ByÂ Anshika Srivastava:
The UPA government is on an environment rampage, giving ‘speedy’ clearances to long held projects which spell catastrophe for the environment. With due negligence towards the utter devastating impact it would have on the ecology and undermining rights of people of this land, UPA has gone forth with these projects as a strategy to appear more ‘corporate friendly’, with elections knocking at the door.
There biggest game plan was revealed on 24th December when they appointed M. Veerappa Moily, as the new minister of Environment and Forests, when he was already in charge of Petroleum and Natural Gas. So now, Mr. Moily has two incompatible jobs and we don’t need to guess twice to know he would give precedence to which ministry. He is playing a ‘puppet’ in the hands of the corporates who are scurrying to him for ‘approvals’ which were withheld by the Ministry of Environment and Forests after assessing their damaging outcomes.
The newspaper tabloids report that he has cleared 73 projects, worth Rs 1.8 lakh crore within three weeks since he assumed office. And this could be just the tip of the iceberg with actual figure of projects cleared being under wraps.Â Some of these projects include the controversial and much talked about ‘POSCO’ project for which there was acquisition of 4,000 acres of land. And the ‘Teesta’ project in Sikkim where a thorough examination of the area deemed it to be a highly ecological sensitive with myriad of wildlife which is endangered. The report has exposed the amount of wreckage that the setting up of a power plant will have; nearly 4,000 trees will be felled in the submergence zone and around 3,600 trees cut for the construction of the powerhouse. And what about people whose livelihood depends on these forests and will be displaced by such magnanimous development plans of the government; where would they go? Other projects that have been sanctioned, threaten to annihilate forests in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. With one stroke of his pen, Moily has made India barren, improvised our natural resource base that was for our future generation as well and shunned the tribal people who have more claim to the land than any one of us. The forest department bar the ‘Adivasis’ from accessing the forests and the ‘gram sabhas’ usually consist of non Adivasi people who have contradictory interests to that of the tribals and work in favour of the these corporates.
There has been much outcry among the environmentalists and other social groups about these ‘fast track’ green permits; it’s repercussion on the environment and social impact. These ‘fast track’ clearances are in complete violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), Right to Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR).
But it’s not just the minister to blame, but also the flawed function of the EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee) that rejects or recommends a certain project and the FCA (Forest Advisory Committee) which has made arbitrary approvals, favouring the industries. But considering that the final ‘yes’ lies in the hands of the minister and the lightning speed with which Moily has approved the projects, is an evidence of the fact that not much attention is paid per project and the impact it would have, for which he is harshly condemned by the environmental groups. They also demand for a case by case assessment.
Another issue that I would like to bring to the forefront is fast disappearing ‘common lands’. For those who are unaware of what ‘common lands’ are or have forgotten, common lands or common property resources (CPR) are forestlands, water bodies etc. which are traditionally believed to be owned by the community as a whole and not any particular individual. These commons are now seized and made private properties by political parties and corporates, trampling the community rights. A plethora of studies indicate how it has hampered the existence of nomadic and semi nomadic communities, tribal groups for whom it’s a source of livelihood; pushing them to the brink of extinction.
All this for what? Development, electricity in our homes, giant industries that cater only to just a miniscule section of the society? For a ‘greater common good’ as we would like to call it?
If we have such a preposterous, skewed idea of development for our country then we should be sorry and ashamed of ourselves. This elitist notion of what we call ‘development’ is where the rich and powerful live a life of luxury and others starve because of no alternate livelihood, because the land where they grew their food or have lived for ages was grabbed by the vicious ‘allied powers’ of the state and the corporates. The state to which they entrusted the responsibility to protect their rights has cheated them! There have been numerous protests by the tribal people and forest dwellers here in Delhi at Jantar Mantar and a large number of them across the country. But who will go and tell them that it’s foolish of them to have hope, to expect a change, that the ‘urban population’ is just too busy or insensitive to their needs. That we don’t care about the injustices happening around us, if we have a nice big car and a comfortable home to go to. Yes, it’s sad but a dark reality.
A startling number of 2.43 hectares of forests have been cleared for development projects and around 1.64 lakh hectares for oil and mineral exploration for the period between 2004 -2013. And proposals to clear another 3.3o lakh hectares of forestland are under consideration or just may have been approved. If you do the math they add up to 7.36 hectares of forest land; if this doesn’t alarm you then what would?
Knowing how crucial forests are and the fact that we are lagging behind the necessary forest cover required for every nation, the government has still went forth with such decisions for short term profits, greed and their insatiable hunger for money!
The Environment ministry’s hushed affair to grant approvals to corporate houses exhibits its failure to act as a ‘curator of a valuable resource base’. It’s a failure on the part of the government to ensure protection to its people. Failure of the administration, failure to embrace new ‘sustainable’ methods and failure in ourselves to be mere spectators of brutal ‘slaughter’ of vast hectares of forests, wildlife and worse social injustice perpetrated in the name of ‘development.’