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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
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  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Stewardship and Trusteeship
  By A.J. Philip  

I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Satyagraha. One of the highlights of the visit was the opening of a Gandhi museum in the old Pretoria jail where Gandhi was kept when he defied the discriminatory laws in the country.

Among the exhibits were the personal properties of Gandhi like the office table and typewriter he used and some of the books he read. Kept separately from other books and on the table was the Bible he used to read regularly. His writings bear proof that he was particularly fond of the Sermon on the Mount.

I managed to turn the pages of the Bible quickly. I noticed that it was a well-thumbed book with some verses underlined and notes scribbled in it. Biblical scholars trace the concepts of non-violence, truth and satyagraha that Gandhi espoused all his life to the enormous influence the New Testament had on him when he lived in Britain and South Africa.

One such concept is Trusteeship which, unfortunately, did not find many takers. Neither the Leftists nor the Rightists gave much importance to his theory, which he explained in these words: "Supposing I have come by a fair amount of wealth -- either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and industry -- I must know that all that wealth does not belong to me; what belongs to me is the right to an honourable livelihood, no better than that enjoyed by millions of others. The rest of my wealth belongs to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community."

Nowadays, not even Gandhians mention Trusteeship, which is dismissed as an Utopian concept. Few realize that it has a lot of similarities with the Biblical concept of stewardship. Environmentalists often blame Christianity for the havoc man has caused to nature by way of overconsumption. 

Their accusing finger is pointed at a passage in the Bible where God says, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground". (Genesis 1: 26)

It is a misreading of the passage that leads to such wrong conclusions. In no way does it justify man's greed, which alone is responsible for environmental degradation. As Gandhi said, "nature can satisfy man's need, not greed". In Leviticus 25: 1-5, the concept of stewardship is elaborately explained.

The land, like humans and animals, needs to regain its strength. God, therefore, appointed stewardship of the land to humankind, who also was to enjoy its fruit. God said, "In the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest". Alas, God's people acted upon that command with indifference. They gave the land no pause to recover. The result of that disobedience was bitter, not only for the soil, but for the people as well.

The Israelites were driven from their country. They were dispersed for many years until the land received its needed years of rest. 

If India has achieved self-sufficiency in food production, it is because states like Punjab and Haryana are able to contribute the maximum to the national stock of grains.

The food production has not happened without a cost. The underground water level in these states has been falling drastically. The excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has caused enormous damage to the soil. Yet, no thought is given to giving the soil rest to facilitate its regeneration.

In India, nearly one-third of the foodgrains produced is lost to rodents and in storage and transportation. If this loss is prevented, the availability of foodgrains for human consumption will increase automatically by one-third. It can free that much land from cultivation for a few years.

The recent flash floods in Uttarakhand killed thousands of people and destroyed property worth billions of rupees. Most of the damages occurred because buildings were built on what were river beds and there was a large presence of tourists in the area. Earlier, only the very devout and able-bodied visited temples of Kedarnath and Badrinath.

I grew up hearing stories of the "Great Flood of '99 (Malayalam year)" i.e.,1924. At that time, the land where Kochi airport is now situated was under water. If suppose rains of the kind hit Kerala, the damage the state would suffer would be thousand times more than it suffered in 1924. Can nature be blamed for it?

If we see ourselves as stewards of property, there will be no corruption and there will be no overexploitation of natural resources and we will not do anything that harms the interests of the coming generations. It is a concept as relevant today as it was in the Biblical period. In fact, man's redemption lies in adhering to the concept of stewardship in both thought and deed.
The writer is a senior journalist, member of the Assessment and Monitoring Authority of the Planning Commission and member of St. James Mar Thoma Church, Dwarka, New Delhi

Courtesy: Darshan, a publication of the Delhi Diocese of the Mar Thoma Churc
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