(Article that appeared in the Economic Times, dated February 01, 2010)
With its diverse ecosystems and extremely rich biodiversity, India ranks among the 15 top biodiversity-rich countries of the world. However, with the rise in population, there are relentless pressures on governments and industries to convert forest lands, mangroves, grasslands and other wilderness areas for agriculture, industries, power and irrigation projects, housing and urban development. The quest for uncontrolled and unsustainable development has taken a heavy toll on India's natural treasures. Coming from one of the oldest business families of India, I have realised that any commercial activity has a carbon footprint. While this is inevitable, it is certainly not impossible to reduce its overall impact on the environment by direct or indirect mitigation methods. The burning of fossil fuels to generate energy is one of the major factors contributing to global warming. Although essential, we must also try our best to substitute our energy requirements with other renewable energy options such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal sources which are less polluting. Waste is another by-product of any business venture. Total solid waste generated in India annually is around 50 million tons. It is everyone's moral responsibility to reduce the per capita waste generation substantially by opting for less consumption and using environment-friendly waste disposal options. 'Reduce, reuse and recycle waste' should be an important part of any big or small business venture. In my opinion, large players in the corporate sector can play a crucial role in the restoration of degraded habitats and preservation of natural ecosystems. Nothing can sequester carbon dioxide as well as a protected forest does. Natural ecosystems provide us with valuable services like fresh air, food, water, medicines, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, recreation, ecotourism, etc. Thus, the value of a standing forest is much more than that its one-time use as a raw material for fossil fuel generation or timber. In India, where large tracts of fallow land are left unutilised, it is essential to adopt such areas for restoration and make them available for local biodiversity. Responsible wildlife tourism is a promising industry in India, generating huge foreign exchange. Villagers living around areas like Corbett, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Kaziranga and other tiger reserves of India have benefited from eco-tourism activities. While there is a necessity for developing countries to modernise and improve their economies, we also need to live in harmony with our natural environment. This can only be achieved by exercising creativity, applying knowledge and widespread participation. Every individual should be made aware of her or his duties and responsibilities towards the environment. This is where NGOs such as The Corbett Foundation which I founded, continue to play an important role. The Corbett Foundation was established in 1994 and today it runs programmes to help the rural populace in more than 200 villages around Corbett, Bandhavgarh and Kutch. Conservation can only be achieved by involving the local stakeholders, providing them with employment opportunities and motivating them to lead a sustainable lifestyle with nature.
Dilip D. Khatau
The Corbett Foundation