In 1992, Rio Earth Summit proposed 27 guiding principles for sustainable development while debating environmental issues. Many of these principles are well reflected in ancient Indian scriptures like the Rigveda, Atharvaveda etc. Holistic ecological planning and principles of healthy environmental sustainability were imbibed in the day to day life n ancient India. Utmost respect was given to the Mother Earth and her opulent resources. The bounties were enjoyed without harming the earth and returning due care where neeed. The prayers were directed to the deities for maintaining ecological balance. People were ordained to help maintaining cycles of seasons for their own wellbeing.
Meeting Ground: Vedas and RioK N SHARMA At the Rio Earth Summit in June 1992, environmental issues were hotly debated and an attempt was made to arrive at a blueprint for future conservation efforts. A document, known as Agenda 21, was issued, which provided 27 guiding principles for sustainable development. Interestingly, several of the 'Rio principles' for environmental conservation were taught and practised in ancient India. The modern holistic approach for ecological balance is reflected in the most ancient of Indian scriptures, the Vedas. For instance, the first Rio principle enunciates that ''human beings are at the centre of sustainable development in harmony with Nature''. The ancient seers had prayed: ''Maintain us in well-being in summer, winter, dew-time, spring, autumn, and rainy season. Grant us happiness in cattle and children. May we enjoy your unassailed protection''. The Prithivi Sukta of the Atharvaveda especially propounds man's close relationship with Nature. The fourth Rio principle says that ''environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of development''; several Vedic hymns expressly instructed people not to harm the waters, vegetation, and environment ''prithiveem ma himseeh'', ''antariksham ma himseeh'', ''mapo maushadheerhimseeh'' (Yajurveda). A prayer in the Rigveda says: "We offer our reverence to Nature's great bounties, to those who are old, and to the young, may we speak with the force at our command, the glory of all divine powers. May we not overlook any of them". The seventh Rio principle prescribes that the ''earth's eco-system should be conserved, protected and restored''. Along with land, protection of water bodies, as well as flora and fauna has been integral to India's ancient tradition. People were exhorted to conserve the environment, for as is mentioned in the Rigveda: "That is the forest, which is the tree out of which (the gods) have fabricated heaven and earth, ever stationary and undecaying, giving protection to the deities; through numerous days and dawns (men) praise (the gods for this)". The Earth was revered as mother. According to the Atharvaveda, "bhoomih mata putroham prithivyah", like a mother the earth is to be respected and protected. The basics of maintaining ecological balance were well understood. Nature demands: "Dehi me dadami te", you give me, and I give you (Yajurveda). We see the consequences globally now for not following this basic rule. We cannot exploit Nature without
nurturing her in return. Our ancient seers realised that doing so would harm Nature's delicate balance. Several Vedic hymns are prayers for maintaining balance in the functioning of all aspects of Nature, like this Rigvedic hymn: "I invoke the vast and beautiful day and night, heaven and earth, Mitra and Varuna with Aryaman, Indra, the Maruts, the mountains, the waters (of earth), the Adityas, heaven and earth, the waters (of the firmament), the whole host of gods". The twenty-fifth Rio principle talks about how ''peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible''. In ancient India, it was well understood that ecological balance is dependent on actions, good or bad, of individuals and society. The Vedas are great treasures of knowledge. The scientific approach presented by them in viewing various entities of Nature and visualising the process of creation is amazing, given that modern tools of scientific enquiry were not available then. It is unfortunate that we have forgotten the golden principles set out in them and are proceeding towards selfdestruction. (The writer is executive secretary of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage) Times of India, June 5, 2002