Ecological Science Awareness in India: Ancient to Present

Dr. Bijay Kumar Sharma, Patna, India

Ancient Indian Civilizati on is one of the oldest civilizations of the World. We get a glimpse of Ancient India through our Vedas and Purans particularly from Shri Mad Bhagwat Puran and Shri Vishnu Puran.
The Purans have mentioned the conflict between Sur and Asur. In more common parlance they are known as Rakshas and Devtas. Devtas symbolize the ci vilized form of society based on agriculture and artisanship whereas Rakshas symbolize the tribal society based on hunting and forestry.
This is the reason why during Samundra Manthan, cattle breeding and domestication, horse breeding and horse riding, are embraced by Rakshas whereas Arawat elephant, fishing and forest related knowledge is accepted by Devtas. What this implies is the following: the two societies, one agriculture based and the other forest based, were perpetually at war with each other. Devtas had more resources but Raksha were more resilient. Devtas society was based on private property and hence on exploitation and based on slave labour. But Rakshas society was based on equality and brotherhood. Therefore the Sur-Asur Sangram had turned into a war of attrition. The elders of the two Societies and Gurus of the two Societies clearly saw the futility of such a war and on their advice an armistice was signed and a joint programme of Samundra Manthan was launched.
What was Samundra Manthan? Samundra Manthan was a programme where the two sides shared their respective knowledge and skills with one another. Forest dewellers had the knowledge of archery, elephants and fishery and they taught them to the Devtas. Devtas had the knowledge of horse riding, dairy and catt le domestication. They gave this knowledge to Asuras. Thus the base of knowledge was expanded. This temporary truce breaks down over the question of sharing the Amrit Kalash. The Amrit Kalash symbolizes the knowledge of Medicines & Health Care. It seems that Devtas had a vast storehouse of knowledge on life sciences and they were reluctant to share them with their Asuras counter part. This leads to the resumption of Sur- Asura Sangram.
(1) India has total land area of 300 million hectares out of which 140 million hectares are arable land. This means rest is forest cover, mountains and deserts. So at least there should have been 40% forest cover but LANSAT imagery shows that we have only 11% and less forest cover.

(2) Quoted from 'The Hindu' Wednesday, October 5, 2005; Special Correspondent: " 50 % forests lost: report"40species of plants and animals extinct .New Delhi: The Final Technical Report of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) has said that India has lost over half of its forest cover, 40% of its mangroves and a significant part of the wetlands in the past couple of centuries. The report " Securing India's Future: The Final Technical Report of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan" released here on Tuesday, was originally supposed to have been an official report of the Union Environment and Forests Ministry. It was made public as a citizen's report since the Ministry had failed to act on it for almost two years. Citing habitat destruction, hunting and over-exploitation as the immediate causes of biodi versity loss, the report said that behind these factors were unsustainable model of ‘development breakdown of traditional management practices and institutions, centralization of decision making powers in the government, serious social and economic inequities, changes in moral and cultural values and lack of recognition of the full value of biodiversity in economic planning. The scenario has been worsened by globalization.
(3) Evidence is growing that countries which abuse nature are getting poorer.
[THE HINDU, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2005] ‘Countries that fell their old forests for quick bucks, that dynamite their reefs for fish, or that contaminate their waterways with farm and factory run-off may seem to be getting richer when in reality they are sliding into poverty because they are plundering their natural capital- a key pillar of medium and long-term wealth.’
(4) There is a huge accumulated surplus in the rural area as reflected in the household saving by World Bank Data. Bihar is topping in whole of India in rural as well as urban house hold saving still there is the largest out flux of migrant laborers from Bihar to other states of India. This clearly shows that because of lack of basic infrastructure


We will not continue with the description of this pre-history. Our purpose is to see the contribution of Ancient In dia, Medieval India and Modern India in the field of ecology and biodiversity.
There is a specific mention of the golden era of KURU. He particularly paid attention to afforestation and irrigation. Next biggest ecological project taken up in Puranic India was the project of Ganga. As is well known that Raja Sagar was a very ambitious king and he led several campaigns of AswahmeghYaga. These Yagas caused heavy destruction of ecology and hence to loss of livelihood and pauperization. They led to personal losses to Raja Sagar also. Probably a large section of his own family was destroyed. The only surviving member of his own royal family was Dilip. He chalked out and initiated a giant project of bringing glaciers melted water to the plains. This project was completed by his son Bhagirath and this is how through conscious dynamic role of the descendents of Raja Sagar, the project of Ganga was completed. This was one of the biggest corrections brought about in Indian Ecology. The Indian Ecology had been badly devasted due to the greed and ambition of some kings in Ancient India.
In Medieval India we find Shershah and Akbar playing crucial roles in correcting the ecological imbalances particularly in the field of afforestation and road building.
In British India also Britishers, though were colonizers, were sticklers of rules and strictly applied their colonialist rules strictly and consistently. Any violation of rule could be taken up in the court of law and an Indian Citizen could go right up to Privy Council and get justice. Any imbalances were immediately corrected. Even Lord Clive the first Director General of East India Company was made to pay through his nose for the wanton destruction he caused to Indian. Under the Trust Act the funds allocated for Charity and Religion were strictly used for that purpose. All the monasteries and their properties were strictly accounted for.

No wonder we had 40% of total land under Forest cover. But let us see the track record of Independent India. such as road and power, there is a huge capital flight from Bihar to other states in general and particularly from the rural area to the urban area within Bihar.
(5) We have 540 Members of Parliament plus in the thirty Indian States and five Union Territories we have 300 members of legislative assembly and legislative council in each state on an average. The MP’s have Rs 2 crores per annum and MLA’s & MLC’s have Rs 1 crore earmarked for their respective Land Area Development. Apart from this we have Jawahar Roz gar Yojna, Indira Awas Yojana and Food for Work program and many new ones are coming up with every new Government. If all these funds were utilized conscientiously and judici ously then there would be no dearth of employment. And also there would not have been lack of fund for Primary Capital Formation. Whatever rural assets, we had, have been wantonly or through sheer neglect destroyed over the years.

(6) Rs. 2000 cores are lying in the banks ear marked for afforestation. They have accumulated through a specific scheme where for every hectare of land deforested due to industrialization a corresponding sum has to be deposited in this afforestation fund and afforestation is to be carried out. In 2002 Supreme Court had observed that this fund remains unutilized or diverted. In 2006 Supreme Court has compelled the state governments to carry out some kind of afforestation programme.

Needless to say ' The focus of all planning and decision-making in India should be to achieve the twin objectives of ecological security and livelihood security, particularly of the most under- privileged sections of society.' Poverty can be banished only when nature enters economic calculations in the same way that buildings, machines and roads do. Where ecological damages have occurred there investments need to be done in ecological restoration.

References: Shri Mad Bhagwat Puran.

About the Author

: Dr. Bijay Kumar Sharma is HOD, Dept of Electronics and Communication, National Institute of Technology, Patna-800005. E-mail:




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