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The Global Pandemic and Cohesive Development of Humans and Nature

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Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Ritika Gupta

As human exploitation towards the environment increases rapidly, leading to revolt by the nature in form of disasters, epidemics, and pandemics, it is important to discuss the human actions which have led to a situation like this.

The ongoing pandemic has bought to light that it is important to rebuild a relationship where nature and humans exist in harmony and peace, helping each other in progressive development.

Keeping this in mind, the Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, Counterview and Centre for Development, Communication and Studies (CDECS), Jaipur, organized an online discussion on 21 May 2021.

IMPRI

Dr. Arjun Kumar, Director at IMPRI first briefly introduced the moderator, speaker, discussants, and their work, after which the discussion was handed over to the moderator Prof Sunil Ray.

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Prof Sunil Ray, Former Director, A. N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, began the discussion by introducing the speaker, Dr. Bharat Patankar, Leading Activist, Left Wing Shramik Mukti Dal, Peasant Movement, South Maharashtra; Architect, Equitable Water Distribution Movement, Maharashtra.

He also briefed the audience on Dr. Bharats’ work on Cohesive development diplomacy, highlighting the disturbance in the gap between humans and nature and how human civilization can be saved by Re-establishing this relationship, especially in the context of an ongoing pandemic.

He mentioned from one of Dr. Patankar’s books, “the most intractable challenge that human civilization confronts today is how to reverse contemporary development narratives that reiterates a catastrophic life situation”.

Replenishing Human-Nature Relationship

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Dr. Bharat Patankar began the discussion by bringing into light the fact that the start of a disturbing relationship between humans and nature began with humans getting separated from the rest of nature in a way that that they wanted to create their own world.

A new relation started with misusing humans from nature- Dr. Bharat

Dr. Patankar talked about human intervention on nature working without disruption up to the point where agriculture was not stable. Devastation between humans and nature started with the advent of industrial development, more specifically with industrial development based on fossil fuels and amassing natural resources in people’s hands.

According to Dr. Bharat, in the present scenario, no natural resources are free of ownership.

Among the contributing factors to the lack of cohesive development are, urbanization (with more population moving to the cities, and much higher concentration of people in the cities), and disturbance in exchange of matter between humans and nature (the extent of human intervention is at such a large extent that humans are unable to give to nature as much as they take from it; renewability is decreasing.

The pandemic shows that there has been reverse migration from industrial areas to village areas. It has revealed that the role of agrarian activities is of utmost importance in Sustaining the economy.

For re-establishing the cohesiveness, a 100 percent renewable-based economy is required. Dr. Patankar points out that there are plenty of sustainable replacements available around the world, but they are not being implemented in the larger context.

In highlighting the importance of renewable energy, Dr. Patankar said, “what India needs is not atomic energy research, but it needs researches on wind energy, solar energy, sustainable agriculture, and a new kind of forest management”. The reestablishment of cohesiveness should be on a scientific basis.

Gender role

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Dr. Nagamani Rao, Retired Associate Professor, Karve Institute of Social Service, Pune, then moved the conversation to mention examples of the Chipko Movement, the role of women in making the movement successful. She also discussed that despite playing a large role in saving nature and historically said to be closer to nature, women are usually excluded from the development picture. She believes that equity and gender are at the center of searching for alternatives for cohesive development.

She pointed out that capitalism involves technological fixes for everything, including the pandemic, with profit-making as its ultimate aim, leading to inequalities inaccessibility of resources.

There is a requirement to focus on value-added needs for sustainability- Dr. Nagamani Rao

Mr. Bharat agreed with her and explained that all natural resources need to be collectively controlled. He also pointed out that since it was women who gave birth to agricultural practices, historically, their knowledge and participation are required to reinstate sustainable agriculture. He further clarified that the focus should be on ecological and renewable-based production and not simply sustainability, which aims to limit the usage of resources, and not on growing the resources.

Inequalities in accessing natural resources

The discussion was then taken over by Prof G Sridevi, Associate Professor, Central University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, who focused the conversation on agricultural and common resources. She mentioned that more performers and scientists are seen focusing on agriculture practices that are sustainable environmentally, economically, and socially.

Since the 1950s, the emphasis has been on growing industrial crops in large amounts using large amounts of resources, fertilizers, also damaging the soil, water, overall climate, and further influencing nutrition security. There is a need for adopting natural methods, however, anything produced naturally is expensive, and thus common people are unable to afford organically grown products.

“If we look into richly endowed natural resources, it becomes a site of catastrophic exploitation, and threatening many of livelihoods through practices such as mining”- Prof G Sridevi

She then requested Dr. Bharat to comment on existing inequalities in accessing equal and natural resources. To this, Dr. Patankar replied that women’s and caste liberation can only be attained when they are allowed to make decisions, share natural resources, and when there are alternative job opportunities that are free of the caste system.

Dr. Bharat also conveyed that in regards to natural resources, there are no natural resources that are not controlled by companies and agencies.

People with more land get more water for agricultural use. If water is a public resource it should be accessible to everyone equally.

The water rights movement is the movement to establish collective rights over the water. According to him, the only solution to equitable distribution of natural resources is:

  1. liberation from shackles of caste oppression,
  2. class oppression, and
  3. assertion of equal rights on all-natural resources.

There are experiments happening on organic agriculture, however, to replicate those experiments, resources need to be provided to experiment more and building a scientific basis for those experiments, and there should be a change in government policies for its generalization. People need to be interested in re-establishing of cohesive development.

Prof Sridevi brought out the examples of NRIs taking place around the villages in Andhra Pradesh, growing organic products, and selling them at huge prices. She then proceeded to ask Dr. Bharat how common people can access organic products. He suggested that people should share any thoughts or ideas to increase production and accessibility to naturally grown products, thereby increasing their availability.

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Dr. Anamika Priya Darshini, Lead, Research, Sakshamaa: Initiative for What Works, Centre for Catalyzing Change, then took over to point out that the unhealthy gap between nature and humans is only increasing which is only inviting more natural calamities. The Nature exploitation model can’t work and the pandemic has only increased the gap between rich and poor.

She questioned Dr. Bharat on how the process of humans reconnecting with nature be initiated in a neo-liberal world like today. Dr. Bharat answered that there is no shortcut to reconnecting humans and nature and that exploitation and deprivation should be reduced for which people need to come together from different levels of fields such as theoretical and practical levels.

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Dr. Simi Mehta came forward with Sunderlal Bahuguna’s emphasis on the gift of human life, the benefits of an enlightened mind, and the importance of being empathetic towards nature. People are trying to misuse their skills and abilities to assert power on nature, and nature is responding in form of disasters. Thus, it is imperative to go beyond material gains and focus on the collective development of humans and nature for the betterment of the world.

Conclusion

The session was then concluded by Prof Ray. He summarized the learnings of the session which illuminated the effects of the distorted relationship between humans and nature leading to the pandemic, and which can further lead to more severe consequences. He pointed out that sustainability is a vague concept and the focus needs to be more on ecological development, particularly in the agriculture sector. He emphasized the need for women’s leaders to re-establish the cohesion between humans and nature.

There is a need for more scientific experimentation on organic farming, and making it affordable and accessible to the general population. People need to be motivated to work towards restoring the relationship between humans and nature and stop the exploitation and degradation of it in order to avoid the many upcoming calamities and disasters and also to promote a more peaceful living for the people. The session then ended with Dr Arjun Kumar, thanking the guest speaker, discussants, the moderator, and the audience.

Acknowledgement: Mahi Dugar is an intern at IMPRI.

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