As a biologist with a particular interest in freshwater ecology, Aravind Madhyastha is appalled by the Modi government’s revival of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s plan to interlink rivers across India. “The government’s intent may be good to provide drinking water and for farmers and for industry but environmentally it will be a disaster,” said Madhyastha, who is a fellow with the Ashoka Trust for Reseach in Ecology and the Environment in Bengaluru.
In addition to the fear that river-engineering will alter the flow of a river and damage entire ecological systems depending on it, he also worried about containing riverine disasters. “I’ll give you an example of invasive species here,” the 40-year-old biologist said. Species like the African catfish and even pirahnas that have illegally been brought to India and released in some water bodies are taking over these ecosystems and wreaking havoc in them. “Whether it’s invasive species or pollution, once something happens in one part of the river then it becomes very difficult to control.”
Madhyastha is also not thrilled about other decisions the Modi government has taken with regard to environment protection. “From a development perspective it has been fantastic, but not great at all from the environmental perspective on conservation as well as allocating resources for research per se,” he said, noting the government’s over-enthusiasm to give environmental clearances to help ease of business.
At the same time, he feels that the effort to reduce roadblocks for industry is good, especially in a country where there is so much unemployment. “If 2% of the population talk about the environment and 98% talk about development, then it’s a challenging task for any government and environment would come second after development.”
Madhyastha hopes that the government will be careful when taking decisions that affect the environment. “If environment goes, that’s it,” he said.
The biologist backed Narendra Modi and rooted for a Bharatiya Janata Party victory at the 2014 Lok Sabha elections because he thought it was the only chance for India to grow. he said that 22-month-old government has already done well on its development agenda and on social schemes. He feels that there is visible development in his home town Udupi and neighbouring Mangalore such as street lights being replaced with LED lights and the eco-friendly bulbs being subsidized for household use.
“For sure it is a central government policy [that has filtered down to the Congress-governed state] to be focused on renewables and solar energy. India has led in bringing countries together to form a Solar Alliance,” he said. “The central government has allocated a lot of funding for solar electricity generation at a much smaller scale.”
Madhyastha also completely endorses the Modi’s government’s schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan as long-overdue and much-needed initiatives with environmental cleanliness, human health, household well-being and economics having spiraling effects on each other.
The noise and the bigger issues
When asked about the controversies that the NDA government has found itself in the past two years, Madhyastha said that a lot of it was unnecessary noise. “Like the beef ban, which was really not required," he said. "Each person has their own lifestyle, eating whatever he or she prefers. There are much bigger issues the country is facing on health, education, environment, jobs which are thousand times more important.”
On the Jawaharlal Nehru Univeristy controversy, Madhyastha said that students who avail of subsidised education should behave responsibly: “My personal view is that politics should be kept away from all these educational institutions, irrespective of political party.” But no one can condone the violence by lawyers outside the Patiala High Court and everyone should have faith in the judicial system, he said.
Give it time
While Madhyastha believes that there is no need for the prime minister to speak out on every matter that balloons into a controversy, he would like to hear Modi speak at least once in six months about the state of the nation and his future plans for governance. He believes that Modi’s charisma and international appeal are to be lauded but also that the leader will deliver on his promises.
Madhyastha wants the Modi government to have ten years in power to because no real change can be achieved before that in a country as large as India. “We are a democratic country with enough checks and balances in the judicial system, with an opposition, with youth power," he said. "With all these checks and balances let us see how this government performs.”