Jairam Ramesh, Rajya Sabha MP, Congress, and former Union Environment and Forests Minister, appeared on Open to Question with Smita Gupta on Khul Ke, to discuss a host of issues related to the current Climate Emergency. The conversation centred round why India is beset with a host of environmental problems despite the fact that it had got to an early start exactly 50 years ago this month when Indira Gandhi recognised the importance of the issue and had made her pathbreaking speech at a meeting in Stockholm that had seen the launch of the United Nations Environment Programme. Khul ke is a new, one-of-a-kind platform, launched to empower the audience to have more informed and meaningful conversations. In recent weeks, the platform has invited celebrities and guests from various fields to discuss critical and topical issues.
Some excerpts from the interview:
Smita Gupta- Talking about India as a developing nation, how do you think the ecological balance be maintained ?
Jairam Ramesh- India did not have the luxury to grow now and pay later, as many developed nations had. We are extraordinarily dependent on the monsoon. Our economy, culture, and livelihoods depend on the monsoon. So, any unpredictability in monsoon will wreak havoc. Secondly, we are seeing the retreat of the Himalayan glaciers which has implications for water supply. Thirdly, we are seeing an increase in mean sea levels which affects the 7500 km of coastline, for example, areas like Goa, Kerela, and the eastern coast of India. Fourthly and most importantly, we are seeing the public health consequences ..(of) economic growth. People are facing problems of public health, pollution is having a morbidity and mortality impact, people are falling ill…dying because of environmental issues. So, unlike other western countries, we cannot grow now and pay later.
Smita Gupta- What do you think on the impact of an increase in extreme weather events?
Jairam Ramesh-An increase in the frequency of extreme events has gone up in the last decade and a half and the example of monsoons in India is the most striking. Traditionally, we have been used to 120 days of rain in the country but today the number of high rainfall days has come down very drastically, but the amount of rainfall hasn’t decreased. This has implications for water management, water run-off, and groundwater recharge amongst others. It also has adverse effects on agriculture”.
Smita Gupta- India was ranked last in the Environment Index 2022, your take on it?
Jairam Ramesh-I am happy that the environment and global warming are mainstream issues, and people and governments are taking remedial steps to try and remedy the situation. However, on India’s poor ratings in the recently released Environment Index 2022, where India ranked last, he said he neither gets excited about a good ranking or depressed at a poor one, as seeking to balance resources remains a continuous effort.
Smita Gupta-According to you, what can be the role of youth in raising environmental concerns?
Jairam Ramesh-In India, the youth is more worried about jobs. They are more worried about day-to-day concerns, compared to the youth of western countries who come from a relatively better and more secure economic background. I don’t blame the youth in India for putting jobs over the environment. They must necessarily put jobs over the environment. It’s the job of people like me, people like the Prime Minister and the parliamentarians to find the balance that will create jobs and fulfil their aspirations. But do it in a manner that protects air, water, land, and our forests. I think that is the real challenge to bring about this convergence.
Smita Gupta- Is Environment a political issue?
Jairam Ramesh- Ultimately environment is politics. We can give high-sounding phrases, but ultimately, it’s a political issue… what governments can do!.. (Creating a) balance between environment and development is a political balance that governments work out as part of the democratic process.