I am an environmental activist based in Mumbai, who has been closely involved with numerous issues in Mumbai since the late 90s. Began activism in my early 20's. Deep philosophical interest in nature, sustainability and the purpose of human life since an early age.
In the decade of 2001-10 I played a pioneering role towards the conservation of mangrove forests in Mumbai co-founding Mangrove Society of India (Mumbai Chapter) and managing the Chapter for a decade.
Have worked on numerous urban issues in Mumbai aimed at improving the quality of life of Mumbai citizens. Solid waste management, tree cover, public transport, municipal budget and governance.
For decades the business forces dismissed or downplayed linkages between development and environmental issues, arguing that technology and enlightenment that will follow from everyone having a high per capita income will ensure that we will be able to take care of any environmental issue that comes about.
Now it is clear to the capitalists own number crunchers that there is indeed a crisis and the economic system they have created is self perpetuating and a prisoner of its rules and left on its own will work towards Singapore standard of per capita income for everyone. Even as they go about selling container loads of air-conditioners and cars and drive one set of numbers they can also hear the ticking in the background of a bomb mean to go off sooner than later.
We have seen enlightenment come about with high per capita income. It can be seen in the form of a clutter of teen and youth climate activists born to parents who pursued high carbon careers and lifestyles. With material needs more than taken care of the ‘enlightenment’ has come towards the fag end and in many a case seems a pursuit to become world famous and be seen as a hero of the planet. The best they could have done is to denounce their parents wealth first but that would be asking for too much. Enlightenment does not come easy to the species and hence cannot be relied upon to save the planet. You need more drastic steps.
The billionaires after decades of sales have now come to realise that they really do not need so many sales to remain billionaires. That if across board consumption and sales reduced uniformly they would still be billionaires. They would like to sell air-conditioners and cars and software and cement and steel to every single person around but that need not be seven billion people going to eight and nine.
The billionaires have not much interest in the welfare of the people much as they may create that impression. Their primary interest is their bank balance and position in society. And they are realising that it is not linked to a specific population number. They don’t take pleasure in wiping out rain forests in Indonesia to mine for coal to ensure that millions of middle class families in India or elsewhere air-condition their silly existence. And there will be no end to this cycle.
If the world’s population would drastically come down to 4 billion in two decades it would shake their capacities and plans a bit but working in tandem with governments they would be able to take care of everything and adjust to the new equilibrium and still be billionaires. Maybe a few 100 billionaires may get wiped out but that’s ok for the billionaires shaping the new equilibrium – there is no love lost on Wall Street. Taking the argument further they would still be billionaires if the global population came down to half a billion i.e 50 crore people or even one tenth – 10 crores. 10 crores is roughly the population of Maharashtra State in India. Imagine the whole world with only that many people. No 450 ppm, no plastic and shit in the oceans, no decimated rainforests and polar caps.
Technology advancements have anyways made labour rapidly redundant. There has never been a better time to have your cake and eat it to. Except that ticking in the background of the time bomb really is spoiling the party. With a global population of 100 million people it really will be possible for everyone but at least certainly for the billionaires to thoroughly enjoy their lives with maximum carbon entitlement. They could comfortably hop around in personal jets for business trips or vacations every month to exotic locations. Do whatever they want with none of the attendant commentary at shaming them and making them feel guilty. None of that nagging realisation that you are directly connected to all that plastic in the ocean, or the rapid decline of the rainforests. But now to get to the plan.
Maybe the best enlightenment does indeed come about at the top of the cash pile. Or at the absolute bottom of it. Everything in the middle is a charade.
This post began on 13th April 2020, was refined in June 2020 and then I refrained from publishing it. Finally now.
Operating on faulty first principles is the way of the human species. After making a wrong beginning everything else is managing consequences and adjusting.
A pandemic has seen humans scurrying. Death is in the air and everyone wants to ensure that its not their life or a near and dear ones which is on the line. Through the same so called pandemic and lockdown there has been an upsurge of sentiment for and about nature and a guilt tripping about the impact human species is having on the planet. Issues which were being highlighted for years but going undiscussed are now on table. Though I believe economic recovery will soon be the focus.
A keener understanding of nature would bring us to appreciate just how much death is an integral part of life. Pick your favourite natural haunt, a sanctuary or a tourism hotspot, mountain or beach, what makes the place tick and remain refreshing and bring joy is death. You don’t see or experience suffering and sickness. Death has cleaned up the landscape of clutter.
If anything, nature is quick and liberal in dispensing death than life. Death is what makes life worth celebrating in ecosystems which have been left relatively untouched by human presence. Without death those ecosystems would suffer from the same issues for which we need campaigners and heroes and champions and Nobel prizes and policy and support.
In nature there is no room for the weak, whether with weak immune systems or otherwise. There is no error margin for the unhealthy. There is no question of skipping your daily yoga and diet and keeping cardio-vascular and orthopaedic health. Everyone is self-actualised, a struggle with the human species, even with best-selling authors and philosophers over millennia.
Millions and maybe billions of humans suffer from experiencing a lack of meaning and direction in their lives, seek magic pills and potions and drugs and workshops and books and videos to transform their lives, to live happier, more content, control anger and depression. There is no such need in nature. Death is the cure for all of this. If that is where you begin with as the first principle then nothing of all this follows and there is no need for cures.
A ruthless and paranoid focus on efficiency (not the word of choice I would like to use here) ensures that any process or organism seen as inefficient – requiring more resources to support than the median norm – is eliminated at the earliest so that only those meeting the benchmark standards remain. There is no affinity for one or the other. Todays benchmark performer may be tomorrows laggard who would then be shown the door. The performer would not have built a crony support network to bail him out when he turns a laggard.
This ensures that only those who can hit the ground running are in the race and the others are all eliminated. There are no special provisions and subsidies and reservations. Of course, there is no exploitation and misappropriation either. When one is absent the other becomes irrelevant.
Those who survive live strong and proud lives, with self-respect and dignity. They do not have to grovel; they have not surrendered their liberties to any among them or out of them. They remain bound by a few universal laws and surrender only to them free of manipulating and exploitative political and social systems. Minding their own business and operating in the few rules that they jointly agree with fellow members of their and other species.
The human species is bloated with the weak, less talented and the outright burdens. And the species goes against natures first principles by protecting them rather than letting them be eliminated unsentimentally. The existence of these weak and less talented leads to much suffering, discord and conflict (when they merge with the strong and healthy) which produces a drag effect and considerable inefficiency. All this is then sought to be resolved in crafty ways, creative ways, spiritual and philosophical ways. All to no avail. When the first principles are so much in denial no craftiness later can provide relief.
And death in nature is not just about the weak and diseased, it can strike the strong equally. You may be a top of the chain tiger or any other predator, who saw siblings fall off after a few months of birth, learnt all the right hunting tricks from the mother, was able to fight off competing tigers and establish a comfortable territory for self and then suddenly a few hunts go wrong, you have a fall during one of the hunts, a competitor take advantage and suddenly its end of the road for you. No insurance or welfare state doling out a universal basic income or helpful neighbours. Nobody grieves, the landscape takes over, you may have been king of the jungle but then soon scavengers who once feared you take over and you become part of them and the rest becomes one with the soil.
In nature a virus eruption like the one confronting the world currently would have been allowed to run its course and cull out the unhealthy. No judgements, no morals, no bias or taking sides, no sentimentality. Whoever remains would have been healthy and been alert towards their own health.
Among the mistaken notions the humans species has about self is that it is compassionate and caring and feels heart and concerned. In Mumbai that compassion is missing when millions of people are made to subsume their existence into dingy and unhealthy living quarters. Or hang out of overcrowded trains. If corona virus is a life and death and health issue then so are those slums. The crisis is explained as a result of India’s population. A lie at best. Every single of those people can live in a nice house and enjoy a good commute. No doubt the population is runaway high and a problem but that becomes a convenient cover for the large-scale mismanagement and exploitation by the establishment, which is the root cause. In nature the establishment does not cause any such suffering. It is seen as ruthless when it dispenses death but it is compassionate to spare such a scale of suffering to its constituents. There are no real estate mafias there and political dynastic satraps.
The lockdown itself is a great example of the convoluted sense of compassion and logic in the species. Hundreds of millions of people have been economically debilitated and made into beggars almost overnight over a virus which has a 1 percent fatality rate. More people have suffered alive than in death as a result of this so called virulent and deadly virus. A minor percent of people with enough resources to survive them comfortably without income for few years have come to decided for a majority who need to earn everyday to feed themselves and are resisting the absurdity but to no avail since they do not have ‘power’. And the greater irony that a species whose evolution into the current stage was marked by the ability to cultivate and settle down now has large sections who cannot cultivate their own food and are dependent on ‘income’ for food.
Would those who have erupted in the current sentimentality about nature like to endorse and subscribe to nature as such? To see the death of one’s own kith and kin, even as a benevolent act of nature?
In denying death the human species denies life. In manners of thinking which are unique to themselves they see nothing wrong in such a denial and it noble to thwart death(life) and save life. The vaccine developers are more of a business response to an opportunity, not a love for life. They see only that part of the picture (life) which provides life to their balance sheet.
And this is where a distinction is important. In the human case a lot of those who are seen as strong might in reality be terribly evil and vicious. Their so-called strength arises out of manipulation and chicanery. There is cunning in nature and when push comes to shove every individual will exhibit behaviour inconsistent with what’s good/bad as per human definitions but nothing like the evil and chicanery that exists among the human species.
Death due to ageing or not as a result of predatorial aggression happens gracefully without attendant display. Think of when you saw or came to know of the death of your street dog or cat or crow or pigeon or sparrow. They just seem to go away when the time has come. What you get to see is always a fresh picture free of the pain and sorrow. That tree branch outside your window will over the years only present a joyful picture of various birds go about their daily chores and play.
I am copying the headline and article from this article in NDTV and using it to highlight below key points for donors I interact with. There is a drastic need for change in outlook of many Indian donors. Parts in blue are highlighted for emphasis, at places bold. Later on underlined for additional emphasis.
And you do not even need this level of wealth to donate for good causes. Any upper middle class family has enough surplus money and most of the time they do not even know what to do with it but will not donate.
Washington: Food banks, immigrant rights groups, and struggling colleges across the US discovered a surprise benefactor last year as billions of dollars flowed into organizations hurting during the pandemic from MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Scott unlocked a staggering sum of nearly $6 billion in charitable gifts last year, and unlike many other large donors did not attach any restrictions or even naming rights requirements.
The approach has shaken up the philanthropic world, not only with the size of her gifts, but without the limits and accounting requirements of many large foundations or donors.
Laura MacDonald, board chair of the Giving USA Foundation, a nonprofit which conducts research on philanthropic giving, said Scott’s approach is part of a movement of “trust-based philanthropy” which does away with some of the red tape imposed by many donors.
MacDonald said Scott’s approach moved beyond the “Big Brother” approach of some donors and the venture capital mindset which permeates much of the business world.
“Trust-based philanthropy has catapulted to the top of the list of taking points” in the philanthropic world as a result of Scott’s initiative, MacDonald said.
“This may embolden other donors to try something and take more risks.”
In December, Scott’s latest funding round included 384 organizations ranging from Blackfeet Community College in Montana to the Arkansas Food Bank to the Immigrant Families Fund.
“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote in a blog post.
“Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”
– Lots to celebrate –
Philanthropy activists say Scott’s actions are likely to make other billionaires — including her ex-husband — take notice.
“There is a ton to celebrate about her philanthropy,” said Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which provides research data to foundations and other charitable donors.
“I would hope that the sheer amount of money she is getting out the door and her intention to continue to do so is a kick in the pants to all those sitting on tremendous wealth at time of unbelievable challenge and need.”
Scott, whose Amazon stake acquired in her divorce settlement is estimated at some $58 billion, pledged to give away the majority of her wealth to fight social inequity.
She announced grants of some $1.7 billion last July and another $4.2 billion in December.
She enlisted a team of advisors to help identify organizations to aid those suffering from the economic toll of the pandemic, focusing on those working to combat hunger, poverty and racial inequity.
While her ex-husband Bezos has donated $10 billion to fight climate change — the largest charitable gift of 2020 — and additional amounts to other causes, his giving has been slower and proportionately smaller, given that his fortune is worth more than three times hers.
The former couple could offer a major boost to philanthropy in the US, which represented some $450 billion in donations from Americans in 2019.
– Speed and scale –
Benjamin Soskis, senior research associate at the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, said Scott’s actions are remarkable not only for their scale but the speed in delivering the funds.
“The pandemic has amplified an imperative in getting money out the door as fast as possible,” Soskis said.
Additionally, Scott has broken with much of philanthropic tradition by eliminating onerous restrictions and limits, which can complicate matters for organizations scrambling to cope with the pandemic.
“She has emphasized giving money and getting out of the way,” Soskis said.
“Philanthropists often see themselves as part of the process, with multiple checks and evaluations and metrics which can be really burdensome.”
One potential critique of Scott’s approach is her “opaque” process in which she has selected grant recipients, Soskis said.
“She is operating in a realm of absolute discretion that is not accountable to anyone,” he said.
Still, Soskis said her actions set an important precedent which could be a positive force for philanthropy.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the role MacKenzie Scott plays in establishing a new norm for philanthropic giving,” Soskis said.
“Any major philanthropist has to confront the example that she has set.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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As I write this post, it’s been 2-3 days since I have become familiar with the name Rishabh Pant. I still have not seen the person so don’t have a face to the name. And I have no details on his play or talent.
I could sense all the cricket hysteria build up through this last week. My first sense was at the barber last Sunday. The TV was blaring with two commentators in Hindi engaging Ajay Jadeja and Ajit Adarkar on and mostly off. Their energy and enthusiasm levels were envious even as there was much insight and some cringy stuff. I could be doing a commentary on that commentary alone. The best piece of insight that I had was that the new crop of players in the last decade have trained themselves to play on the SENA grounds and not home grounds and are hence at home internationally. I am not sure if that is entirely true.
And then through the week the hysteria showed up on whatsapp groups. I came to know a test was on with Australia, heard the word Gabba, realised it was a place and then came to know of a Rishabh Pant two days ago.
My first introduction to this person was through this article. I could see the love and support.
This time around past few days I have been working hard in my own adoption of Prem Chavan in whom I see great potential to be able to bring about a small but significant change in the Indian farming ‘game’.
With millions of batsmen like him in the forefront we can be emerging as winners in the game of the 5 trillion dollar economy. The 5 trillion dollar game is a bogus chase I feel but for argument sake right now.
I am trying to rope in friends to support this initiative to support Prem – to develop a ‘multi-year’ contract to hone and nurture this talent. Asking for friendly loans of 1000/5000/10000 rupees to help overcome a critical obstacle we are facing. An idli-pidli small sum of Rs. 3-5 lakhs would see him sail through, no requirement for the kind of gush reserved for cricketeers. I have put in Rs. Two lakhs of my own and I am not much better off than Prem. First hand I am getting an understanding of just how difficult it must be for thousands like Prem in the agricultural sector. I could right a whole book from that short first visit to Marathwada. And from there I stand I see the situation so easy to resolve. Just plain simple support and belief in people who matter. If not like the one you reserve for cricket then at least a tenth of it.
There are no eyeballs to be harvested here. Companies support cricket because they make money off the fans. Those in business deal with people as consumers, nothing more nothing less. As long as anything can help them dip into the largest number of pockets anything goes. Any expense is fine, any story is fine.
For crickteers there are multi-year contracts and cricket academys and hefty salaries and fees. For farmers there are slogans – jai jawan, jai kisan.
We do not see any such support for marquee players in the game of environment and sustainability. At the turn of the century I was a 25 year old who had made a strong debut into environmental activism with success. Over the coming decade I played a pioneering role in conservation of mangroves along the coast of Mumbai besides numerous other urban issues. Single handedly I nurtured a small institutional mechanism to engage in the conservation of this valuable ecosystem.
I would be hurt with the contrast in support for Indian cricket and realise how there was a widespread and deep ecosystem to support cricket across the length and the breadth of the country which identifies promising players and gives them all the necessary support. To me this is like a drug supply network, there is cultivation, harvest and then peddling.
Now in middle age I like to give support to those in their 20s and 30s where I can. Try create an ecosystem which I never experienced and would have liked to see.
Environment activists are few (there were few then and I would argue few now beyond the noise and tamasha that the environment movement is now) and as a nation we know where the priorities are.
The kind of human resource you nurture is the kind of outcome you get. Indians in bulk (like sacks of potatoes) have zero interest in issues like clean air and water or development issues like health and support to farmers or education. The upper middle class enjoys clean air and water by regularly making way to other shores whose people provide many of the things which they and their own people would not.
I would argue that Indians are not even sporty or understand sport. Cricket is a mind numbing drug to do away with pain for the many and guilt for few. The same city which is the hub of all this wheeling dealing and support for cricket also sees the poorest per capita open space ratio. Fifty percent of the population lives in cramped houses and suffer from non-availability of any space to even play forget engage in sport.
Never a cricket fan and more so an Indian cricket fan, I have had a very uncomfortable relationship with Indian cricket – Indians and their love and affection for the game. Maybe not the game per se but in Indian cricket I see much that is wrong with Indians. I am not even sure that the team is as great as it is made out to be and it might just be a marketing ploy by business interests who know how much of Indian identity is stuck with that game and how shallow India’s sense of itself is and the need to keep it propped with cricket.
I go through a usual set of commentary through my mind when I see the ever effusive Indians gush over ‘their’ cricket.
The impression I get with the protests over the proposed amendments to the Environmental Impact Assessment 2006 rules is that everything was going so very well for a decade or so, we had built up a great environmental governance framework since the last modification in 2006, projects were being vetted properly, EIA studies were top notch and were able to filter out harmful projects and mitigate where required, industry could not longer go unchallenged and was on a tight and proper leash and then suddenly in 2020 came this effort to dilute the EIA and all peace has been disturbed in paradise.
The reality is otherwise. Whether you keep the EIA process exactly as it is or allow the dilution to go through one way or the other the projects have been going through and the damage happening. The other way of looking at it is that the environmental movement and community have really become so ineffective and incidental over a period of time that the dilution was inevitable.
Why is it that over the past decade when EIA has been reduced to a joke we have not seen similar effort to raise concern? Have we gone through every EIA and EC provided since 2006 and are sure that the EIA process was the best?
Have amendments to the EIA 2006 been kept track of? If through the years amendments were taking place which were anyways removing teeth from the EIA then should those not be challenged at each instance? I have hardly seen any such nationwide uproar. I would like to believe that we are in changed times.
There was much uproar at the time the amendments to EIA were introduced in 2006. A few of the same names which we see today could be seen writing back then also. Curiously with the same energy levels. I also wrote an article then. What happened? My focus has all along been Think Global, Act Local and I can say with conviction that there is zero improvement in the ability to bring outcomes on any environmental issue in Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Should people from this region who are part of the current noise and protests not be spending some time going over half a dozen MMR specific issues and understand where they stand and what has been their participation there? Understandably a lot of the current noise might be from 20 year olds and historic baggage cannot apply to them (the learnings should). But is this the best avenue for them to apply their energy?
Then comes the complaint from the industry and business that a number of environmental rules and guidelines are needless red tape and just a part of the corruption endemic in the process of procuring permissions. It is equally the business of the environmental community to be concerned about this aspect whether those complaints are genuine or stale rhetoric. If environmental regulations can be sidestepped with graft and there is no oversight then the damage is not as much to ease of doing business as much as to our commitment to safeguard the environment.
To me what it says is that there will be much hue and cry to achieve a positive environmental outcome through a legislation or rules or a PIL (an easy way out and a great intellectual exercise) but once it is achieved then the same community stops activity and involvement about how that rule or legislation or order is performing. That is left to the same bureaucracy which is otherwise reviled. Those short term bursts of energy with glitz are appealing but then come the daily chores. EIA 2006 or EIA 2020 (if it goes ahead with the modifications or does not) the reality will not change. Fixing that reality is the real environmental battle which no one wants to take on.
Every metro city has some form of eco housing guidelines for more than a decade now, somewhere waste management is a focus, else rainwater harvesting or grey water treatment or solar rooftop. Housing projects get passed after ticking all the check boxes. There are no numbers available but it is anybody’s guess that less than 5 percent of housing complexes having anything to show on the ground after completion. What is the recurring environmental impact of the solid and liquid waste being discharged from thousands of such complexes around the country? EIA has happened for some of the projects. Hear the struggles of solution providers and innovators who thought that with rising eco consciousness green entrepreneurship opportunities will open up and they could provide themselves a stable financial existence while doing something they are passionate about.
The state of any of our institutions is so third grade, forget the environmental ones. Everything runs on mai baap culture rather than with strong, courageous individuals willing to stand upright for what they believe is right and uphold rules.
Look at our democracy. I would say the real environmental issue is how in spite of the hue and cry over MLAs deflecting political parties and subsequent introduction of an anti-deflection law, we till today have a robust system in place for trading of MLAs? At the most fundamental link in the chain trust is broken. A political system which runs with some basic modicum of integrity and accountability is not available and we vainly discuss issues like amendments to EIA.
Outside a number of crematoria in Mumbai there can be a set of people who are professional mourners. The moment a dead body come for cremation they are either paid by the dead persons close ones to mourn or start mourning on their own as a means of getting something. Remove the payment part but the environmental scene and community in the country seems like those mourners to me. Every few weeks a new issues arrives and unfailingly the digital mourning starts.
There is desperation evident in fights like EIA 2020; every environmental matter currently in the country. That desperation creates more noise and heat than any worthwhile outcome. I would say stop being desperate. Let the situation slip out of hand completely. Lets do away with fig leaves. Let everybody introspect and revisit the state of environmental spirit and movements before we decide to pick fights. Let everybody figure out what they are doing about environmental or fundamental administrative issues at the cellular level – their immediate 1-10 kms radius.
In numbers I don’t think all the petitions and emails against EIA will come to even 1 crore (10 million). How does that show for a nation of 130 crores? The important topic in June was the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput and China.
June 2020 has been dominated by the standoff on the India-China border in Ladakh, Galwan valley. Apparently 20 Indian soldiers have been killed in unarmed hand combat with Chinese soldiers.
A wave of jingoism has taken over the country, which is of the usual kind and not surprising. Those who created the conflict to elicit this kind of response can be happy and feel successful.
It remains to be seen how many successful apps emerge from India subsequent to the ban on 59 Chinese apps.
It remains to be seen how much India is able to reduce its trade deficit with China and ramp up its manufacturing abilities. Anand Mahindra has thrown a challenge in his tweet.
The damage that India inflicts on itself by not paying attention to its demographic dividend and not serving them to develop their full potential is far more than even if 200 soldiers were to perish in border combat. Or even more. There is no comparison for that damage. Its horror will be fully realised 20 years down the line. This post is a timestamp for that realisation.
Over past 40 years when India was self inflicting wounds and had no strategic sense of where it wants to go, lacking in self confidence, indifferent to its enormous strengths and chasing all that is Maya, China has been building itself brick by brick systematically with a clear idea of what it wants to be.
and since it is a matter I was closely associated with I am correcting the facts, which have not been correctly presented by Snehal and giving additional background information.
The response, thought I am keeping short is longer than a few tweets and so I am carrying it here for her and others reference.
Hi Snehal, I just came across this tweet.
NONE of those mangroves were saved. The underlying issue which destroyed the mangroves set-in in 2002 and has gone unaddressed since. Separately it is a fight over land between two very powerful parties and nobody in Bollywood gets into these messy affairs. They have careers and families. Environmentalists have love and fresh air. The star power created a temporary hype and public and media love that more than nuance and outcome.
I saw the mangroves healthy and tall till 2001 and then gone in a quick move. We had quite a few successes then but this was not one. And by “We” I mean an absolute handful and basically Pravin Choudhary and myself. Nobody cared then and it was a different era.
By the time Irfan came into the picture the original mangroves were gone for more than two years. The immediate trigger was earth filling and a possible loss of view if a building came in front.
Irfan was active for barely a month in 2004-2005. Also Ashish Vidyarthi and a few others from Yug Dharma. Sutapa was longer. I tried to make her understand the need for funds to carry out the real drudge work which brings outcome. I have emails with Sutapa and others in the neighbourhood informing them of the larger issues and asking for support to carry out the course of action developed by me at MSI, which was very clear and effective.
Complete lack of resources and a burn out being faced my me could have been addressed if we had hired a few people and had an office etc. These were all very rich people.
I had co-founded MSI Mangrove Society of India (Mumbai Chapter) in 2002 and was solo leading the efforts through from 2003 till 2009 and then a bit longer before giving up completely. Almost all mangrove complaints in the Mumbai region would land on my phone after I had a cell phone in 2003.
I remember Nadia Menezes very well from 2004. Indian Express carried a long series on different mangrove pockets in Mumbai then and she had covered quite a few and would regularly be in touch. I might have a few clippings from then.
2019-20 brings me to to the 20th anniversary of my first big environmental intervention when I got active to challenge and then successfully prevent the illegal reclamation of the 8 acre Lokhandwala Lake between 1999-2000. I saved the lake then and also named it so.
Set among the mangroves behind Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri (W), Mumbai the lake is an artificial lake formed due to the reclamation’s carried out in the 1970s or earlier to create the Versova Sewage Treatment Lagoon and the large electricity substation. A large area between the two divergent approach roads for these infrastructure projects saw access to the adjacent estuary being cut of and as a result of which the mangroves died and the depression became filled with monsoon water and became a lake.
On 7th August, 1999 I was about a month away from the 24th birthday and preparing reluctantly and with some drag for management entrance exams due in December 1999. I was then staying in the first lane of Lokhandwala Complex since five years and would intermittently visit the back road, which is now unrecognizable from what it was then. It was the before everything era. Before mobile phones, before internet as we see it now, before an explosion of cars, before a lot of the real estate, which now define its new identity. Before a time when I could take any photos of the situation and efforts then.
Unrecognizable today, the back road was very popular with morning and evening walkers even then. If anything the walking experience was better. The two roads leading to the electrical substation and the Versova Sewage Lagoon broke out in divergent Y forks from the back road and provided continuous long walking lengths completely free from any motorised transport, having the mangroves on one side and the lake – sandwiched in between – on the other. It was quiet like cannot be imagined now and with copious amounts of clean air, with greenery and a large selection of birds at hand to hear and enjoy for the bird brained.
The road leading towards the (then not operational) sewage lagoon was the hands down favourite. At times during the ‘peak hours’ it could look very much like the present highways during peak hour. In the preceding decade and a half Lokhandwala Complex had exploded in population and had somewhat become a poster boy for the unplanned urbanization in post independence Mumbai and also a metaphor for a concrete jungle. People escaped to this natural oasis juxtaposed next to the concrete jungle. Since the sewage lagoon was under construction there was no functional gate or restriction and people could walk right up to the lagoons and beyond touch the creek. Though a majority stuck till the gate.
In September 2001 the municipal corporation opened a transit garbage collection facility adjacent to the Sewage Lagoon and since then the road has been overtaken by a continuous stream of garbage compactors coming and going. All through the 1990’s this road would be crowded with a stream of morning and evening walkers and day time picnickers and couples.
On 7th August, 1999 in the evening when I visited the Lake, there was no one walking on the road leading to the sewage lagoon – the popular option. Everybody had take to the sub-station road. The road leading to the sewage lagoon was unrecognizable. I was not a regular walker and so much have come after a month or so.
The road had become almost double the size, the vegetation which lined the lake was all gone and replaced by a filling of fresh earth and garbage. The junction had a stench of garbage which became stronger as one walked towards the road to the lagoon. Garbage trucks were dumping their fill on the edge of the lake and pushing it inside. That’s why people had completely stopped using that section.
I was left furious seeing the sight and walked straight towards the trucks which were emptying the garbage. I confronted a young man who must have been only a few years elder to me and questioned him. He was a friendly person and introduced himself as Deepak and was a mukadam with the municipal corporation.
I don’t remember the details of the conversation now but he was clear that the dumping could not stop since he had instructions from his seniors to cover up the lake. There was no way I was listening to all this and so began the efforts which would last over the next six months to ensure that the dumping was completely stopped and did not resume. We could not excavate what was already dumped and had to contend with a new edge for the lake.
Among the first things I did was to go back to my newly bought computer and design A3 size posters with messages to save the lake and invite the walkers to join in the efforts. I would carry it on a floppy disk to Krishna Communication on the main road, take a printout which would be stuck on a card board with which I then stood at the corner between the two roads.
Simultaneously I called up Mr. P K Patel who then stayed in the second lane in Guru Kripa building (now sold his flat and moved out of Mumbai). We were new friends. He must have been about double my age then and we had bonded well over a bird watching trip organised by BNHS in the first week of November 1998. The wader watch would be a popular program of BNHS then in the mudflat of Malad Creek. In that particular walk we had entered into a dense patch of mangroves opposite Millat Nagar which is adjacent to Lokhandwala Complex. That visit is a very long separate story of what would two years later become a highlight of my activism career.
Mr. Patel is a nature lover but not inclined towards activism. He was an RSS Pracharak in his primary public leaning and one of the more active ones in Lokhandwala Complex. Over the coming decade he would become a willing accomplice and partner in all my efforts to save the lake as well as the large swathes of mangroves. Among the first suggestions from him was to approach the actor Mr. Parikshit Sahni who was a regular walker on the back road. Mr. Patel had some acquaintance with him and was of the opinion that he would join the efforts. Much as he had mentioned Mr. Sahni (Parikshitji since then) would take a keen interest. He was a regular walker and he too had changed his direction. I remember we first met him in the morning just a few meters before the sub-station gate.
In those first few weeks, I had stood before the trucks, invited others to join, made life a bit difficult for the dumpers, which slowed down but did not cease. Simultaneously I made my first visit to a ward office in Mumbai; this was the K(W) ward office under which Andheri (West) was one of the areas. The administrative head for the ward would then be called the Ward Officer (now Assistant Municipal Commissioner) and it was Mr. Amar Dubey then.
Mr. Dubey was not much cooperative and I was left with the feeling that this was being coordinated from within the municipal office itself. I realised we will have only increase the agitation on the site.
I now don’t have a day by day and week breakup of the events but in the next few weeks sometime we visited Amar Dubey as a bigger delegation and asked Mr. Sahni to join us. And that of course had a big effect. Mr. Dubey was a changed person and willing to more easily accommodate Mr. Sahni and humour him and give assurances. The administration does love when somebody from the entertainment world drops by into their very worldly existence.
Not everything that Mr. Dubey would assure was followed through on the ground. Over the course it became my and Mr. Patel’s routine to maintain a hawks eye on the situation. I took the lead and making sure that there was a continuous visible presence (and deterrence to the dumpers) from our side on the ground.
I think it was during this period of action is also that Mr. Patel introduced me to the late Mr. S P Gupta, who was also a resident of second lane in Montana building. He was a fire brand senior citizen, a born activist with communist leanings(I think a card carrying member of CPI), who had retired from very senior positions in the Income Tax departments. He was originally a Delhi resident but maybe due to his last posting in Mumbai or the estranged relationship with his family or both he was settled in Mumbai.
A highly sensitive person with public welfare and good governance at heart he had been closely following, commenting and more importantly acting on all the irregularities around the Development Plan and DCRs in Lokhandwala Complex. At least in the second and much bigger innings from 2001-02 and there on I remember very close interaction with him and my first learning of all the intricacies of making changes to land use in the Development Plan, the actors in this collusion, how massive profits are reaped or inducements provided for the same and how the public interest at large gets harmed through the deficiencies in essential public services required to serve a certain density of population.
I could write separately at length on his work and its a general tragedy of Indian existence that there is no interest or audience or support for recording history. Its a timeless nation and society, which has its own wisdom maybe and understands something more than I do – everything goes into the dustbin of history, whose contents have no value for those in the ‘present’.
In a longer separate note for a book, which has not come through till now I have shared in detail my angst and disgust about the upper middle class and elite that come to dominate the Lokhandwala Complex (and it could be the same for pan city or country) and their sheer selfishness and refusal to be involved with public matters.
These are the people who had the luxury of regular walks in the evening or mornings because they were fully supported through their wealth to be able to do so. When their main walking route started seeing reclamation, they effortlessly shifted their walking to another route – no reaction, no stress. I was not even a regular walker and yet when I landed there for a walk after a good many weeks I was devastated enough to move into action immediately. I wont even get into writing here the terrible times we were going through as a family then.
By the time I reacted the lake had been pushed in by 15 feet with no reaction from the regular walkers. I can imagine that 100s of trucks of debris and garbage must have been dumped right in front of their eyes. I think if I had not intervened then the whole lake would have been covered setting a good foundation for illegal slums and commercial establishments like garages etc.
If anything the Maslow’s pyramid, which I would see so celebrated and dished out through the 90’s (as the answer for when environmental issues will finally get addressed) should have set in? This was then, in 1999, now is different but now is not necessarily any better, just more pretense and posturing and great digital marketing tools at hand.
This episode also laid the foundation for my idea to create a local NGO called Lokhandwala Complex Environmental Action Group, which would get functional in the next big involvement in 2001 and then registered by 2004. All of these involvements and more would define my work over the coming decade and create a prominent public image on Mumbai’s then environmental leadership and action landscape. I brought together a lot of like minded people during that decade, convened regular meetings at the back road or in the gardens and created a lot of engagement with local police and other authorities.
There was a time in the first decade when I would be an eager guide (beside one of the watchmen) to all and sundry, happily taking them for a tour of the lake and showing its various features, how and where the dumping started and how we prevented and saved the lake.Before I progressively withdrew post 2012 and then 2015-16 and feel unrecognizable from what I was 20 years ago.
I hardly visit the lake once in a year now and cannot get myself to be involved as effortlessly as I once would. There are others who have joined now but none so keenly and with the same spirit in my opinion.
I had thought of organising a talk or function on 2nd February, 2020 on occasion of World Wetlands Day but these just remain thoughts.