By Dr. Kanchan Bharati

The relationship between man and nature is one of the most fundamental and most debated issues in the present day. Human beings are part of ecosystems, as well as its manipulators. We are dependent on, as well as responsible for the ecological health of the ecosystems we inhabit. The integrity and functionality of vital natural assets like forests, lakes, rivers, land etc., are increasingly being compromised in current times. Change in environment and ecology is more of a moral challenge. It calls us to examine how we use and share the goods of the earth, what we pass on to future generations, and how we live in harmony with interfaith traditions. With this vision, the Centre for Culture and Development (Vadodara) organized a two-day National Seminar on ‘Ecology, Environment and Religions: Key Issues and Challenges’.

The seminar commenced in a formal way through lighting of the lamp by dignitaries namely Dr. Binny Sareen, Prof. A. M. Shah, Dr. Walter Fernandes and Prof. Lancy Lobo. Post this formal inauguration, Prof. Lobo welcomed the dignitaries and participants and introduced them to the activities of the Centre. He mainly brought forth research based activities carried out by the Centre on socio-political issues like caste, religion, communalism, elections, environment, health, suicide and migration. A round of self-introduction by the participants followed it.

In his introduction to the seminar’s theme Prof. Lobo explored the links between concern for the person and for the earth, between natural ecology and social ecology. He stated that living things constantly interact and adapt themselves to environment, which includes physical, chemical and other natural forces. Since ecology and change in environment has become a widespread concern, it requires better understanding. It is necessary to examine the interrelationship between ecology to the human behavior through the lenses of: (i) physical dimension (ii) social dimension and (iii) religious or spiritual dimension. For him ecology and development are inescapably interrelated. Talking about the ecosystem, socio-cultural ecology and religious traditions, he pointed out that the complexity of use, misuse and conserve of natural resources could be explained by looking at the ways of how various social factors such as societal values, cultural norms and social structure enables or constrains the expectations, experience and behaviors of people within communities in relation to environment. To him a religious/spiritual understanding might have the answer to the question of how, in working for a sustainable global ecosystem one can fulfill the obligations by maintaining a balance among humans and ecology. In his view, sustainable development is the need of the hour, which is the sum of economic growth, ecological balance and social progress. He concluded his address by raising important questions and concerns for protecting and caring of earth for today and future generations. He questioned how may we apply our social teaching, with its emphasis on the life and dignity of the human person, to the challenge of protecting the earth? What can the interfaith experience offer to the environmental movement and what can we learn from it? What steps can we take to devise a sustainable and just economy? How do we secure protection for all God’s creatures, including the poor and the unborn? He was of the opinion that we are destroying resources that future generation of humans’ need, by engaging in actions that contradict what it means to be human. As research scholars, as individuals, and as institutions, we need a change of heart to preserve and protect the planet for our children and for generations yet unborn. A just and sustainable society and world are not an optional ideal, but a moral and practical necessity. We have to stimulate the dialogue between physical and social sciences along with religions to the issue of climate change.

Padma Shri Rajendra Singh delivered the keynote address for the seminar. In his address, Dr. Singh remarked that unless the Indian community is involved in conversation of the conservation of nature, any concern for environment is not much valuable. According to him, religious bodies hold power and can play a significant positive role in the discussion of environmentalism, but in the present time religious power has become corrupt and has little say in the issue of environment conservation. He believed that local communities are full of knowledge and when we start understanding them they would teach us a lot of things about nature. The traditional knowledge and practices of every area have imbibed a thorough understanding of ecological balances and technologies to harness natural resources in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner, however such practices have never been documented. Highlighting his intervention on the water harvesting system in Jaipur, Singh pointed out the used methods to achieve the mission of water management such as usage of local resources and technology, community based and community driven operation, conservation, and disciplined use of natural resources and so on. In his address, he also stated that the solution of global problems like drought, flood, and climate change lies more in the local practices. By linking our brain and heart with the earth one can look at solutions of protecting it from various ecological disasters. On the role of the judiciary’s concern towards environment, he pointed out that the Indian judiciary gives good judgements but never thinks of its better execution. He cautioned that in case we have a third world war then there are chances that it would surround the issue of water. On the topic of environment conservation and Indian consciousness he is of the opinion that due to the prevalent use of modern physical luxuries the world humanity is on the verge of a dual crisis. It is turning out to be lifeless, soulless, crippled with dependence on conveniences on the one hand while on the other there is enslavement to market, which diminishes the value of humanity itself. Hence, society at present is facing two daunting challenges of rekindling man’s capacity for industry and to safeguard our fragile environment. He also talked about the notion of environment and conservation in communities of different periods from the history of the Indus valley and ancient history of the Vedic age to the age of scriptural historical period by interlinking parts of myths, history and philosophy of our tradition towards the ecology and environment. He concluded his presentation by stating that at regular intervals of history societies grew more complex and less intimate with nature, but it was divine intervention that prevented a certain apocalypse. Today we are standing on the verge of another great catalysm due to the exploitation of our natural surrounding for material wealth, but it is unlikely that God will intervene this time to rescue people who have forgotten God and discarded their traditions completely. It is therefore needed to rediscover our age old tradition as a panacea for this evil environmental disaster.

In her guest of honour address, ‘Spirituality - Balancing Energy for Ecology’ Dr. Binny Sareen stated spirituality as a balancing energy for ecology. For her the topic of the seminar was important and the need of the hour. Spiritual ecology according to her refers to intersection between religion, spirituality and environment. She emphasized how spirituality plays an important role in controlling not only the outside world but also the inner nature. Many things related to damaged things outside is interlinked to one’s internal thought process. Spirituality, thus has an important power that connects oneself to his/her outer world. Any negative thought inside equally affects the outside environment negatively. In her view when there is peace within ourselves, one can find peace outside as well. She further emphasized how spirituality is the foundation of all religions because it has a connecting link to the peace, which all religions propagate among their followers. Her address also mentioned experiences of Brahmakumaris in their headquarters (Mount Abu) and elsewhere of how spirituality and meditation i.e. yogic farming on plants resulted in the effective ecology management and improved seed germination and productivity. For her science of spirituality has three energies namely- self-understanding, self- realization and self-empowerment. She concluded her address with the thought that we are responsible for creating the environment in which we live. A better outside environment is possible if we begin changing our inside nature by controlling and channelizing our inner thoughts positively.

Session I

The first session of the seminar chaired by Prof. A. M. Shah focused on the theme of ‘Ecology and Biodiversity-Human Environment Relationship’ with three presentations.

Dr. Lancelot D’Cruz in his paper ‘Value Addition to Traditional Knowledge for Sustainable Livelihoods and Biodiversity Conservation’ shared the ways of bringing change at practical or ground level. He made a point that traditional tribal communities are rich of biodiversity, steeped in traditional ethno-medicinal wisdom as they live in forests and interact with them in a much better and closer way. However, ironically they are also the people who live in poverty. Providing us his work initiatives with Vasava bhil tribals of Dediapada forests in South Gujarat, his paper talked about how the tribal farmers had changed their life socially and economically by understanding and conserving their rich biodiversity. Based on botanical study in the area, Adivasi farmers were motivated to cultivate species of ethno-medicinal significance through the process of network of practicing tribal medicine men, training/workshops on good agricultural practices, creation of nurseries, self-help groups cultivating medicinal plants in individual lands and soil and water conservation methods. The paper also documented the collaborative NGO’s venture of Aadi Aushadi (AA),  which empowered Bhil Vasavas in terms of social skills (through group building), financial skills (through thrift and credit), Resource management skills (through soil/water conservation/organic farming), innovation skills (through diversifying products) and Market engagement skills (through networking and sale). The main achievement of this venture according to him is that of its contribution to the conservation of biodiversity, ensuring economic gains as well as safeguarding the ethno-medicinal and folk wisdom of the Vasavas.  In his opinion, the venture has emerged from a solid academic foundation, into a sustainable agro enterprise based on sustainable livelihood promotion practices.

In her paper on ‘Biodiversity and Conservation: Role of Communities’ Dr. Deepa Gavali underlined the importance of biodiversity like maintaining of balanced nature, source of food and medicine, economic resources, clear air and drinking water and preserving living organisms from becoming extinct. In her understanding, conservation of biodiversity is not just about preserving enigmatic species or disappearing important plant species, rather it encompasses the entire living diversity. Based on her engagement in various projects and interaction with different stakeholders such as farmers, cattle rearers, fisher men and farm workers her paper discussed that some of the important species with medicinal properties as well as of nutritional value (for human and cattle) have gone extinct locally, which stakeholders wish to recover and preserve. She also pointed to some of the traditional ways of storing farm products and harvest techniques, which in recent time is diminishing. According to her, local communities residing in close vicinity to nature play a vital role when it comes to conservation of the species. However, the mechanization of agriculture and urbanization has brought out a distance between nature and the present day communities. Today’s generation is unaware of many names of plants and their uses, which their fore fathers had used, in day-to-day life. As a suggestion, she proposed that agricultural hedges as fencing be returned as it had both economic and ecological benefits. It not only conserves biodiversity, but also helps in other ways like farm protection, bio-control of crop pests, balancing of food web, carbon sequestration, monetary gains and sustenance.

Dr. Arun Mahato’s paper ‘Cultural Dimension of Indigenous People of Jharkhand on Conservation of Biodiversity’ focused on how indigenous communities of Chotanagpur in Jharkhand are living with nature and contributing towards preserving biodiversity through their culture. These communities long-term association with the surrounding environment gets celebrated in terms of various festivals around the year some of which relates to conserving of the ecosystem and some with the conserving of plant species, or agricultural activities. Besides festivals, their cultural elements of totemic and taboo system as well as marriage ceremonies also imply their closeness to nature and their efforts to preserve it. In his view, such cultural practices of the community help in the sustenance of local biodiversity as they are linked to the forest, flora and fauna of the area. He concludes with the argument that many of the local biodiversity are under threat. Habitat is endangered due to industrialization, mining, urbanization, spread of agriculture and introduction of invasion species. Cultural destruction is occurring due to introduction of new culture & religion, westernization, new administrative setups, forest laws and migration. In his opinion, moving of the ecological world to the economic world is the path of destruction.

The second session chaired by Dr. Binny Sareen on the first day had six presentations that focused on the ‘Social Dimension of Ecology: Society-Environment Relationship’.

Amit Mitra, in his paper titled ‘Changing Ecology, Religion, and Markets in Eastern India: From Sacred Groves to Hindutva’, explored the role of markets in linking ecology to religion. His paper mainly pondered upon the key question of what are the implications of emerging religious fundamentalism (Hindutva) and neo-liberal markets on the human-nature relationships and environmental sustainability? The paper highlighted the sacred groves as an epitome of cultures of sharing and caring in the context of Koraput, Odisha. Sacred groves, consisting of a multi-species, multi-tier primary forest or a cluster of trees, represent a concern for the overall welfare of the community as well as the indigenous method of attaining ecological sustainability and an ultimate relationship of human beings with nature. It was pointed out that the changing market relations and the emergence of religious fundamentalism affected sacred groves conservation negatively along with the decline in reciprocity and sharing relations of the community. Commercial plantation of eucalyptus in the sacred groves lowered the biomass productivity, loss of dietary diversity, threatened water sources downstream, loss of pastures and decline in cattle. It also inculcated the emergence of vegetarianism as a value and worshiping of new gods. To him the worst effect was of new forms of gender inequality where women are being relegated to traditional roles along with mutual roles being replaced by dominance. All these changes according to him imply the process of day-to-day hindutva conversation. This process of commoditisation of food, labour and land delinks the human and non-human parts of the ecosystem as nature is sought to be controlled and exploited, thus threatening its sustainability.

Dr. Shashikant Kumar in his paper on the ‘Regional Dimension of Urbanisation and Climatic Vulnerability in Gujarat’ addressed the regional urbanization viz-a-viz features of physical and environmental conditions. According to him urbanization and environmental sustainability is interlinked where the impacts of urbanization and regional development can be analyzed using spatial analysis. It argued for looking at the character of urbanization emerging from climate change. Talking about urban sustainability issues in Gujarat the paper noted that the large urban centres like Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot have caused environmental problems in their immediate hinterlands, such as reduction and contamination of water, air pollution, poor sanitation and generation of enormous quantity of the solid and liquid wastes. The industrial towns such as Ankleshwar (Bharuch), Vapi (Valsad), Nandesri (Vadodara), Morbi (Rajkot) etc., have posed serious challenges for the environmental managers in the State to mitigate various types of pollutants. Moreover, the neighbouring rural hinterlands of these areas are also suffering from both natural and human environmental degradation. Talking about vulnerability of regions and cities, he stated that nearly half of the State regions are prone to natural disasters like cyclone, earthquake, drought and changing sea water levels. He suggested that policy makers and planners must understand   regional issues in order to mitigate the impacts. Any efforts to expand the cities or planning critical infrastructure requires it to be from the standpoint of sustainable future.

In his paper on ‘Is that why "Development" Is So Disastrous ...?’, Rohit Prajapati, made a point that one cannot make interventions at the individual level while one thinks of protecting environment. By giving personal experiences of fought cases related to development projects with environment issues, he mentions that such battles are to be fought at the ideological level rather than at the individual level. In his opinion the fight should happen with the minds of individuals with the help of people engaged in different disciplines like sociology, economics, political science and so on. The battle should not be against ‘projects’ but should be against the ‘development model’. The ecological crisis, as an outcome of the present development model's impact on human societies and nature has reached a point where all life forms are threatened. We need to redefine ‘development’ to be more holistic, comprehensive, and inclusive. Development that is more eco-centric and less human-centric.

The Paper by Ramnath K.R on ‘Engendering Environment: Mapping the Ecological Discourse and Women’ chronicled various debates on environment, women and development in ecological discourse. According to him Women’s  involvement  in  leading  mass  movements towards  protecting  environment  has attracted  the  attention  of scholars  around  the globe and placed women at the core  of  the  environment-development  debate  almost  for  the  past  two  decades. He discussed diverse school of thoughts such as the ‘eco-feminism’, ‘feminist environmentalism’, ‘feminist political ecology’ etc., to analyze the interconnections between development, ecological degradation and women. Such viewpoints have enabled us to ponder upon such important questions as : How  ecological  degradation  is  connected  to  the  very concept  of  ‘development’. How the ecological degradation affects women differently and how it is gendered? Does the quality of life of women have any relation to the quality of the environment in which they survive? He concludes by stating that different people from different social locations will perceive the idea of development and environment differently thus making social locations most important.,/p>

Jothi Xavier provided various initiatives in environmental education in his paper on ‘Environmental Education for Action’. In his opinion three C’s important in environmental education include - curiosity, creativity and compassion. According to him environmental Education (EE) aims at getting the participants informed, inspired and involved in environmental protection. It also develops qualities like an awareness and knowledge of environment, and skills to solve environmental problems, interrelationship between environment and human beings, development of social values and attitudes harmonious with environmental quality and so on. While talking about the initiative of ‘Leaders in Environmental Action Force (LEAF)’, he discussed the experiences of creative involvement in environmental education among the students, youth, women and teachers in Gujarat. To him this initiative of environmental education try to bridge the gap between theory and praxis, show the importance of ‘awareness to action’, and explore creative trajectories that environmental education offers. The inter-disciplinary approach coupled with innovative pedagogy is the strength of the program that mainly captures the imagination of the young minds thus encouraging inventing and investing more possibilities in the sphere of environmental education. He believes that LEAF has the potential to branch out into trees, which will help protect and preserve our common home that is our Mother Earth.

The Paper by Dr. Dhananjay Kumar titled ‘Status of Environment in Gujarat’, dealt with environment, the evolutionary perspective of human intervention and the status of environment in Gujarat. It was stated that environment is everything that is around us and can be classified as natural environment, built environment and social Environment. He mentioned that anthropogenic ecological study shows that humans have made a great impact on their environment during the long evolutional period. A crucial outcome of such behavior has been the dramatic reshaping of the global biosphere. Evolution saw three decisive revolutions in human history: Cognitive i.e. food gathering, hunting and fishing, nomadic and pastoralist, Agricultural i.e. Settled agriculturists, domestication of flora and fauna and Industrial i.e. urbanization leading to exploitation of natural resources. The paper also discussed the human impacts on environment - like degradation of forests and agriculture, resource depletion, public health issues, loss of biodiversity and loss of resilience in ecosystems. His presentation also provided details of land, water and air situation in Gujarat. Almost all the districts of the state have witnessed industrial development in varying degrees that has been possible because of exploitation of natural resources, such as minerals, oil and gas, marine resources, agriculture and animal wealth. To him despite all laudable declarations by various governments and international organizations, the present path of growth is a zero-sum game, which benefits those who are in the upper echelon at the cost of a large population in the name of public purpose. Greed inherent in capitalist growth dominates the present day value system. He concluded his paper by raising the important question that economic development achieved by not considering environmental concerns actually hampers sustainability in the long run. Hence, the links between environment and development is a mandate to be understood in order to make choices for development that could be economically efficient, socially equitable and responsible as well as environmentally sound.

Session II

Prof. Biswaroop Das chaired the first session of the second day, which focused upon the theme of ‘Ecological Sustainable Development: Case Studies’. It had two presentations.

Dr. Jayesh Bhatt, in his paper, ‘Reviewing the Ecological Sustainability of Banni Grassland of Kutch’, remarked about the primary causes of the terrestrial ecosystem loss like habitat alteration, invasive species, pollution, population growth and over exploitation. The Paper highlighted the Banni Grassland of Kutch, which was the only, remaining singe natural vast stretch of grassland in the Indian sub-continent that is both socio-culturally unique and ecologically valuable. It has luxuriant growth of grasses and perennial shrubs, numerous wetlands that form important habitat for migratory and resident water birds and during monsoon low-lying areas acting as seasonal wetlands. However, as a major management intervention to stop the advancement of the Rann and checking desertification along the northern fringes of Banni, planting of an alien species became a threat to the native floral and faunal species of the grassland. The changed dynamics of the Banni grassland also affected the major source of livelihood and wellbeing of the Banni people like increased migration and occupational changes. Uncontrolled anthropogenic activities also played negatively in that they transformed the vulnerability of grassland to desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss. He concluded the presentation with the argument that it is important to protect the grassland for ensuring vital ecosystem services and for our sustainable future. To him the concept of sustainable development should aim at maintaining economic advancement and progress while protecting the long-term value of the environment.

Lakum Mahesh’s paper on ‘Environmental Predicaments from Sabaltern Lens: A Study of Sanand’ suggested that an organic relationship exists between environment, knowledge and society which are cohered around intrinsic values. Therefore, the relationship between nature and society is harmonious. We treat natural resources as capital items and as equal partners, concerned with conservation, and limit the relentless persuasion of its usage. According to him, environment degradation can be understood within the context of society. When the organic balance between environment, knowledge and society is disrupted by certain kind of modern materialistic thinking, it not only creates ecological imbalance but also raises a whole range of problems starting from pollution, land degradation, climate change, extinction of species, dislocation of marginalized population, loss of livelihood, health burden and so on. He also made a point that there is a massive research on environmental degradation linking with chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which merely dealt with conserving biodiversity rather than digging into the most critical aspect i.e. caste inequality and marginality. He thus made an effort to link the socio-economic and political matrix of Gujarat with the environmental predicament faced by the subaltern communities of Sanand area, which is surrounded by huge chemical and pharmaceutical industries since the last two decades. Some of the important issues as a result of these industries   include – air pollution, land degradation, contamination of water, health issues, loss of farm productivity, impact on cattle  and fodder, harm to  biodiversity etc. In his opinion considering the necessity of drugs in improving human condition on one side and environmental and security challenges ingrained with the very issue of equality/inequality and justice/injustice on the other side makes the discussion relevant in our present time. It concluded with the argument that the pharmaceutical and chemical industries not only raised different types of problems to the village communities, but also intricately weaved into power inequality of caste and class related to the issue of job security, health security and security of agriculture.

The second session of the day on ‘Religious and Spiritual Dimension on Ecology: Religion-Environment Relationship’ had three presentations and was chaired by Dr. Walter Fernandes.

Dr. Joseph Mattam presented his views on ecology by summarizing the document of Laudato Si by Pope Francis in the paper ‘Understanding Christian Perspective to Ecology through Laudato Si’. It was noted that our earth is crying because of the harm we have inflicted on her because of use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. As a concern, Pope Francis voiced his expression in Laudato Si in the form of a dialogue with the people to protect and prevent ecology and environment. The dialogue has drawn our attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems. It is asked to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing. We need to move away from what we want to what God’s world needs. Briefly reflecting on various chapters of the document, the paper brought out certain aspects related to ecological problems/crisis and need for solutions. Earth is facing a crisis of loss of biodiversity, climate change, depletion of natural resource, disappearance of certain species forever and so on. Ecology needs to study the conditions needed for the life and survival of society as living beings are part of a network. Since everything is inter connected we also need to look at an integral ecology. The understanding could be enhanced if science and religion with their distinctive approaches enter into a fruitful dialogue. By using every area of knowledge, including religion one can face the ecological problem in a much better way. It was cited that due to the consumerist culture we live in we might fall victim to buying and spending. The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability, leading to collective selfishness. The economic powers continue to defend their practice looking for only financial gain without concern for nature hence implying the close link between environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation. The paper suggests that ecology needs to study the conditions needed for the life and survival of society. An interdependent world makes us aware of the negative effects of certain life styles; we need to propose solutions to them from a global perspective. It proposes that for ecological conservation many things need to change which should begin with change in humans.

Maulana Mufti Ahmed Devlavi presented some aspects of the Islamic perspective on environmental ethics in the light of Quranic verses and Islamic narrations in his paper titled ‘Ecology, Environment and Religion: An Islamic Perspective’. It is revealed that there exists more than 750 verses in the Quran that are related to nature while fourteen chapters are named after natural environments. In Islamic culture water is highly regarded and seen as the origin and source of life along with symbolizing knowledge and faith whereas earth is introduced as ‘a mother’, an origin for the creation of human beings. Similarly, Islam highly recommends planting trees and urges people to protect them as planting tree is considered an act of worship while it considers animals also having numerous rights to life, home and medicines. His paper also proposed the governing rules in Islamic environmental ethics that views environment not only being limited to the physical or material world, but also shows its link to mental and psychological benefits. Man should not only use natural resources in responsible ways but should also behave towards them as a guardian by feeling responsible for their maintenance and improvement of their condition. The paper also highlighted some virtues like cleanliness, moderation/balance, thankfulness and vices like extravagance, vandalism, corruption related to the human treatment of the environment. In conclusion, his paper stated that in today’s world the environmental crisis started when modern man stopped understanding nature as a sacred sign and valuable trust from God. So the best way to protect environment from destruction and improve its condition is to revive forgotten understanding by referring back to the teachings and instructions of divine religions. Quranic tradition proposes environment as sacred with an intrinsic value. Human beings must look after, protect, improve and develop natural resources and environment.

The Paper by Sanjay Rattan, titled ‘The Religion–Conservation Paradigm: Lessons for Practitioners in the Indian Context’, highlighted the faith-ecology paradigm of protecting environment. While linking religious groups to conservation his paper argued that religious bodies have the influence and ability to shift one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change. Moreover, the threatened species/habitats occur disproportionately in countries where religion is a dominant in the culture. To him as the world’s faiths control a significant proportion of the world’s assets, their involvement has huge potential for educating new generation about the environmental conservation and its sustainable development. The paper also underlined the initiatives of Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), which mainly works with conservation partners on reducing the negative environmental impact of religious pilgrimages in protected forest areas in various Indian states. The ARC’s plan of action involves main campaign aspects, linking of stakeholder for green pilgrimage, conservation-religion based awareness and education; proper sanitation arrangements and cleanliness levels, monitoring and evaluation progress etc. In the paper the author also brought out some of the constraints like lack of documentation of knowledge, no multidisciplinary skill sets (biodiversity monitoring-evaluation, waste and sanitation management, liaison and conflict resolution etc.,), lack of long term obligation by participating institutions to develop the religion-ecology paradigm. When concluding, it was suggested that there is a need to have a respect for religious-socio-cultural traditions while achieving their conservation goals. Conservation and socio religious organizations need to incorporate the ecology-religion paradigm with longer time period because if a project ends prematurely the whole process breaks down and a negative impact of this paradigm might occur.

In the last session of the second day, Dr. Jayesh Shah gave his concluding address. In his presentation ‘Ecology, Environment and Religious: Key Issues and Challenges’, he mentioned  that there is a tension in the environmental world between those who wish to tell us that the end is almost here and those who want to encourage us to plant trees for the future. For more than thirty years, the world’s major institutions, scientists, governments and the largest NGO’s have compiled and analyzed details of how we are abusing the planet and yet the crisis is with us. There is an increase in global warming, destruction to many core species of the seas and forests and the desertification of land. He is of opinion that environmental crisis is a crisis of the mind and likewise appropriate development is ultimately an appropriate development of the mind. To him religions need to collaborate with the environmental and development movements in order to make this world a better place for all life or creation. In his address, he also talked about the importance of religious diversity and different worldview as crucial to the development of life on earth. Without diversity, we would not have the intellectual and practical means to tackle problems that we cause through our own beliefs and systems. The paper also argued about the importance for acknowledging the human face behind the race of conservation of ecology and environment. The source of livelihood and better infrastructure and educational facilities with their own resources can help in the empowerment of the missing human face in the conservation movement with the help of religions. He concluded the address with the opinion that we need to learn about a variety of faith traditions and explore ecology and environment from various spiritual dimensions. It is so because each of the faith traditions has something unique to offer to humanity and to earth and each tradition represents one face of the whole picture. Focus should be on the role each of the faith traditions play at the ground level based on the sayings of their scriptures or traditions for the conservation and preservation of environment and ecology.

Besides presentation of the papers, the interaction and participation by the invited members in the discussions during various session for both the days raised substantial questions, comments and issues that require sincere reflection. Some of them are:

  1. To understand the relationship between environment and culture one has to be clear about our society and culture.
  2. Need to see environment as an ecosystem with the human being at the center.
  3. Need of awareness and transmission of various efforts on ecological biodiversity and conservation of public space.
  4. Need to preserve rich material on ecological biodiversity. They should be translated in local languages and must be published.
  5. There is a need for taking drastic steps, as a policy, with regards to environmental pollution control.
  6. In the environment and women discourse, number of women’s participation is not crucial but women’s perspective is more important.
  7. Documenting intersections of common cultural practices of tribals and non-tribals related to love and care towards environment.
  8. Every religion has universal human values connected to nature. It would be useful to stress this element in the Environment education programme.
  9. What happens to the successful initiative of biodiversity conservation, when external sources are withdrawn? Do they diminish, collapse or continue with their good work?
  10. Is there any chance of conflict among tribal communities with respect to nature due to internal cultural differences?
  11. Why are ecological hedges being replaced by wire fencing?
  12. Is there any link between losing of traditional knowledge to that of lack of will to revive and protect?
  13. How do farmers, in the context of climatic changes, use traditional and modern techniques of storage?
  14. Is it possible to revive culture in order to protect our nature or environment?
  15. In a religio-environment paradigm how would religion look at non-believers of faith and those who want to protect environment?
  16. How do we transfer religious teachings to practitioners?
  17. How religions and their followers place emphasis on external or internal cleanliness?
  18. How about religious conservation practitioners extending their work to urban set ups?
  19. Why despite the river being a ritual site in Indian consciousness, people are polluting it?
  20. How do scientific and religious knowhow and philosophies interact?
  21. How do various religions view positioning of human and nature in the ecosystem?
  22. Do we have to see human and nature as binary to each other or as one in the environment discussion?
  23. While looking at urbanization one also needs to look at the important issue of social ecology of urban space.
  24. What is a smart city all about if people are going to live in a polluted environment?
  25. When one brings in markets into environment/ecology discussion then there is no question of conserving environment/ecology/biodiversity since it’s all about commerce.
  26. How are the market, greed and state linked to each other and merge into a political-economy power?
  27. How do we identify those who cause problems and those who contribute towards environment change and preservation?
  28. How can one take local knowledge of environment preservation/conservation and make it beneficial for all?
  29. Do government policies play any obstructive role in bringing back traditional ecological practices or help add to knowledge with beneficial value?

In sum, the seminar was an intensive academic attempt to understand ecology and environment. By bringing people together to talk about ecology and environment, this effort has initiated a dialogue about the roles of interdisciplinary approaches and religious faiths for the conservation and preservation of ecology for today and the future. It has drawn our attention to the hope of achieving a goal where development and environmental commitment work together to protect and enhance quality of life on this planet. It is understood that different faiths coming together to protect earth will take time but stimulating dialogue between them and different disciplines is a need and welcome effort to the issue of the environmental crisis in the world.