Describing the “multiple environmental crises” confronting the country as an alarming situation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday called for a deeper reflection on what this obliged all of us to do.

“The first task is to educate people and the greatest challenge is [one] of arriving at a new equilibrium between man and nature,” he said inaugurating the National Conference of Ministers of Environment and Forests here.

Climate change was threatening the fragile ecosystems and an impending drought was staring the country in the face. Water scarcity was becoming a way of life and pollution “is a growing threat to our health and habitat.”

Reassuring the Ministers that the challenges were not insurmountable, Dr. Singh said there were fundamental choices people had to make about their lifestyles.

“We are conscious of our responsibilities to both the present and future generations and we seek to enhance the ecological sustainability of our development path.”

Dr. Singh sought the cooperation of the States in making the National Action Plan on Climate Change a success.

“I would urge each State government to create their own action plans consistent with the strategies in the National plan.

“We need a broader consultation with the States on the issue.”

For environmental-friendly development, access to new technologies available with developed countries was required, he said.

But “we must also make our own investments.”

Stressing the need to ensure that local communities benefited from conservation, Dr Singh said tribal communities were the environmental foot soldiers who had guarded forests and evolved a sophisticated way of living in harmony with nature over the centuries.

“Their wisdom and their experience should be utilised to preserve our forests. The Tribal Rights Act is an opportunity to guarantee the legitimate rights of forest-dwellers and to bring them in the frontline of the environment movement for regeneration,” he said.

Calling upon the States to set up institutional structures for synergising river conservation efforts at the national and State levels, Dr. Singh suggested that additional resources be mobilised for cleaning through innovative models such as Special Purpose Vehicles.

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