Drumstick and a few more edible trees pruned such that one cannot reach the fruits/leaves. Instead, the vegetation wastes are either dumped into the regular dustbins or dumped outside the premise on the roadside. 
It is not understandable that both the SM and the mali are unaware of the basic things of garden management. But ironically, they are unwilling to listen and learn about it as well. For example, every month the tree leaves outside the premise are burnt and that too with all kinds of garbage as clean up exercise. This again is done under the trees itself which bruises the trees and burns many small animals and insects.
Instead of just picking the plastics/papers, they choose to burn everything out with no consideration about bad fumes, dying of other creatures, etc. Tried stopping this action several times, I had to once call police dialling 100 to stop the burning of leaves. Due to my extensive travel, often I return to find the ashes of the burnt leaves along the road or the leaves are all wiped to make the roadside earthscape look naked and steaming hot in summer. 
It took 12 years to the SM to implement waste segregation in the township. Still most inhabitants are segregating half-heartedly and more ironically, the cleaning staff is not even oriented about the segregation beyond the wet and dry waste. The vegetation wastes are not even segregated from the household waste and not considered useful. 
My front door neighbour still disposes all wastes together without segregation. It hurts to see kilos of Matar peels going to dustbins when they can be great food to cattle, a cattle shed is barely 500 meters away from the township. Adding to it, our wet waste container has a hole in the bottom, so the wet waste is collected in polybags which is again banned by the government. 
We still need to have a discussion on compositing the vegetation waste to use as manure for the garden or to send to the local bodies. In addition, rainwater harvesting and wastewater treatment is a distant dream of the township, yet to the discussed in the society meetings. Because the township receives 24x7 water supply, the inhabitants and the SM seem indifferent to the water crisis and conservation. 
Also, because we are fortunate to have a lot of greenery around due to empty plots and rail track, we take vegetation for granted. The barren driveways are example of that besides the brutal cutting the outside peripheral trees literally half that branches inside the township.

Why this cry?

Yes, why this cry? Does/Should it impact me? Yes, it does.
Being an educator, the cry is also for the children and youth alias the future generation. 
Since as educators, we are sweating out teaching about climate change, environmental conservation and management.
Well, there is no doubt that the children/youth of the township are receiving high-end environmental education in the elite schools and colleges. What are they learning from schooling and from parenting? What goes in their minds when they see conflict between education in classrooms and action on ground? 
Where are they supposed to practice what is preached? Most natural answer to it is at residency. But if the adults of the township act insensible and insensitive, what inferences the children/youth will draw? Are they becoming indifferent to the environmental matters following the path of the adults? Are children/youth taking environmental education just because it is taught which is most likely if it is related to what goes at the township. 
When the society wastes water for washing parking and driveways, when the society waters garden in the middle of the day, and if that was not enough Rain Dance in Holi; who will make us realize the water crisis the country and the city is facing? 
Importantly who will shake us that our luxury comes at the cost of others labor. Do we even know and if know care about the fact that Ahmedabad gets most of its water from hundreds of kilometers away from Narmada where the upstream people are in severe water crisis. 
Would Holi bonfire be lesser good if it was placed in open air to save the tree and the birds? Should Holi be even played as a tradition? Since, Holi for those who do not farm, not sow seeds, not harvest should be atleast more sensible and sensitive to present times (crisis). Who will ask us about the rights and duties towards the environment? 
We do not need to face the crisis first to decide and act on it. We can be emphatic to what is happening to others in the society. Ironically, even the cleaning and garden staff do not realize to conserve water and vegetation and that they are indirectly impacted by our luxuries. 
Pushes to think that, Environment Education for Children isn’t Enough and for Adults is Urgent. But who will bell the cats? and How? is a bigger and follow-up question. 
When raised the point of water and vegetation abuse in Holi, here are two classic responses. One co-inhabitant said, “These messages would have been more appropriate if it was written before holi”. One SM incharge said, “Without parking stickers you have parked a vehicle.” When you get such responses what do you do as an educator? 
We claim to be nationalistic and patriotic to the country. Besides, sensible and sensitive to humans. It is time to be humanistic to be sensible and sensitive to environmental matters, the water and the biodiversity in this case. For that, firstly to know our fundamental right as per the Constitution, Article 21 ‘Right to Life and Liberty’ is conferred to right to clean, unpolluted, and healthy environment. 
Then, to know our fundamental duty as per the Constitution, Article 51 A, ‘To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.’ Foremost, to support the government and those working on it in ‘protecting and improving the environment’ as per Article 48. Finally, to shun the ignorance of climate, water, and biodiversity crises and the arrogance of not listening and learning about them. 
Let me end with a note for next time if planning rain dance, do remember to compare the contrast of water luxury and labor! Thanks, and regards. 
---
*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, Speaker and mentor at Environmental Design Consultants, Ahmedabad, and WforW Foundation.  www.mansee.in, www.wforw.in, www.edc.org.in

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