Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged Indians to “connect with nature” on World Environment Day and chosen 5 June to launch a massive push to improve waste management in the world’s second most populous country.
Modi has also held up UN Environment Champion of the Earth Afroz Shah as an “inspiring example” of how to address pollution problems for leading the mammoth clean-up of Mumbai’s Versova Beach.
India and its 1.3 billion people have long been strong supporters of World Environment Day, the United Nations’ biggest day for raising awareness of environmental problems and driving action to address them. India hosted the formal celebrations in 2011 and its officials, entrepreneurs and citizens register hundreds of events every year.
In a radio address on Sunday, Modi picked up on the 2017 theme for , connecting people with nature, and urged Indians to recognize the importance of nature for human well-being. He cited Mahatma Ghandi and wisdom from the Vedas to back up his point.
“Whenever you come in contact with a natural condition, a new spirit emerges from within you. So the global campaign of connecting with nature on 5 June should become our individual campaign as well,” he said. “If we shall protect the environment, our future generations will reap the benefits.”
As well as urging Indians to help with an annual tree-planting drive around World Environment Day, Modi announced a new push to improve Indian waste management.
Starting 5 June, he said authorities will install colour-coded litter bins in 4,000 towns to encourage people to separate solid waste from compostable waste and ensure more of it can be recycled or re-used, for instance as fertilizer.
“We should always consider these wastes as resources and wealth. Do not see it as just garbage,” Modi said. “Once we start looking at garbage and waste as a wealth, we shall also find newer techniques of waste management.”
Huge volumes of solid waste from India and many other countries leak into the oceans, where it harms plants and fish in ways scientists are only beginning to understand. Some of it washes up on beaches in places including Mumbai.
Modi praised Shah for marshalling the growing band of volunteers who have painstakingly restored the city’s Versova Beach from one which was “infamous for its filth … into a clean and beautiful beach.”
Shah, a young lawyer from Mumbai, has led a drive since 2015 to remove the piles of plastic and other waste that had washed up and completely overwhelmed the beach. Volunteers from slum-dwellers to Bollywood stars have so far collected more than 4,000 tons of trash from the 2.5 kilometre strand. In 2016, UN Environment recognized his achievement with a Champions of the Earth award.
Shah’s initiative has helped raise awareness of the growing problem of marine litter, which is the focus of UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign. Clean-ups are also prominent among the thousands of activities being organized worldwide for this year’s World Environment Day. In India, they include clean-ups in the lake city of Nainital, along the Mutha River in Pune, and on the beach in Thiruvananthapuram.