ARTICLES : Gandhian view on Environment

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Agenda 21 Section IV and Gandhian Philosophy- A Comparison

By Ashok Bhise

Abstract: The Earth Summit 1992 resulted into five documents
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Forest Principles, Convention on Biological Diversity, Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is a blueprint for sustainable development into the 21st Century. There are 40 chapters of Agenda 21, divided into four main sections. It includes combating poverty, changing consumption pattern promoting health, atmospheric protection, combating deforestation, conservation of biological diversity (biodiversity), and control of pollution, the roles of children, youth, women, NGOs’, local authorities, technology transfer, Promoting Education, Public Awareness & Training etc. Agenda 21 has brought out many issues. It is a vast document. However, due to space restrictions only two chapters from section IV are taken for comparison with Gandhaian philosophy.
It is striking to note that most of the issues forming integral part of Agenda 21 are already brought forth by Mahatma Gandhi a century back when there was absolutely no environmental degradation and pollution. All the problems were anticipated long ago and given probable solution to it. There may be repetition of certain points and quotations at more than one place because of their relevance.
Introduction and History:

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio Summit, or Rio Conference, Earth Summit (Portuguese: Eco '92) was a major United Nations conference held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil from 3 to 14 June 1992.
In the conference 172 governments participated with 108 sending their heads of state or government. There are some 2,400 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attended with 17,000 people at the parallel NGO "Global Forum", who had Consultative Status.
Rio produced two international agreements, two statements of principles and a major action agenda on world wide sustainable development.
The Earth Summit resulted in the following five documents:
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development - It resulted into 27 principles define the rights and responsibilities of nations as they pursue human development and well-being.
Forest Principles A statement of principles to guide the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests, which are essential to economic development and the maintenance of all forms of life.
Convention on Biological Diversity The Convention on Biological Diversity requires that countries adopt ways and means to conserve the variety of living species, and ensure that the benefits from using biological diversity are equitably shared.
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - The aim of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at levels that will not dangerously upset the global climate system. This will require a reduction in our emissions of such gases as carbon dioxide, a by-product of the use of burning fuels for energy.
- It is a blueprint on how to make development socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.
Agenda 21 is a programme run by the United Nations (UN) related to sustainable development. It is a comprehensive blueprint of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the UN, governments, and major groups in every area in which humans directly affect the environment.
Implementation of agenda 21 by member states remains essentially voluntary.
There are 40 chapters in the Agenda 21, divided into four main sections.
Section I: Social and Economic Dimensions
It includes combating poverty, changing consumption patterns, population and demographic dynamics, promoting health, promoting sustainable settlement patterns, integrating environment and development into decision making.
Section II: Conservation and Management of Resources for Development Includes atmospheric protection, combating deforestation, protecting fragile environments, conservation of biological diversity (biodiversity), and control of pollution.
Section III: Strengthening the Role of Major Groups
It includes the roles of children, youth, women, NGOs’, local authorities, business and workers.
Section IV: Means of Implementation
Implementation includes science, technology transfer, education, international institutions and mechanisms and financial mechanisms.
It is striking to note that most of the issues forming integral part of Agenda 21 are already brought forth by Mahatma Gandhi a century back when there was absolutely no pollution. All the problems were envisaged long ago and given probable solution to it. There may be repetition of certain points and quotations at more than one place because of their relevance.
In this article we will concentrate on two chapters that is Chapter 34 and 36 from Section IV of Agenda 21 and compare the same with Gandhian philosophy as follows:
Section IV 1. Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technology, Cooperation & Capacity-Building -Chapter 34 Environmentally sound technologies protect the environment, are less polluting, use all resources in a more sustainable manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle residual wastes in a more acceptable manner than the technologies for which they were substitutes.
Environmentally sound technologies are those which generate low or no waste, for the prevention of pollution. They also cover technologies for treatment of pollution if generated.
Environmentally sound technologies are not just individual technologies, but total systems which include know-how, procedures, goods and services, and equipment as well as organizational and managerial procedures. This implies that when discussing transfer of technologies, the human resource development and local capacity-building aspects of technology choices, including gender-relevant aspects, should also be addressed. Environmentally sound technologies should be compatible with nationally determined socio-economic, cultural and environmental priorities.
There is a need for favourable access to and transfer of environmentally sound technologies, in particular to developing countries, through supportive measures that promote technology cooperation and that should enable transfer of necessary technological know-how as well as building up of economic, technical, and managerial capabilities for the efficient use and further development of transferred technology. Technology cooperation involves joint efforts by enterprises and Governments, both suppliers of technology and its recipients. Therefore, such cooperation entails an iterative process involving government, the private sector, and research and development facilities to ensure the best possible results from transfer of technology. Successful long-term partnerships in technology cooperation necessarily require continuing systematic training and capacity-building at all levels over an extended period of time.
The activities proposed in this chapter aim at improving conditions and processes on information, access to and transfer of technology (including the state-of-the-art technology and related know-how), in particular to developing countries, as well as on capacity-building and cooperative arrangements and partnerships in the field of technology, in order to promote sustainable development. New and efficient technologies will be essential to increase the capabilities, in particular of developing countries, to achieve sustainable development, sustain the world's economy, protect the environment, and alleviate poverty and human suffering. Inherent in these activities is the need to address the improvement of technology currently used and its replacement, when appropriate, with more accessible and more environmentally sound technology.

Gandhian views:

According to Gandhiji the industrialisation and urbanisation have created multiple problems and miseries for the modern man. In the process, we have tried to explain in detail as to how industrialisation, modern civilisation and rapid urbanisation have created chaos, lop-sided development, rapid depletion of natural resources and danger for natural environment.
Gandhi was critical of modern civilisation, rapid industrialisation and galloping urbanisation. In this context, we find the pertinence of Gandhian ideas.
Long before the modern environmentalists, Gandhi correctly realised that rapid industrialisation can not be the panacea to all ills. Increasing industrialisation in today's world has not reduced social inequalities, but has rather resulted in further differentiations. Increasing use of technology has led to greater heterogeneity, greater inequalities and greater un-altruistically oriented behaviour.
Gandhi regarded industrialisation detrimental to growth of a non-violent and eco-friendly society. In his ideal society, as in the classical anarchist model, there would be complete decentralisation of political and economic system and self-sufficient, barter type of village economy would be the desired model.
Machinery has, in his judgement; three-essential attributes. First, it can be duplicated or copied. Secondly, there is no limit to its growth or evolution. Thirdly, it appears to possess a will or genius of its own that operates as the inevitable law of displacement of the labour. Once the machine is created and allowed to operate, it goes more and more out of human control.
Ideally, Gandhi regards all machinery as thoroughly undesirable. Once he commented: "Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it all is not philanthropy to save labour but greed. It is against this constitution of things that I am fighting with all my might”.
His arguments against machinery can broadly be divided into two categories: ethical and economic. The arguments of the first category run as follows:
(i) Labour is a value relative to non-violence and machinery tends to undermine it.
(ii) Machines are repugnant in his thinking to the good life.
(iii) The invention of machinery has led to the growth of the factory system which has reduced the masses of men to the condition of slaves.
(iv) The technological advancement has led to the growth of the monetary exchange system which is characterised by inequality and exploitation.
(v) Machinery has led to the growth of economic competition which undermines the process of cooperation.
The arguments falling in the second category are:
The displacement of human labour is an essential characteristic of a machine and a great argument against it, introductions of machines results in employment of a few and unemployment of many, it saves labour and provides leisure, leisure results in wastage of time, and potential cause of demoralisation.
Machines lead to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
Machinery inevitably leads to mass production and mass production necessarily leads to over production, storage, transportation. Hence Gandhiji used to say that instead of mass production there should be production by masses.
The application of machinery in agriculture may destroy the fertility of the soil and lead to loss of production.
Machines lead to growth of congested, unhygienic cities, speed of travel, etc. which results in the loss of health.
Gandhi felt that the present industrialisation and use of large scale machinery was not very healthy and resulted in serious economic dislocation. Dead machinery must not be pitted against millions of living machines. As Gandhi once commented:
"Mechanisation is good when the hands are too few for the work intended to be accomplished. It is an evil when there are more hands than required for the work, as in India."4
Large scale industrialisation perpetuates war and many other evils and all the naturalness come to an end.
In conclusion, Gandhi rejected the modern industrial-urban concept of development for its anti-democratic, anti-humanitarian, and exploitative features. In its place Gandhi offers the ideal of the economically self-sufficient, politically self-governing and culturally non-violent village republic as the guarantee of genuine democracy, true humanism, civilising non-­violence and lasting peace. Thus Gandhiji was in favour of technology and development of cottage and small scale industries at village level because these industries are localised, energy saver, job intensive and less polluting. According to him cities should as store and forwarding houses and no production in cities to prevent congestion and pollution.

2. Promoting Education, Public Awareness & Training - Chapter 36

Education, raising of public awareness and training are linked to virtually all areas in Agenda 21 This chapter sets out broad proposals, while specific suggestions related to sector-wise issues are contained in other chapters. Programme areas described in the present chapter are:
(a) Reorienting education towards sustainable development;
(b) Increasing public awareness;
(c) Promoting training
Education, including formal education, public awareness and training should be recognized as a process by which human beings and societies can reach their fullest potential. Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues. The basic education provides the underpinning for any environmental and development education, the latter needs to incorporate as an essential part of learning. Both formal and non-formal education is indispensable to changing people's attitudes so that they have the capacity to assess and address their sustainable development concerns. It is also critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development and for effective public participation in decision-making. To be effective, environment and development education should deal with the dynamics of both the physical/biological and socio-economic environment and human (which may include spiritual) development, should be integrated in all disciplines, and should employ formal and non-formal methods and effective means of communication.
Gandhian Views: According to Gandhiji education should include element of morality and ethics to motivate individual to perform his duty better. Gandhiji was of the opinion that hand, head and heart to be simultaneously trained. He also strongly promoted physical education which he would prepare the youth in earning his livelihood by bread labour. He was firm believer that education should be linked with training and production that is vocational and job oriented training. Intellectual training or training of head was to be done through literature and social science. Mind is trained by observations and experience and experiments. Training of mind is necessary because mind weary and keeps on wandering and body also demand more and more and must be trained to curb the wants. Hence poor and rich both are not happy.
The ethical people are better human beings. They are qualitatively very superior like saints. Gandhi’s man is not economical man but ethical man because such man is fit for sustainable society. Self regulated individual could contribute better to a sustainable society because there would be least opportunity to govern. Gandhiji always stood for ‘Minimum State’. Minimum state is only possible when individual is self regulated and self disciplined.
The education that has no relation to actual living conditions is not national education essential for democracy to function in fruitful ways. The education to be proper must help shape lives and answer the wants of people. It is no education if it fails to make farmer’s son a better farmer. Present primary education is of no use in after-life becomes useless. Similarly higher education makes us foreigner in our own county, higher he goes further he moves from the house. Gandhiji says that “by education it means all round drawing out of the best in the child and man.
On this basis Gandhi announced new system of education that is called as Nai Talim. New education branches into three stages. First stage up to the age of eight, children is not taught reading or writing. It consists of manual training under supervision of an educationist Education should appear as a play. Second stage is from nine to sixteen. This is primary education, the basic education covering standard matriculation subjects plus vocational subjects except English. Third stage lasts after nine years after primary education. During this period youngster will have education according to this wishes and circumstances Education should increase all types of subject history, geography, arithmetic, science, languages -vernacular and Hindi, painting , music, handicraft. Education should be self supporting and self confident and courageous.
Ganhiji felt that agriculture taught should be intimately related to rural conditions. College engineering student should be attached to different industries paying for the training of the graduates. Thus the Tatas , textile mills associations under the supervision of the state. Medical colleges should be attached to the citified hospital. Agriculture College should part with extensive agriculture experience. Gandhian philosophy continues to hold relevance and rural institutes inspirited in their establishment by Gandhian philosophy have a special responsibility to establish the intrinsic connection between the classroom the community surrounding it.


Nature has its own self-cleaning system. But it has limitation beyond which it can not work. This system has been adversely affected due to manmade activities which have led to degradation of environment through pollution of air, water and land and exploitation of natural resources.
Around a century ago environment was clean, virgin, pure, uncontaminated and acceptable to all. Now it is unclean, impure, contaminated and unacceptable to living beings. The worldwide environmental problem/degradation is well felt. This is due to following reasons:-

  1. Industrialisation
  2. Urbanisation
  3. Population explosion
  4. Throw away concepts of human beings
  5. Excessive exploitation of Natural Resources

Besides this due to greedy nature of the people there is heavy reduction in Natural Resources (both renewable and non-renewable) that is air, water, minerals fuel- petrol, diesel, kerosene, gases, wood etc. ( some of them are renewed after long period of time) and none of these resources are free of cost. There is famous quoting by Mahatma Gandhi – “we have enough to satisfy all people’s need but not enough to satisfy some people’s greed.” In New Delhi Declaration views similar to above have been expressed “Some for all rather than more for some”.
In rural area generation of energy is at most important to run rural industries and other activities. These industries are energy severer, less wasteful and less damaging to environment and are essential to supplement agricultural growth.
Moreover, increasing global warming (effect of Carbon dioxide), the hole in stratosphere Ozone layer of atmospheric and depletion in biodiversity has threatened the human, animal, plant life and aesthetics of property.
All above problems could be solved by studying, accepting and following Gandhain philosophy and practices. This will also save future generation suffering from psychosomatic diseases (physical and mental) problems.
The environmental problems were envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi a century ago when actually there was no environmental problem and hence Gandhiji was real visionary. According to Gandhian philosophy problem of environmental degradation is in the mind of individual. He should change himself from inside out for which individual must be spiritual and religious. Hence prayer was made part of daily routine in Gandhi ashram. The root cause is human greed, needs and wants. This gives rise to vicious circle that is consumerism-industrialisation-mass production-huge requirement of raw material and fuel-large storage space-heavy transportation and finish product in bulk quantity. The technology and machinery required will displace labour due to automation. This will give rise to another vicious circle that is displacement of labour-unemployment-poverty-environmental degradation. These two vicious circles will have negative effect on environment. Hence concept of swaraj was put forth by Gandhiji that is total liberation, self reliance and self sufficiency. Hence Gandhiji gave slogan for youth “to go back to villages”. He insisted for village and handicraft industries which are less machine dependent, labour intensive, energy saver and protects environment. Hence Khadi industries were promoted.
This gandhian approach of protection of environment and reduction of pollution was holistic socially and economically.

Source: Vikram Sarabhai Foundation, January 2002

Notes and References:
  3. Prabhath S.V.(Ed). (2010), Gandhi Today, Serials Publications, New Delhi.
  4. Gandhi M.K.,Quoted by Mathurs (Ed.), ETMG, pp 476.
  5. Ibid.,pp 249.
  6. Kumar S.B., Environmental Problems and Gandhian Solutions, The only ray of Hope to the present ailing world, Deep & deep Publications (Pvt.) Ltd. New Delhi.
  7. Mahatma Gandhi, Last Phase, Vol. II (1958), P. 65.