Indira Gandhi: The naturalist prime minister

Former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s new book, Indira Gandhi: A Life In Nature, comes at a time of deepening environmental crisis, when we are faced with climate change, air and water pollution, species extinction and deforestation.
And Ramesh, And Ramesh, a member of the same political party, pens the narrative by stitching together Gandhi’s unpublished letters, speeches, articles, notes and memos.
He writes: “The idea is to have a biography which allows Indira Gandhi herself to do much of the talking.” Despite her commitment, environment protection was not an easy task.
The nation was in crisis—the economy was in the doldrums, inflation was in double digits, there was a shortage of foreign exchange, and industrial growth was stagnating.
Long before climate change became a hot topic, Gandhi raised the issue in an address to Parliament in 1975: “Honourable Members are very anxious to have paper mills and industries, and I am for them too….
But we must not denude our mountainside and our countryside of their forests.
This is having an adverse effect on our rainfall and climate.
The same goes for wildlife…the elimination of any species has a bad effect on the general ecological balance and thereby also affects the human species.” If a development project was seen to be harming forest ecosystems, she would voice her concern to chief ministers .
Gandhi is probably best remembered among conservationists for the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and for her leadership of Project Tiger, the premier conservation programme.
Indira Gandhi: A Life In Nature, by Jairam Ramesh, published by Simon & Schuster, 448 pages, Rs799.

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