Indira Gandhi may have been criticised for her policies during her tenure as Prime Minister and called authoritative but what people hardly knows is that she was very much an environmentalist and naturalist, said senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on the life of India’s iron lady. The former Union Environment Minister was speaking at an event organised at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of South Asia to promote his recent book “Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature” published by Simon & Schuster India, (Price Rs 799, pp 448). The book, which is released to mark the centenary year of Indira Gandhi, is an unconventional environmental biography. “The environmental Indira Gandhi was entirely different. Very few are aware of her inclination towards environment. She became a politician not by choice but by force of circumstances. She was born in a political family and grew up within the influence of politics,” Ramesh observed.
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He pointed out that Gandhi’s initial days at Santiniketan took her closer to nature. It was also her education in Switzerland and her stay with her mother in the hills that helped shape her inclination towards nature. While talking about the relevance of his book in the present scenario, Ramesh said Indira Gandhi was the main brain behind the implementation of four laws that govern environment regulation in India — the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974, the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981.
“Not just that, the state Pollution Control Boards, the Central Pollution Control Board, the Ministry of Environment were all created by her. She was also India’s first Minister of Environment from 1980-1984,” he said. Ramesh cited an example on how in the 1970s, Indira Gandhi was the only leader in the world to make environment a global and political issue. “In 1972, when the UN had its first Conference on Environment in Stockholm, Indira Gandhi was the only Prime Minister in the world to attend it apart from the Swedish PM,” he pointed out.
The Congress leader also added that Indira Gandhi was always worried about climate change, deforestation, coastal erosion, loss of bio-diversity and was an ecological pioneer in terms of raising these issues both in India and abroad. “She was the first and last Prime Minister to give importance to nature protection. It was not a private passion but fascination that became a public calling in which she tried to persuade, cajole and educate her colleagues at a time when environment was not a fashionable issue,” he observed.