March 2017 By Rashmi Sehgal In this wonderfully evocative book, Physicist Prof Vikram Soni dwells on every facet of our present environmental crisis. But unlike the doomsday soothsayers, he provides us with solutions to these pressing problems. Naturally – Tread Softly on the Planet by Prof Vikram Soni, Harper Collins, Rs 399, 280 pages It helps that Soni is a physicist who has worked in the area of matter and antimatter. Also, that he has done sterling work to protect Delhi’s threatened green belt, the Aravalli Ridge, and saving the Yamuna floodplains, which remain a crucial source of fresh water. Written in a heartfelt and gentle style, the book begins with his fight to save the Aravalli Ridge and how the policies of government agencies, including the Delhi Development Authority, put the Ridge at risk. The DDA gave permission for the construction of 13 luxury hotels on the Ridge in flagrant violation of the Indian Forest Law. Soni, noted journalist Kuldip Nayyar and other environmentalists joined hands to try and end this decimation. The book emphasises how losing an evolutionary resource like the Ridge does not make economic sense because this 80 sq. km of Ridge forest area provides a recharge potential of 30 per cent of the rainfall. This, in turn, works out to 15 billion litres of mineral water which, even if priced at 5 cents per litre works out to an economic value of $ one billion a year. Soni has also taken the unprecedented step of monetising the floodplain of the river Yamuna which is presently holding around one-and-a-half billion cubic metres of water. If this water is drawn out in a careful manner, it could take care of the needs of three million Delhites. The book rues the human interventions that have wreaked havoc on the planet, pointing out that if we want to work with the planet, we need to understand how it works. While nature works in a non-invasive manner, the author emphasises that the present market-driven ideology that fuels consumption practises is destroying these very life support systems Presently Emeritus Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Soni regrets that `the landscapes, the seas, and even the air we breathed as children are fading into memory.’
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