Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Efforts to save environment in vain

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When the UPA central cabinet shuffled this year and the reins of Environment Ministry were transferred from pro-environment Jairam Ramesh to "obsequious with Congress top brass" Jayanthi Natarajan, I was worried that efforts made by the former to stall projects that affected environment on a large scale would get awash in a jiffy. And yes, this newspaper report makes my fears true.

When Coal India Ltd was rated the top company this year, beating the evergreen behemoth - Reliance Industries, there was an article in Times of India newspaper on how this occasion of a PSU rising to the helm in the nation's industrial and energy sector must not be celebrated with gusto. I was aghast when I read how the article endorsed the idea of privatisation in coal mining, issue of licenses to foreign, private players or better say profit gluttons, as a key to real financial success. 

When the government states that there is 7% or 8% growth rate in industrial output, does it actually track this growth against loss of agricultural and forest land? If the loss of forest land, loss of innumerable hills and anti-environmental effects of such mining and industrial activities were to be accounted for, then the rate of growth would be a deep abyss in the negative section. Think of the large scale displacement of people in forest lands, from the hills in which they thrive; think of these landless souls who when denied simple right to live where they want take up arms in revolt against the government and state trained police. They fight their oppression and unleash an unreasonable terror war that causes huge death toll. Can living in social fear - fear of when a train will derail, when a crude bomb will explode, when a contingent of police will be ripped apart by Naxals in ambush, in regions like Chattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal appear insignificant against industrial productivity which comes as plain statistics on paper. The various pie charts and graphs may be illustrative but they hideously cover the true, rapacious secrets of industries and governments, the mercenary attitude that is hurting the aam-aadmi (commoner) deeply.

I am providing some important parts of the newspaper report below so that it may exist even after the link becomes non existent -

Less than two years after splitting coal mining zones into ‘go and no-go’ — a move that has stalled almost every big-ticket coal mining project in India — the government is scrapping the policy.
The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), which had framed the policy guidelines along with the Ministry of Coal, on Tuesday accepted that the categorisation of ‘go and no-go’ did not have any legal sanctity. The move was expected after Jayanti Natarajan was given charge of the MoEF, replacing Jairam Ramesh, whose brainchild the policy was.

“Had this happened in any other country, the government would have been sued left, right and centre for loss in business and opportunity cost, now that there is a mea culpa,” said an analyst who tracks the resources sector with a foreign brokerage. “India has unnecessarily lost two years of crucial productivity gains and also fixed capital formation opportunities.”

An analyst call this decision of  restriction for two years as a mea culpa. Is there only loss of productivity gains, can people not witness a gain if few layers of earth are not dug into and left undisturbed? Not to forget what a mea culpa it was to let illegal mining in Bellary district, Karnataka and we have answers for who pocketed the profits and who bore the ill fate of a barren, quarried territory; changes in local weather and topography, the misfortune of not even having pure drinking water and multiple occupational/health hazards that arose due to large scale illegal mining activities.  

The report quotes - 

According to a source present at the meeting, Natarajan said she was ready to take up projects on a case-to-case basis, and in future no project would be judged on the basis of the policy guidelines drawn by Jairam Ramesh.

The above paragraph clearly shows that all pain staking efforts that imparted a little tight conservationist approach to protection of  environment are all going to be undone. The government does not have time to run the country and seeks help of Supreme Court, CAG and PAC with multiple corruption scams etched all over, so taking time to analyse case by case is a next to impossible. This individual case-by-case basis approach is not to ensure that mining "go-ahead" licenses are actually issued responsibly but only an aid to procure suitable bribes in coherence with the market capital of the company/license seeking party in question. Issues related to environment bequeathed to us can take the back seat for now, loss of profit incurred over two years due to tight policy needs to be compensated for first and speedily, this is what the government - ridden by corruption and scams aims at.

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