CHENNAI: Sacred groves, green pilgrimages and reviving painting traditions of the Kurumba tribes of the Andamans — the work of the CPR Environmental Education Centre (CPREEC) goes beyond routine conservation activities. Established in 1989, the organisation celebrated its silver jubilee by bringing together environmentalists and educationalists to work for a greener tomorrow.
Along with talks by Member of Parliament Jairam Ramesh, secretary of Ministry of Environment Ashok Lavasa, secretary of Department of Environment and Forests Hans Raj Varma and Chennai’s own geneticist M S Swaminathan, the centre presented Green School and Green Teacher awards to recognise contributions to environment from the education sector.
Despite the Indian tradition of worshipping nature and the environment, the situation is now a paradox, with nature being abused casually. “We are a civilisation that venerates biodiversity. On one hand we pray to forests, mountains and rivers, and on the other we treat our surroundings with disdain,” said Jairam Ramesh.
“We worship things that we want to ignore — our rivers become sewers and our mountains are destroyed by mining,” he said.
The roots of respect for nature have to be rediscovered, he said, and highlighted how the history of environmentalism had a gender dimension with women being at the forefront of struggles such as the Chipko Movement.
Ashok Lavasa spoke about how ‘faith’ needed to be translated into responsible behaviour by citizens. “I have seen people worshipping Peepal trees and then throwing polythene bags right below,” he recounted.
The CPREE has worked extensively on sacred groves, which were a sanctuary for plants and wildlife, and restored 52 of them, besides recently taking up greening of pilgrimage sites in places like Rameshwaram. They recognised schools as an important starting point for the cause of the environment, and work with student publications, events and curriculum development.
“When we began in the 80s, there was no centre for children and this is why we focused on raising awareness. We have now reached 1,36,000 students and 52,000 teachers,” said Nandita Krishna, the founder of CPREEC.
They began the Green Schools of India programme in 2007. This year’s Green School award was bagged by N S N Matriculation School, Chitlapakkam, Chennai, and the Green Teacher award was given to G Prabhakar from Keshav Memorial Boy’s High School, Hyderabad.
“Social mobilisation, education and regulation are all equally important. Every school should become a Green School and every teacher a Green Teacher,” said M S Swaminathan.