The government in the national capital is clueless as to where the radioactive Cobalt 60 that surfaced in a scrap dealer’s yard came from. Even as the unfortunate dealer struggles for life in a Delhi hospital, and his equally clueless family worries about how it would foot the ballooning bill of the corporate hospital, others are showing symptoms of radiation.
As of now, everybody seems to be looking for a needle in the haystack. Teams from various government bodies can be seen active in the area that has been barricaded, supposedly to prevent others from getting exposed. Looking at the way they go about their task, with no protective clothing, one almost feels sorry for them. While one would assume that they know what they are doing, prime facie, it seems they are exposing themselves to radiation too.
This leads us to the bigger issue of how we generally handle any waste, be it toxic or radioactive or medical or even the most basic. I wouldn’t be wrong if I say we are the most unhygienic, and insensitive nation in the world, especially in the way we dispose our trash. And it is getting worse.
As we increasingly become slaves to conveniences, we have discarded all our time-tested, environment-friendly practices of the past. And it is not just cities where the rot can be seen. Travel to the most scenic, even remote places of the nation and you’d know what I am saying. Plastic cold drink bottles, tetrapacks, potato-chips packets, polythene bags and ‘gutka’ pouches litter the most unlikely of places.
What is the solution, or is there a solution? For all the pessimism that I exude, I think we really have no option but to do something about it. To begin with, we should educate our masses as to why it is necessary to be careful with the way we discard our waste.
The government spends a lot on issuing ineffective advertisements on the subject. Wouldn’t it be great if it got some professional help in this regard? The online space is full of excellent attempts by individuals and private entities on how to safeguard our environment. And no, I am not referring to save-tree or save-tiger attempts by mobile companies. I am not even referring to celebrities extolling the masses to do something, especially since we often know how shallow all this is. Believe me, most people can see through this ‘tamasha’. The ridiculousness of celebs endorsing Earth Hour to ‘save our beautiful planet’ and then sitting up and watching floodlit cricket, or playing night golf in exclusive courses is something that is not lost on the masses.
Coming back to educating the masses, I strongly feel a direct message to the masses will be more effective, the like that Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ sent. It scared viewers, but made a point, and tellingly. This country has hordes of NGOs involved in such work. The close, person-to-person contact that they can do will be extremely effective too. Once a person begins to realise that sustainable development is the key, and that his kids will suffer if he does not change his ways, he is more likely to pay heed.
But all this will need to be supported by a proactive government. We invariably try to form rules after a mishap and are never prepared for something in advance.
Where is the guarantee that other scrapyards in the country do not have radioactive substance in their bellies? Do we have safeguards to stop their recurrence? If one were to assume that it came from someplace within India, what sort of safeguards are followed by those who are legally using the substance? Are there rules for safe disposal?
Apparently there is no black-and-white procedure for a lot of these things. But even more than rules, the challenge in our context is their implementation, and that is where the government has to show the will and determination.
Provide that, and you will see the results. The state of Sikkim, for example, has banned use of plastic bags. And this ban is not implemented the way Delhi has gone about it. There is nothing half-hearted about it and it shows.
This will and determination needs to percolate down to others too. Ban of plastic is relatively rather much simpler to enforce, but when it comes to radioactive material, their usage, disposal etc, the expertise required is of a different level. And, for that, the government needs to educate, and train itself first and then show the will to implement what it has learnt.
Ultimately, we all (government included) need to realise that we are beyond the critical stage. The delay has already played havoc with our environment. So far, it is an unfortunate scrap dealer in Delhi or thousands who are forced to drink contaminated groundwater who suffer. For most, it is just a story, yet. But it won’t be long before more among us become part of this story.
Here’s hoping that good sense will prevail.