Preserving the Environment — Wake up call across the globe

Images Credit: (Mrs) Amb Narinder Chauhan

By (Mrs) Amb Narinder Chauhan,

Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, UK, from 31 October to 12 November 2021, lots of wake-up calls are being sounded across the World. COP26 is short for the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, and this is the 26th iteration. It is an annual global summit at which nations speak about climate change.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has decided to awaken everyone with a dramatic ad created in the backdrop of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). A dinosaur makes a noisy entry into the UNGA Hall, takes to the podium and asks, ‘do you want to become extinct like me…. at least we had the asteroid, what’s your excuse?’ It gives a special warning to those who think climate action is for the birds! The dinosaur tells the bewildered audience, “Its time humans stopped making excuses and started making changes to address the climate crises. It was a clarion call to the climate negotiators to not just talk but walk the talk. Talking has been going on a lot including lately in the meetings of QUAD, Indo-Pacific, East Asia Summit, G-20 etc.

In the year 2018-19, the Government of India decided to mark June 5, the World Environment Day in a dramatic manner. All Indian Embassies abroad were asked to arrange planting of 150 trees to mark 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma.

The Mahatma was an environmentalist even though during his time the term and the problems that go with it did not exist. With his foresight he was able to visualize things were moving in the wrong direction. He did not want India to blindly imitate the West; he cautioned that if India did so, for its vast size and population the resources of earth will not be enough. He was not opposed to industry, but he was against reckless industrialization which pollutes the river and air. He advocated instead a life based on simplicity so that others could also live simply. He believed that the earth provides for the needs of all, but not everyone’s greed.

The rich must not only restrict their wants but also use their wealth as ‘trust’ for the poor and use it for the welfare of the poor, Gandhi said. To Gandhi poverty was the most severe polluter. Hence poverty must be eradicated. ‘Trusteeship’ was touched upon by both PM Modi and US President Biden during their official talks in Washington last month. It is this concept of trusteeship that finds reflection in the demand for a climate fund to help the poor countries make the transition to environmentally friendly technologies, so they do not have to pay for the greed of the rich that has in the first place brought the world to a point of climate crisis.

Planting trees is one of the simplest and the easiest solutions to save the environment. It is not the only solution to the climate crisis, but it equally has a role to contribute. In this spirit I approached the Government of the Czech Republic where I was posted as Ambassador, to help put Gandhi’s vision to action on the ground. The proposal was received by the host government with due respect. After some internal deliberation, I was informed by the Czech deputy minister in a personal meeting that there was a technical problem: the month of June was not the tree planting season and due to the heat the plants would die. I do not think anyone in New Delhi had anticipated this aspect.

However, my host told me, in keeping with India’s sentiments, they would certainly mark the event with the symbolic planting of one tree at the Embassy premises, and the rest 149 trees at a date later in the year when the season was right. I immediately conveyed this to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. We were gratified at the presence of the deputy minister for Environment Vladislav Smrz who arrived with his Ministry colleagues on June 5, 2019 to do the honor of planting one sapling and dedicate the World Environment Day to the Mahatma.

The Czech Ministry of Environment, of course, kept me in humoured suspense about where and when the rest 149 trees will be planted. Meanwhile I had mobilized the Indian student communities in various universities, including the Agriculture University in Prague and the Pardubice University to similarly honor [email protected] by planting trees in their premises. They did so in my presence.

In due course, over tea at the Environment Ministry, my host confirmed the good news that a suitable place had been sighted in a picturesque village about 2 hours away from Prague. It had been decided that 149 saplings of fruit trees would be planted to create an orchard dedicated to the Mahatma. A plaque would also be arranged to mark the site for posterity. This was all music to my ears.

I offered to meet at least the cost of the trees, since the request was ours, but my protestations were waved away.

I was informed that the tree planting would be done on October 2, 2021, the birthdate of the Mahatma. I was elated.

I was also informed that the Prime Minister Mr. Andrej Babis himself would grace the occasion. I was going to swoon! I kept my fingers crossed as there are many demands on the time of Heads of Government, but then Mr. Andrej Babis is special. And a special friend of India.

Soon after my arrival in Prague in July 2018, and in preparation of the Indian President’s forthcoming state visit, PM Babis had received me warmly with a bouquet, a trend which continued till the day I left. He heard me, without any aides, and was generous with his time. He gave fullest satisfaction to the distinguished visitor from India during the State visit of September 2018. Prague remained one of the best overseas visits by the Indian President, not only for the place and the arrangements, but also for the “political glue”, so I was told by the senior aides of the Indian President.

For the first time in the annals of India Czech relations, PM Babis received me to celebrate Diwali with him and his team at the stately Prime Minister’s Office by the famous river Vltava.

PM Babis very graciously accepted my proposal to visit India and for which PM Modi sent a personal letter of invitation. Both the leaders had a good meeting at the Vibrant Gujarat Economic Summit of January 2019, where the Czech Republic participated as a ‘Partner Country’. The Czech PM also visited Aurangabad where Czech auto Skoda has made a billion-dollar investment. India Czech relations stood upgraded.

Come October and autumn was at its full swing. It was windy and drafty and especially so at the site which was made ready for planting. I had invited some Indian students from nearby Universities to join us. They skipped classes to do so. Shamianas were set up on the grounds for the formal part of the ceremony. The VIP enclosure included banners of ‘Reasonable Europe’ which was the central theme of the yearlong Czech Presidency of the V4 during 2019-2020. V4 is the Visegrad group of 4 countries of Central Europe, namely, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.

It is at the picturesque village of Vysker that ground had been prepared for the planting. Vysker is a village and municipality in Semily District in the Liberec Region of the Czech Republic. Two hours’ drive from Prague, it is an ideal and quiet getaway, dotted as it is with flora, fauna, chateaus, rock paradise etc.

At the appointed time PM Babis arrived. The national press followed. The Czech Republic is among the cleanest and safe countries of the world. It has abundant forests, green cover, water bodies and rivers. But every country has its challenges. The Czech environmental challenges derive from air, water, and land pollution caused by industry, mining, and agriculture.

After the formal speeches were over, PM Babis proceeded towards the grounds and to my pleasant surprise, picked up the shovel, gave me one too, and started planting, one after the other, with his own hands. So did the Environment Minister Richard Brabec and other officials present. The plaque with the significance of the event inscribed on it, completed the picture. Gandhi stood immortalized. I had no words to thank my hosts.

Gandhi’s concerns were not limited to human beings but to all beings, to the unity of life. In that spirit, the Czech Government had set itself the target of planting ten million trees, one per person in the country, to preserve the balance of life. I happened to wander into this scheme of things which made the project of planting 150 trees for [email protected] a part of the Czech national environmental plan.

(The author is a former Indian Ambassador to Czech Republic. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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