The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is "Time for nature". This view of the UN shows that we have reached the tipping point regarding the way we view Mother Nature. It is the moment to act! In line with the theme, I am happy to share empirical statistics to showcase the Indian government’s work on environment conservation under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India has ranked for the first time among the top 10 countries in the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI).
The annual increase in carbon stock is 21.3 million tons, which is equivalent to 78.2 million tons of CO2. As per the ISFR 2019 report, forest and tree cover have increased by 5,100 sq. km. I also congratulate my colleague Prakash Javadekar for his untiring efforts in achieving the above goals.
Prime Minister Modi, on the occasion of International Mother Earth Day, set the priorities regarding nature. He said, "We all express gratitude to our planet for the abundance of care and compassion. Let us pledge to work towards a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous planet."
These words are the guiding spirit as to what values we want to impart to our students and teachers in the Human Resource Development ministry. Education and environment conservation have a symbiotic relationship.
The more educated a society is, the more protective towards nature the society becomes. India, with its rich cultural heritage, complemented by education, always had a harmonious relationship with nature.
Environment conservation has always been close to my heart.
I come from the land where the famous Chipko movement started. Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Sunderlal Bahuguna and Gaura Devi have been my inspiration. When I was working as chief minister of Uttarakhand, I had the opportunity to launch the “"Van Panchayats Scheme", ensuring public participation in conserving forests. I requested the then government to give a “green bonus” to hill states. I launched the Sparsh Ganga campaign to ensure that our national river Ganga stays unpolluted.
After I took on the role of HRD minister, blending the environment with education has been my core agenda. The Draft New Education Policy strongly recommends curricular integration and knowledge systems that will enable students to develop skills and knowledge on environmental awareness and conservation.
The flexible and innovative curriculum in higher educational institutions shall emphasise the offering of credit-based courses and projects in the areas of environmental education. The same vision was enunciated by DG UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, when she visited India. She emphatically articulated that environmental awareness should be a part of the curriculum.
The approach for environmental conservation cannot be straitjacketed but requires continual inquiry and reflection. Thus, multiple strategies have been adopted for integrating the environment with education. The HRD ministry has ensured that the teaching of Environmental Studies as EVS (science) and EVS (social studies) starts as early as the primary stage and is incorporated in classes above and even in higher education.
Several initiatives have been launched. I am glad that students are coming out in large numbers to participate. Jal Shakti Abhiyan (Samagra Shiksha-Jal Suraksha) conservation campaign has been launched wherein 10 crore students have collectively saved 3,650 crore litres of water in one year and will save 36,500 crore litres of water in 10 years.
More than 35 lakh saplings have been planted by students across schools and higher education institutes under the "one student one tree" campaign. Further, an awareness programme has been initiated on environmental hazards of electronic waste by the UGC. The AICTE has issued guidelines for the ban of plastic use in higher education institutions.
I want to laud the remarkable efforts of higher education institutes towards green development and building a more sustainable and environmentally conscious nation.
The UGC has developed SATAT—a Framework for Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Campus development, with various courses at the graduate and postgraduate level adhering to environment conservation. A six-month core module syllabus for environmental studies will be implemented at the undergraduate level.
A sustainable environment requires that all the people of India, especially students, are cognisant of their role and responsibility in working towards a sustainable future for the planet.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals—Climate action (Goal 13), Life on land (Goal 15), Life below water (Goal 14), and responsible consumption and production (Goal 12) —are all interrelated and interdependent. Due to the onset of the pandemic, the gains in tackling poverty, hunger, health and education may suffer serious setbacks.
However, the setbacks may be aggravated if we collectively do not address threats to the environment. It is essential to strengthen education about the environment; this cannot be studied in isolation but requires multidisciplinary integration in the curriculum at all levels. This can only be possible if academicians, teachers and students come forth to adopt traditional practices and knowledge systems on environment conservation. Together we can act #ForNature.
The author is Union Minister for Human Resource Development and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.