A clean environment for human empowerment

Published By : Admin | October 4, 2018 | 09:44 IST

Yesterday, the United Nations honoured me with the ‘Champions of the Earth Award’. While I was extremely humbled at receiving this honour, I do feel that this award is not for an individual. Instead, it is recognition of the Indian culture and values, which have always placed emphasis on living in harmony with Mother Nature.

It was a proud moment for every Indian to see India’s proactive role in mitigating climate change being acknowledged and appreciated by the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres and Erik Solheim, the executive director of the UNEP.

Human beings and nature have a very special relationship. Mother Nature has nurtured and nourished us. The first civilisations were established on the banks of rivers. Societies that live in harmony with nature flourish and prosper.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives UN’s highest environmental honour ‘Champions of The Earth Award’ from United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres at a special ceremony, in New Delhi on Oct 3, 2018. 

Today human society stands at an important crossroads. The path that we take hereon will not only determine our wellbeing but also that of the generations who will inhabit our planet after us. The imbalances between our greed and necessities have led to grave ecological imbalances. We can either accept this, go ahead with things as if it is business as usual, or we can take corrective actions. Three things will determine how we as a society can bring a positive change.

The first is internal consciousness. For that, there is no better place to look than our glorious past. Respect for nature is at the core of India’s traditions. The Atharvaveda contains the Prithvi Sukta, which contains unparalleled knowledge about nature and the environment.

It is beautifully written in Atharvaveda, “Salutations to Mother Earth. In her are woven together ocean and river waters; in her is contained food which she manifests when ploughed; in her indeed are alive all lives; may she bestow us with that life.

The ancient write about the Panch Tatvas — Prithvi (Earth), Vayu (Air), Jal (Water), Agni (Fire), Akash (Sky) —and how our life systems are based on the harmonious functioning of these elements. The elements of nature are manifestations of divinity.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote extensively on the environment and even practiced a lifestyle where compassion towards the environment was essential. He propounded the doctrine of trusteeship, which places the onus on us, the present generation, to ensure that our coming generations inherit a clean planet. He called for sustainable consumption so that the world does not face a resource crunch.

Leading lifestyles that are harmonious and sustainable are apart of our ethos. Once we realise how we are flag bearers of a rich tradition, it will automatically have a positive impact on our actions.

The second aspect is public awareness. We need to talk, write, debate, discuss and deliberate as much as possible on questions relating to the environment.

At the same time, it is vital to encourage research and innovation on subjects relating to the environment. This is when more people will know about the pressing challenges of our times and ways to mitigate them.

When we as a society are aware of our strong links with environmental conservation and talk about it regularly, we will automatically be proactive in working towards a sustainable environment. That is why, I will put proactiveness as the third facet of bringing a positive change.

In this context, I am delighted to state that the 130 crore people of India are proactive and at the forefront of working towards a cleaner and greener environment.

We see this proactiveness in the Swachh Bharat Mission, which is directly linked to a sustainable future. With the blessings of the people of India, over 85 million households now have access to toilets for the first time.

Over 400 million Indians no longer have to defecate in the open. Sanitation coverage is up from 39% to 95%. These are landmark efforts in the quest of reducing the strain on our natural surroundings.

We see this proactiveness in the success of the Ujjwala Yojana, which has significantly reduced indoor air pollution due to unhealthy cooking practices that were causing respiratory diseases.

Till date, over five crore Ujjwala connections have been distributed, thus ensuring a better and cleaner life for the women and their families. India is moving at a quick pace in cleaning its rivers.

The Ganga, which is India’s lifeline, had become polluted in several parts. The Namami Gange Mission is changing this historical wrong. Emphasis is being given to proper treatment of sewage.

At the core of our urban development initiatives such as AMRUT and the Smart Cities Mission is the need to balance urban growth with environmental care. The over 13 crore soil health cards distributed to farmers are helping them make informed decisions that will boost their productivity and improve the health of our land, which helps the coming generations.

We have integrated objectives of Skill India in environment sector and launched the schemes including Green Skill Development Program for skilling about 7 million youth in environment, forestry, wildlife and climate change sectors by 2021. This will go a long way creating numerous opportunities for skilled jobs and entrepreneurships in environment sector.

Our country is devoting unparalleled attention to new and renewable sources of energy.

Over the last four years, this sector has become more accessible and affordable. The Ujala Yojana has led to the distribution of nearly 31 crore LED bulbs. The costs of LED bulbs have reduced and so have the electricity bills and the C emissions.

India’s proactiveness is seen internationally. It makes me proud that India remained at the forefront of the COP-21 negotiations in Paris in 2015.

In March 2018, world leaders of several countries converged in New Delhi to mark the start of the International Solar Alliance, an endeavour to harness the rich potential of solar energy and bring together all nations that are blessed with solar power.

While the world is talking about climate change, the call for climate justice has also reverberated from India.

Climate justice is about safeguarding the rights and interests of the poor and marginalised sections of society, who are often the biggest sufferers from the menace of climate change.

As I have written earlier, our actions today will have an impact on human civilisation much beyond our time. It is upto us to take on the mantle of global responsibility towards a sustainable future.

The world needs to shift to a paradigm of environmental philosophy that is anchored in environmental consciousness rather than merely government regulations.

I would like to compliment all those individuals and organisations who are working assiduously in this direction. They have become the harbingers of a monumental change in our society. I assure them all possible support from the government in their pursuits.

Together, we will create a clean environment that will be the cornerstone of human empowerment.

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Today, India’s former Vice President and respected statesman Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu Garu turns 75. I wish him a long and healthy life and also extend my greetings to all his well-wishers and supporters. This is an occasion to celebrate a leader whose life journey showcases dedication, adaptability and an unwavering commitment to public service. From his early days in the political arena to his tenure as Vice President, Venkaiah Garu’s career exemplifies his unique ability to navigate the complexities of Indian politics with ease and humility. His eloquence, wit and steadfast focus on developmental issues have earned him respect across party lines.

Venkaiah Garu and I have been associated with each other for decades. We have worked together and I have also learnt a lot from him. If there is one thing that has remained common in his life, it is the love for people. His brush with activism and politics began in Andhra Pradesh with student politics as a student leader. Considering his talent, oratory and organisational skills, he would have been welcomed in any political party but he preferred to work with the Sangh Parivar because he was inspired by the vision of Nation First. He was associated with the RSS, ABVP and then strengthened the Jana Sangh and the BJP.

When the Emergency was imposed almost 50 years ago, young Venkaiah Garu immersed himself in the anti-Emergency movement. He was imprisoned and that too for inviting Loknayak JP to Andhra Pradesh. This commitment to democracy would be seen time and again in his political career. In the mid-1980s, when the great NTR’s Government was unceremoniously dismissed by the Congress, he was again at the forefront of the movement to protect democratic principles.

Venkaiah Garu has always been comfortable swimming even against the most formidable tides. In 1978, Andhra Pradesh voted for the Congress but he beat the trend and was elected as a young MLA. Five years later, when the NTR Tsunami swept the state, he got elected as a BJP MLA, thus paving the way for the BJP’s growth across the state.

All those who have heard Venkaiah Garu speak will vouch for his oratory skills. He is certainly a wordsmith but he is as much a worksmith. Since his days as a young MLA, he began to be respected for the rigour he put in to legislative affairs and speaking for people of his constituency. No less than a stalwart like NTR noted his talent and even wanted him to join his Party but Venkaiah Garu refused to deviate from his core ideology. He went on to play a big role in strengthening the BJP in Andhra Pradesh, going across the villages and connecting with people from all walks of life. He led the Party on the floor of the Assembly and even became the AP BJP President.

It was in the 1990s that the BJP central leadership took note of Venkaiah Garu’s efforts and thus in 1993 began his stint in national politics when he was appointed the Party’s All India General Secretary. It was truly a remarkable moment for a man, who as a teenager would go around announcing the visits of Atal Ji and Advani Ji, to be working directly with them. As the General Secretary, he was focused on how to bring our Party to power and ensure that the nation get their first ever BJP Prime Minister. After the move to Delhi, there was no looking back and he rose to become the National President of the Party.

In 2000, when Atal Ji was keen to induct Venkaiah Garu in the government as a Minister, Venkaiah Garu instantly conveyed his preference for the Rural Development Ministry. This left everyone including Atal Ji puzzled. After all, here was a leader who was being asked which portfolio he wants and his first choice was Rural Development. But, Venkaiah Garu was clear- he was a Kisan Putra, he had spent his early days in the villages and thus, if there was one area he wished to work, it was rural development. As Minister, he was closely associated with the conception and rolling out of the ‘Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana.’ Years later, when the NDA Government of 2014 assumed office, he handled the crucial portfolios of Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. It was during his tenure that we launched the important Swachh Bharat Mission and important urban development related schemes. Perhaps, he is one of the only leaders to have worked for both rural and urban development for such an extensive period.

When I came to Delhi in 2014, I was an outsider to the national capital, having worked in Gujarat for the previous decade and a half. In such times, Venkaiah Garu’s insights were very handy. He was an effective Parliamentary Affairs Minister - he knew the essence of bipartisanship but at the same time he drew a line when it came to Parliamentary norms and rules.

In 2017, our Alliance nominated him as our Vice-Presidential candidate. We faced a dilemma – we thought about how the big shoes of Venkaiah Garu would be impossible to fill, but at the same time, we also knew there was no better candidate for the Vice Presidency than him. I can never forget one of the speeches he gave when he resigned as Minister and MP. He could not control his tears when he recalled his association with the Party and efforts to build it. It gave a glimpse of his deep-rooted commitment and passion. Upon becoming the Vice President, he undertook various steps that also enhanced the dignity of the office. He was an outstanding Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, ensuring that young MPs, women MPs and first time MPs get the opportunity to speak. He put great emphasis on attendance, making the Committees more effective and also raising the level of debate in the House.

When the decision to remove Articles 370 and 35(A) were placed on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, it was Venkaiah Garu who was on the Chair. I am sure it was such an emotional moment for him- the young boy who was drawn to Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s dream of a united India was on the Chair when this was finally achieved.

Apart from work and politics, Venkaiah Garu is a voracious reader and writer too. For the people in Delhi, he is known as the person who brought the glorious Telugu culture to the city. His Ugadi and Sankranti programmes are clearly among the most cherished gatherings in town. I have always known Venkaiah Garu as someone who loves food and also hosting people. But, off late, his self-control has also been visible to everyone. His commitment to fitness is seen in how he still plays badminton and enjoys his brisk walk.

Even after the Vice Presidency, Venkaiah Garu has led an active public life. On the issues that he is passionate about or on various developments that take place across the nation, he calls me and asks me about it. I met him most recently when our government returned to office for the third term. He was delighted and conveyed his best wishes to me and our team. I wish him once again on this milestone. I hope young Karyakartas, elected representatives and all those who have a passion to serve learn from his life and imbibe those values. It is people like him who make our nation better and more vibrant.