What is the Role of Education in Developing Environmental Consciousness?

Before we discuss the role of education in the eradication of pollution let us keep in mind a few things like its impact on health, the radio-active waves, rise in respiratory and eye diseases, the growth in diseases caused by virus, the gastroenteritis diseases, various diseases relating to noise resulting in deafness, and other diseases of lungs and heart. The growing adverse effect on all types of vegetation cannot be ignored.

GPEC | Global Peak Educational Consult

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Now it shall be worthwhile to discuss the role of education in the eradication of pollution. Following are the measures if adopted in letter and spirit in the right earnest, may bear fruitful results:

1. New ways of looking at the environment so that its value can be reflected in the national accounts, better planning and legislation, more careful and wider use of existing and new environmental technologies, including the all-important environmental impact assessment-a way of appraising the effect of any proposed project on the environment before it is launched.


2. The new Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, is far better in approach than the earlier laws. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, were weak and merely regulatory in character.

3. There is a section on hazardous industries and environmental disasters. Thus, hazardous industrial pollution is also covered. A hazardous substance is defined as “any substance or preparation which, by reason of its chemical or physic-chemical properties or handling, is liable to cause harm to human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms, property or the environment.”

4. There are stringent measures to check hazardous pollution. Section 8 of the Act states clearly: No person shall handle or cause to be handled any hazardous substance except in accordance with such procedure and after complying with such safeguards as may be prescribed.

Section 6(f) empowers the Central Government to make rules for ‘the procedures and safeguards for the prevention of accidents which may cause environmental pollution and for providing remedial measures for such accidents.’


Moreover, it is now mandatory for a person responsible for the discharge of any hazardous substance in excess of the prescribed norms to immediately inform the concerned authorities and to render all possible assistance. Earlier there was no such responsibility.

5. Vigilant citizens can initiate proceedings against an establishment that is polluting the water supply or otherwise ruining the environment. The penalties for defaulters have been made more stringent.

The Water Act provided for a maximum imprisonment of six years and/or a fine up to a total of Rs. 5000; in the Air Act the limits were a maximum imprisonment up to three months and/or fine up to a total of Rs. 5000.

The new Act provides for imprisonment of defaulters for upto a total of seven years and/or a fine which may extend upto Rs. 1 lakh.


6. However, there are some flaws even in the new Act. One, all power and authority are vested in the hands of the Central Government.

7. Stress on Ecological Balance addressing the first meeting of the National Land Use and Wastelands Development Council on February 6, 1986, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi called for a nationwide “people movement” to protect the country’s ecological balance. He suggested a time-bound land reclamation and afforestation programme. The approach to this problem could not be departmentalized or compartmentalized but had to “respond to the differing needs of every section.”

8. Strategy needed having experienced the ill effects of industrial development; it is high time a long-term strategy for environmental protection is evolved.

In this respect, the Parthasarathy Commission has strongly pleaded for a Regional Development Strategy and a National Urban Development Policy with a view to contain metropolitan chaos, for developing secondary cities and to ensure development of existing small and medium towns as well as establishing new ones, as part of a regional strategy generating employment and promoting decentralised urbanisation.

In addition, a clear industrial location policy will ensure setting up of specific large industries at specific locations with a predetermined time­frame. It will ensure not only systematic industrial growth but also facilitate in taking measures for environmental protection economically and in a coherent manner.

9. Apart from increasing the forest wealth, the programme generates additional earnings to the Panchayats, more employment to labour, and it provides cheap fuel to the village poor. In Dhanoli, a village in Valsad district of Gujarat, social forestry has achieved remarkable progress. By adopting the scheme of raising village forests in only four hectares of land a net income of over Rs. 43,000 was generated.

10. All state governments, semi-government bodies and municipalities as well as social organisations have been propagating “grow more trees” campaign. To boost the idea of growing more and more trees, the government has taken up the project of “social forestry” on a large scale. The project aims at planting trees singly or in groups wherever they can be grown.

11. Social forestry not only prevents felling of trees but also tries to distribute the product of the project directly to the people of the area. The scheme also aims at growing more trees and forests on unused land and promotes research in the science of trees and their varieties.

12. Community lands in villages are wasted and used only for grazing village cattle. This unproductive use of land yields the village panchayats hardly Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 5,000. But the same land, if utilised for a cluster of trees for which the Government provides free seedlings, can fetch a much higher income to the panchayats.

The Gujarat Government has decided to give 50 per cent of the net profit realised from the sale of village wood-lot to the Panchayat. Crores of trees are required to strengthen and support agricultural and animal husbandry, to combat pollution and to attract adequate rains and also to stop erosion of fertile soil.

13. The Ganga Plan the Government of India has launched a Rs. 292-crore project to clean up the mighty Ganga, which has been greatly polluted as a result of the inflow of effluents and dirt from various sources.

There are about 100 cities situated along the banks of the river, in the States of U.P., Bihar and Bengal. Nearly 4200 small and medium units are responsible for polluting the holy river. The Ganga Project is the largest and most ambitious of all the environment protection plans launched in the country.

14. The cleaning up work began at Rishikesh and Hardwar in September, 1985. Cleaning the Ganga is also in progress at Varanasi waterfront, which is heavily polluted. A Central Ganga Authority had been constituted under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister.

15. The wanton destruction of natural wealth, including forests, and the indiscriminate setting up of chemical industries endangers the lives of both human beings and animals.

The greed for personal gain, the general decline in values, the knowledge that one can flout the laws with a vengeance and get away with it, or at worst to pay a small fine, have cumulatively rendered ineffective the agencies entrusted with the duty of protecting the environment. There are poachers galore, but it is only rare that legal action is taken against such offenders.

16. In February, 1986 the Supreme Court directed the Union Government to examine the possibility of setting up environment courts. The court judgment in the Shriram Foods and Fertilizer Industries case may well provide a basis for action by the Government to safeguard the environment in areas where potentially hazardous industries are located.

The court has in fact set out a framework for appropriate governmental action. It has also set up a monitoring committee to ensure that the expert body’s recommendations are implemented. Even more significant is the suggestion that measures should be taken to educate the workers and provide early warning systems for the public.

While the increasing awareness and rethinking about the importance of preserving all aspects of the environment, including forests, clean air, and wild life is welcome, there is an urgent need for earnest implementation of declared policies.

So far, the implementation has been poor and, consequently the environment has been deteriorating; forests, in particular, are disappearing at a disconcerting pace.

It is time to recall the farsighted Chanakya’s observation in the 4th century B.C. that “the stability of an empire depends on the stability of its environment.” Strong and committed machinery is needed and it must have sufficient resources.

Ecology also has some effect on poverty. Undeniably, an ecologically and scientifically sound afforestation programme can provide a solution to the problem of India’s poverty, if it is not based on the profit motive alone.

More research is undoubtedly needed to evaluate the costs of monoculture based social forestry. Unless afforestation programmes are linked with the basic needs of the rural poor, they will prove economically counter-productive and ecologically disastrous.

Obviously, the plunder of what Nature has built over billions of years has to be stopped. We need a new life-style with environmental ethics as an integral part of it, not only for this generation but also for the future generations to live and enjoy the freedom of this planet and beyond.

It is important in this regard to reduce the rate of population growth to one per cent from the present 2.2 per cent, as China has done. Industries generating high pollution should be moved out of the perimeters of cities. Environmental education should be made compulsory at every level of learning.

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