Indians pride themselves on a traditional love for nature. As India rapidly urbanizes, one might ask, is this true for our cities? I believe not.
Increasingly, we read about city slickers beating a leopard to death. It’s a crime? That it was seen. We dump endless plastics in our rivers, regardless of how this impacts riverine life. We watch passively as trees are lopped. We encourage monkeys to be removed to other people’s homes. We nail advertisements to trees. Is this love?
What gives? It’s a combination of indifference to other life forms, negligible science-based knowledge and poor appreciation of the beauty of nature. For lasting change, Indian cities need regulation, shifts in education and transformations in planning and running cities. Science and literature must both infuse a sense of wonderment, plus an understanding of planetary interconnectedness. Instead of oozing emotion for some species and indifference for others, let’s keep a distance from them all. Feeding birds, for example, is a no-no. The explosion of feral pigeons is partly linked with surplus food. These birds displace others. Instead, cities need ecosystem corridors, for wildlife moves and vegetation is often interdependent. Reducing toxicity is key, a complex task. And how can a building be green if it’s hostile to sparrows and large trees? New, inclusive norms are a way to show we still uphold our traditions. This is hardly a list, far less a complete one. It illuminates the direction urban India needs to take, if we want to stop our natural systems to break and take us down too.
The writer is a founder and director of the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group