"Maurice Strong has made an extraordinary contribution to the generation of environmental consciousness in our time."

Speech by His Excellency, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, President of India, conferring the 1992 Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding on Maurice Strong at New Delhi on 17 November 1994.

Shankar Dayal Sharma
Shankar Dayal Sharma, President of India (1992 - 1997)

It gives me immense pleasure to have presented the 1992 Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding to Mr. Maurice Strong. We honour Jawaharlal Nehru, not only as one of the makers of modern India, but as a world statesman'whose vast knowledge of diverse cultures enabled him to address the real challenges facing humanity. The Nehru Award represents our commitment to the realisation of his vision. In Mr. Maurice Strong, its recipient for 1992, the Jury has rightly selected a person who has sought to bring about international understanding through an awareness of our common heritage.

Panditji was a truly global person. His intellect was unbounded by dogma and his actions equally free from.the constraints, of the moment. A deep conviction of the oneness of our world permeated Panditji's thoughts and endeavours. He saw life on earth as interdependent and the principles guiding our, existence as universal. He repeatedly spoke out against the division of our globe into military and economic blocs, pitted against each other.

He voiced his belief that a world of haves and have-nots can never be at peace with itself. Whether it was the spectre of nuclear danger, the challenge of economic progress, or the quest for democratic pluralism, he emphasised the criticality of common striving.

Pandit Nehru's faith in the triumph of cooperation over conflict was unshakeable. Addressing the United Nations, Pandit Nehru said: "We live in a world of conflict and yet the world goes on, undoubtedly because of the cooperation of nations and individuals. The essential principle about the world is cooperation . . ."

Jawaharlal Nehru was a votary of science and technology for the advancement of humanity. It was not simply a means for material enrichment. It created a scientific temper. It had a moral and ethical context, which guided its application. Panditji was alive to the arrogance which can accompany the growth of knowledge.
Speaking on the subject of 'Science and Humility', he described the scientific spirit as "one of realisation that somebody else may also have a bit of the truth." Today, even as we assess the progress of humankind and its impact on nature, we would do well to reflect on these words.

Recent decades have witnessed a growing consciousness on all those issues which Pandti Nehru strove to put on the global agenda. There is a recognition today that a common approach is necessary to meet the challenges of Peace, Development and Environmental Protection.

We are aware that the threat of warfare, particularly the use of weapons of mass destruction, can undermine development. The existence of degrading poverty in large part of the world isseen as a reflection on all countries, both developing and developed. The inter-dependence of economies is being daily demonstrated. Natural resources too are no longer seen as belonging only to the present. The message ofthe fragility of our existence on this planet is finally beginriing to be heard.

Nehru's concern for environment and universal peace was derived from history. Indeed, it is as old as the settlement of human beings and their impact on nature. In the ancient Vedas, we find a profound understanding of the value of our environment:


"We invoke the Earth upon which foliage and trees are firmly held, unthreatened, the Earth which is equipped with all good things in a stable environment of harmony."

 The wisdom of the ancients was forgotten by a world mesmerised by technology and driven by commerce. In the era of industrialisation, the plundering and wastage of resources began the process of irreversible damage to our earth.

The real price of that progress is being paid by succeeding generations in terms of global warming, ozone depletion, deforestationand the loss of bio-diversity. A world marked by growing disparities has seen' the impoverishment of a bulk of its population for the benefit of a few.

Poverty and pollution feed on each other. This cycle can be broken only if we understand that environment protection is integral to development and progress. Concern for the environment is not a luxury only for the developed. In a world of shrinking resources and greater interdependence,  we cannot attempt to preserve our environment in one half of the globe while neglecting the other. The eradication of poverty is intrinsic and indispensable to this objective.

In her address to the Stockholm Conference in 1972, Indira Gandhi emphasised the importance of development in this context. She saw it as "one of the primary means of improving the environment for living, or providing food, water, sanitation and shelter, of making the deserts green and the mountains habitable." And she stressed that "the higher standard of living must be achieved without alienating the people from their heritage . .. "

From growing awareness of environment degradation is slowly emerging the search for solutions. There are no simple answers. Controls on the exploitation of the natural environment will have to become increasingly stringent. Environment friendly technologies have to be vigorously promoted. At the global level, the principle' of common but differentiated responsibilities must be carried to its logical conclusion.

Developed countries, in particular, must realise that the deterioration of our environment is too serious an issue to be used to achieve narrow objectives. It must not serve as a pretext to ossify the progress of developing nations. It must not become a trade weapon in the hands of the selfish. It must be' ensured that the transfers of technology to the developing nations do not become the transfer of pollution.

Our search for commonalities, so necessary, is not a quest for uniformity. Beings on this planet are as diverse and unique as nature itself. Whether it is a nation, asociety, a group -all living creatures have their individual characteristics. Pandit Nehru was very sensitive to this need for the acceptance of diversities. It would be in keeping with his world viewthat the preservation of diversity be regarded as fundamental to life.

Finding solutions to the complexity of environmental issues has dominated global debate in recent years. It has given rise to the expressive phrase of 'sustainable development.' If development is not sustainable, then it is self-defeating. In our genuine urge to improve the lot of our people, we must not be reckless; nor can we be short-sighted. A great responsibility rests on our politicians and policy makers,  on  parliamentarians and public figures  and  on  all  thinking  people  to  promote  national  and  global commitment  to  sustainable development. 

Mr. Maurice Strong has made an extraordinary contribution to the generation of environmental consciousness in our times. He has tirelessly endeavoured to promote global partnership for sustainable development. As the moving force behind the 1972 Stockholm Conference and the 1992 Rio Summit, he has worked towards the achievement of international understanding onan issue vital to our very existence. He has brought to bear a remarkable degree of commitment, skill 'and diplomacy in pursuit, of these noble objectives.

Jawaharlal Nehru said : "Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is Freedom, so is Prosperity now, and so also is Disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments."

This message of One World encapsulates Mr. Strong's mission in life. May his ceaseless endeavours inspire generations, current and future, to strive for a better tomorrow.