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Chennai, Wednesday, July 29, 1998

I am happy to be here to-day at the inauguration of the JRD Tata Ecotechnology Centre of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. May I congratulate Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, one of the world`s best known agricultural scientists and the doyen of Indian science for his initiative in establishing this Centre. It is a happy co-incidence that to-day is the 96th birthday of JRD Tata, one of the builders of modern India and a visionary of India`s industrial greatness who was bestowed by the nation the Bharat Ratna Award. I am also happy on this occasion to lay the foundation stone for the Biotechnology Park for Women Entrepreneurs. May I congratulate the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Kalaignar Karunanidhi for this initiative taken by his Government in cooperation with Biotechnology Department of the Government of India and M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.

The Constitution of India has laid down that it is the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion to living creatures. This was a reflection of the values cherished by the Indian civilization over the ages. But the protection of the environment from the aggressive inroads of industrialisation and the idea of a clean and healthy environment as a positive input into sustainable development are relatively new concepts.

Mahatma Gandhi had, however, cautioned as early as 1929 that if `India should ever take to industrialisation after the manner of the West...... and to similar exploitation it would strip the world like locusts.` Faced with such a prospect the world has been for some years seeking methods of averting an environmental disaster as a consequence of reckless industrialisation and economic development. Prime Minister Nehru in the 1950`s had warned the nation of the kind of development that destroyed man`s natural environment. India has been taking active interest in international conferences and adopting measures for preserving the environment while going ahead with India`s economic development plans. Our efforts in this regard were largely Government initiated and implemented. Of late the judiciary has been on the side of the angels and has issued judgements and directives in favour of environmental causes. There has also been a degree of people`s activism in this field and non-governmental organizationshave indulged in agitations on some specific issues.

But the large and rapidly expanding sphere of private enterprise in India has not been as much involved as the State in environmental causes and activities. JRD Tata had, however, made clear his concern for environment in the following statement he made in 1992:- `I believe that the social responsibilities of our industrial enterprises should now extend, even beyond serving the people, to the environment. The need is now fairly recognized, but there is still considerable scope for most industrial ventures to extend their support not only to human beings but also to the land, to the forests, to the water and to the creatures that inhabit them.` In the hey-day of industrialisation in the West it was private industry that exploited natural and human resources recklessly without restraint polluting the environment for generations to come. Scientists now admit that the threat of global warming that is facing mankind to-day is a cumulative result of all human development processes that have happened since theindustrial revolution.

It has been suggested that the answer, at least a partial answer, to these problems created by technological development is technology itself - adoption and application of new environment-friendly technologies. Of course the developed countries of the world has had a head start in this and they have developed such technologies. In our own country, there are several recent examples of the employment-generation potential of ecotechnologies. I would like to refer to the gradually spreading photovoltaic revolution, for instance. Experience in different parts of India shows that installation of photovoltaic cells is increasingly cost competitive, especially in villages that have not been connected to electricity grids. I am glad that both in this building and the adjoining building of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, solar power is being used to run computers and for other purposes where uninterrupted power supply is needed. I congratulate the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources and the Government of Tamil Nadu on their pioneering role in harnessing both solar and wind energy.

Sustainable management of forests and village common property resources is another area where opportunities exist for new livelihoods. We have nearly 26 years of experience in Participatory Forest Management. This experience has clearly established that Joint Forest Management leads to the creation of many new livelihood opportunities to communities living adjoining forests.

I am glad the Centre is according high priority to the conservation, enhancement and sustainable use of natural resources, particularly water. Water is becoming a severe constraint in efforts to improve human food and health security. Water conflicts are likely to grow at the local, national and regional levels and it will be prudent to take active steps to avoid them. One vital step is improving the conservation of rain water and enhancing the efficiency of water use. A recent book by Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi titled `Dying Wisdom` cites striking examples of the effectiveness of the traditional water harvesting and saving procedures in vogue in the past in Tamil Nadu and other parts of the country, and their relevance to contemporary needs.

The conservation and sustainable and equitable use of water should receive high priority in all parts of our country. According to some computer simulation models, changes in rainfall patterns are likely to be adverse to India. We should initiate anticipatory action in meeting the impact of climate change and promote for this purpose a national water harvesting, saving and sharing movement. Much of the action in this area will have to be taken at the local level, and hence Panchayati Raj institutions should be empowered to play an active role in stimulating community cooperation in all aspects of water conservation and use.

Emission from motor vehicles is one of the main causes for urban air pollution contributing to global warming. Western countries are taking growing interest in zero-emission cars energised by batteries or fuel cells in order to cut down air pollution. But in Asia as millions of people in the non-motorised sector become wealthy enough to buy motorised forms of transport they will first buy scooters rather than cars. Not surprisingly, Indian cities are today, chock-full of scooters and this need for cheaper motorised forms of transport will remain with us well into the foreseeable future. In fact India could and should aim to become the first country in the world to develop and use zero emission scooters.

I am glad, on this occasion, to have also been invited by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to lay the foundation stone for the Biotechnology Park for Women Entrepreneurs, which is being set up jointly by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, the Government of Tamil Nadu and the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. In the last two decades, major breakthroughs have taken place in biotechnology research and development and as we move into the next millennium, there would be a bio-industrial revolution world over. All-round progress in the field of biotechnology in terms of research, demonstration and commercialization would be the main agenda for the next century for the scientists, economists, social scientists and planners.

In India, Government has made a major effort to promote research and development in biotechnology particularly in the areas of healthcare and agriculture. This biotechnology project at Chennai is a unique initiative for the first time in this part of the world to organise and train women scientists and technologists, women entrepreneurs and young women both from rural and urban areas. I hope the Chennai example will be emulated by all our major cities. I am particularly happy that the Chennai Biotechnology Park will be tailored to foster environmentally sound and socially compatible biotechnologies that would enable our farm families to produce more under conditions of diminishing per capita availability of arable land and irrigation water.

Friends, 1998 marks the bi-centenary of Thomas Malthus`s essay on population. There is renewed concern now about India`s capability to feed itself under conditions of diminishing per capita availability of arable land and irrigation water. It is clear that we have to produce more but produce it differently, since the excessive and improper use of chemicals, particularly pesticides and mineral fertilisers, results in long-term ecological harm. I cannot but share with you my anguish at the deaths by suicide of several families in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, as a result of despair caused by the failure of their technology-intensive crops. I am hence happy to learn that this Centre is concentrating on the development and dissemination of precision farming techniques which can help to maximise output per units of water, land, nutrients and energy, without adverse environmental consequences. Under the leadership of Shri C. Subramaniam, the Bharat Ratna laureate, our scientists and farmers proved the prophets of doom wrong in the mid-sixties. We must do this again in the decades ahead, when the population supporting capacity of our ecosystems will be under severe stress.

We need new and environment-friendly technologies. But technology is not the exhaustive remedy for the problems faced by India and the world. The Malthusian threat to humanity is still there, though the world has so far contained the threat. Besides the multiplying population there is the question of the multiplying wants of the population. As Gandhiji observed the human mind is a restless bird. It wants more and more. As he said further `there is enough in this world for everyone`s need but not for everybody`s greed.` This is partly a spiritual problem. India is the one country that is eminently fitted by its history, tradition and philosophy to address this fundamental problem. But we will have to master the new technologies and learn how to use them efficiently without letting technology to determine our lifestyle and our time-tested values in life.

May I, once again, felicitate and thank Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, on this major new initiative of his. I would also like to compliment, once again, the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, the Government of Tamil Nadu and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on the far-sighted Biotechnology Park for Women Entrepreneurs. I wish these ventures every success.

Source©SPEECH 2000

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