Yes, when Environment meets Democracy
The world and its super power declared triumph after ‘winning’ its war against terror; cricket histories were rewritten; and new, more horrfying scams came to the fore. Despite these sensational, ground breaking events, it was environment news, stereotypically considered niche (read boring) that refused to budge from its prime space in newspapers and television channels. Environment awareness and issues have entered the mainstream domain. What else would explain your familiarity with Jaitapur, Tehrigram, Singur, Nandigram? Here, aren’t these what your daily newspaper headlines have been looking like?
POSCO gets clearance
May 19, Paradip, Orissa: POSCO started acquiring land amid tight security even as 20 activists of the United Action Committee were arrested for blocking the move. On May 2, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had given the final clearance to the project. On May 4, activists alleged that the MoEF had ignored resolutions of two gram sabhas, that of Dhinkia and Govindpur, under the Forest Rights Act, refusing to hand over land. But these were termed invalid. In an open letter to Jairam Ramesh, a representative of the POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity accused him of turning Indian democracy into a farce.
May 13, New Delhi: The controversial pesticide Endosulfan, which activists claim has killed about 5,000 people in Kerala, has been banned by the Supreme Court. The ban on its manufacture, sale and use is valid upto mid-July. Earlier, the Union Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar had refused to ban it, insisting that four separate panels had found no ill-effects. At a convention in Stockholm, India sought and procured a 11-year phasing out period.
May 11, Greater Noida, UP: Drama ensued as Rahul Gandhi was arrested by the UP government along with senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh for sneaking into Bhatta Parsaul village to meet agitating farmers whose land has allegedly been taken away. The Mayawati government has been planning developmental projects and residential projects in the area. On May 13, the Allahabad High Court provided relief to the residents of Sahberi village against land acquisition moves. Singh promised a “farmer-friendly” Land Acquisition Act on the same day.
Yes, we’ve all heard a lot about the Chipko movement of the 1970s. And how can we not mention Narmada Bachao Andolan, India’s most controversial dam project till date? However, the big change in the game today is the fact that it’s not just a handful of activists and lobbyists who are fighting for social-ecological causes. It’s the common man. The transition has been brought about. Here, we bring to you some recent and important environment cases that have made us (and the ones in power) realise how critical environment is for survival.
When the South Korea-based Pohang Steel Co. (POSCO) decided to set up a US $12 billion-plant in Orissa, little did it know that its ambitious project would have to face a long and fierce battle. Though they finally managed to get clearance, the struggle left many in the state and central governments red-faced. Here is what happened:
- June 2005: Orissa government and Posco sign an agreement for setting up a plant
- April 2007: Posco applies for environmental clearance. It is granted the same in July 2007
- June 2007: The Orissa government seeks approval from the MoEF for diversion of 1,253 hectares of forest land to Posco
- December 2009: Final clearance for diversion of forest land is granted
- January 2010: The MoEF tells Orissa that the final approval is subject to the settlement of rights of forest dwellers
- March 2010: The Orissa government says there are no traditional forest dwellers in the area
- April 2010: The ministry forms a committee which finds that there are indeed forest dwellers in the area
- August 2011: The ministry puts project on hold
- January 2011: The ministry gives conditional clearance to the project
- April 2011: Orissa assures that no traditional forest dwellers are dependent on or cultivating land in the project area
- May 2, 2011: Posco gets final nod
- May 4, 2011: POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity labels the approval illegal
Activists allege that more than 70 percent of the people living in the villages (2,000+) had signed resolutions refusing to part with their lands. But these were brushed aside by the MoEF as fraudulent and invalid.
What would you have done if you were Minister Jairam Ramesh?
- Given clearance anyway
- Given clearance while keeping in mind the demands of forest people
- Refused clearance
You sure love your summer vacations at hill stations, don’t you? So what would you say if we told you that a brand new hill station has been planned in Maharashtra – the first to come up since India’s independence. Tempted to visit? Sadly you cannot because its construction has been halted due to alleged environmental damage.
Allegations against Lavasa:
- Though the Lavasa corporation has stone crushing permits, its ‘hill cutting’ and ‘quarrying’ have got the MoEF worried. According to the ministry, Lavasa did not obtain central government’s approval and started construction with only state government permits.
- Hundred families from 18 villages say their land has been acquired by Lavasa illegally. Tribal families claimed that they were cheated by local agents, land records were changed, cheques bounced, and threats were issued.
- It received necessary clearances from Maharashtra government because part owners of the company allegedly had blood ties with a senior minister.
In late 2010, MoEF ordered Lavasa Corporation to halt further construction. However, in January 2011, it admitted that it would reconsider the project on its merits while imposing various terms and conditions to ensure that no further damage is done. These would include a ‘substantial penalty’ for violation of environmental laws.
What should 100 families of 18 villagers who are fighting against the project do now?
- Agitate for complete ban
- Negotiate for better compensation packages
- Give up the fight
We are all witnessing, and more importantly participating in the mobilisation of our society – moving from the ‘Entitlement regime’ to the ‘Right regime’. We are not just concerned with what we ‘can’ get. Now, it’s about we ‘should’ get. This healthy shift in our democratic process has led to an overt linkage of environment to basic needs and wants.
Politics can follow. Shiv Sena, Congress, BJP and Trinamool Congress – all have jumped to the bandwagon, in an attempt to pose as champions of the environmental struggles of the people. This just reasserts the power and the force of such issues.
Now, for a case that is unfolding even as you read. And the Supreme Court, which had cleared POSCO in 2008, has taken a ‘no compromise on environment’ stand viz-a-viz Nirma Limited’s proposed Rs 600-crore Bhavnagar cement plant. What happened?
- December 11, 2008: The MoEF under A Raja gives environment clearance for the project
- November 22, 2010: SC seeks a report from the ministry on whether the plant affects a water body near the plant
- January 11, 2011: The MoEF states that if the conditions included in the clearance were followed, there would be no environment hazard
- March 12: The MoEF issues a showcause notice and a stop-work order
- March 16: The Gujarat High Court refuses to intervene
- March 18: The Supreme Court orders a fresh environment impact assessment and asks the project owners to stop work till an expert panel gives its report to the MoEF
- May 10: MoEF tells SC that the plant has violated environmental norms and should be shifted
If you were an SC judge what would your verdict be?
- Order to shift the plant
- Allow the plant to come up
- Allow the plant with strict restrictions
THE GM BRINJAL
Caution: This may spoil your appetite for your favourite dish, Baigan ka Bharta. Bacillus Thuringiensis Brinjal was at the centre of a major controversy recently with scientists sparring over its alleged ill-effects. Let us find out more:
What is BT Brinjal?
A gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis is inserted into the DNA of the vegetable to produce pesticidal toxins in every cell through an Agro bacterium-mediated vector, along with other genes like promoters, markers etc. It was created by India’s foremost seeds company Mahyco in collaboration with American multinational Monsanto.
- It is believed that the bacteria builds the Brinjal plant’s resistance against lepidopteron insects like the Brinjal Fruit, Shoot Borer and Fruit Borer
- Improves yields and helps the agriculture sector
- Environment activists claim that studies have revealed that it is fatal for lungs and kidneys. GM-fed animals have problems with growth, organ development, immune responsiveness and also diarrhoea, higher water consumption, liver weight decrease
- Developers of GM crops engage in bio-safety testing, creating a conflict of interest
- Indian farmers would have to depend on MNCs for seeds, whose supply will be regulated and be consequently costlier
- BT cotton has led to crop failures and mass suicides of farmers. According to a 2003 study by an Andhra Pradesh-based NGO Deccan Development Society, nearly 2,500 sheep died after grazing in BT cotton fields.
Following protests against the introduction of genetically modified crops, including those by the All India Kisan Sabha, Navadanya and Greenpeace, India stalled the commercial cultivation of BT Brinjal on February 9, 2010. The MoEF cancelled its earlier approval and empowered the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee to take legal action against companies if any seeds were found in the market.
- Would you eat GM food after reading this?
- Would you work on making GM safe?
- Would you campaign for an absolute ban on GM food testing, production and marketing?
Let’s draw up your daily diet chart.
- Do you eat wheat, rice or both?
- You sure like your cup of tea/coffee, right?
- And fruits, do you tend to avoid them? But have you heard the phrase an apple a day, keeps the doctor away?
What will you do if you found out that Endosulfan, a pesticide that has been banned in 80 countries is used, sometimes indiscriminately, on these crops? Don’t despair yet. India has sought a 11-year phasing out period from the Conference of Parties to the Stockholm Convention for this pesticide but will continue to use the chemical on 23 essential crops including paddy/rice, wheat,coffee, tea, jute, apple, mango, cow beans, tomato, potato, chillies, onion etc. But on May 13, The Supreme Court banned its manufacture, sale and use. It has also asked an expert committee to submit a report about its harmful effects. The Centre for Science and Environment had been fighting for the cause for long. Also, due to the relentless efforts of the local civil society organisations in Kerala, the matter was brought to the notice of the national media.
- About 5,000 people in Kasaragod district of Kerala have been detected with chronic diseases, including poisoning, neurological problems, delays in sexual maturity of boys, high levels of estrogen in girls and even cancer
- Endosulfan stays in the environment for lengthy periods of time. It leaves residues in water posing grave risks to fish and tadpoles
- Defenders argue that it is not the pesticide itself but its indiscriminate use that has caused the diseases
- It is also said to be essential for India’s food security
How would you perform your duties as part of the expert committee?
- Visit Kasaragod and talk to the affected people. Then listen to what agro-chemical manufacturers and environmentalists have to say
- Test the pesticide in the laboratory
- Read up on international studies conducted on its effects on land and people
We’ve all witnessed how the system and the law are in the process of handing over environment to us, the people. We have the power to implement our democracy and it is this transition that makes it even more important for us to play our role.
So, are you a convert already?
Got a story to tell?
Are you involved in a local society movement that is crucial but not ‘large scale’ enough to make it to the mainstream media? Do you think we need to know about any people’s movement overtly linked to the environment? Then this is your platform – do send us your story and we will feature it on our
Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to our friends at Gobar Times for taking the time to educate India on it’s environmental issues. I also want to thank Polash for sending me their link.
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Thanks for reading!