Tuesday, October 30, 2007

as 'developed' india rejoiced on the sensex hitting 20000 points, as a new india 'emerged' and as the elite middle class 'wakes up' from slumber, one thing remained unchanged.

the destruction and brutalization of our environment and marginalised people continued unabated. as ritwick dutta, the supreme court lawyer puts its strongly "In project after project, the State rides roughshod over the cultural and ecological concerns of the affected communities "

in project after project, in 'development' after 'development', in gdp point increase after increase, the burden of the growth shifts towards the ecology and the marginalized people who bear the brunt of fake policies that propel one tiny section of india at the same time destroying the majority section of india.

i am putting down the article written by ritwick below lest the page is moved. india should bow in shame on the fake 'development' policies being pursued rather than chest beating of sensex at 20k.


Culture Shock

In project after project, the State rides roughshod over the cultural and ecological concerns of the affected communities

Environment Lawyer

Sudeep Chaudhuri

THE PROPOSED Sethusamudram canal has generated debate on a scale that neither Narmada nor the Tehri dam projects ever could. The Supreme Court’s (sc) stay on the execution of a part of the project is more because of Ram Setu’s (officially called the Adam’s Bridge) cultural and religious associations, than its ecological impact. This is welcome: the recognition of cultural values associated with natural features gives hope to those striving to protect India’s natural resources from plunder and overexploitation.

Unfortunately, there are hundreds of Sethusamudram like structures and natural features in India that are being destroyed today. In Sikkim, members the Lepcha community have been on a hunger strike for the last two months against the proposed construction of a number of dams in Dzongu, their sacred land. The special constitutional protection accorded to the region, the sanctity and reverence it has traditionally enjoyed, and the hunger strike by young Sikkimese and Buddhist monks — all have been ignored bythe Sikkim government and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in New Delhi. The MoEF continues to approve dam projects in Dzongu without any comprehensive impact assessment of the projects.

Unfortunately, this depressing story is being repeated across the country. In Orissa, the state owned Orissa Mining Corporation Ltd intends to mine bauxite at the Niyamgiri hills and sell it to Vedanta Alumina Ltd. The projected profits for all involved is handsome and there will be “some” local employment generated. All of which apparently justifies the fact that the Dongaria Kondhs, a “primitive” tribal group numbering only 8,000 people, will have no say on the fate of the Niyamgiri Hills which they regard as sacred.

The Dongaria Kondh consider hilltops as particularly important and refer to them as the “playgrounds of the gods”. Unfortunately for them, the hilltops also have ample reserves of bauxite much in demand by aluminium companies the world over.

Like the Lepchas of Sikkim, the Dongarias have been protesting against the mining project, but they have neither the numbers nor the kind of media attention that those opposing the Sethusamudram project received.

A slew of so called “run of the river” hydel power projects — proposed along almost every Himalayan river — have been approved without adequate assessment of their environmental impact. For instance, rough estimates suggest that nearly 80 percent of the Teesta river in Sikkim will flow through tunnels when the dam projects along it are completed. Alaknanda and Bhagirathi, tributaries of the Ganga, are being dammed at an amazing speed: in just two months, the MoEF has approved three hydel power projects — Kotlibhel 1 A, I B and Stage 2 on theses rivers.

In 1992, India became a signatory to the Rio Declaration. Principle 10 of the declaration requires that each signatory country provide access to information, public participation and access to justice on environmental issues. After a few initial steps forward, India’s record has been dismal compared to other signatory nations.

While there has been significant progress on access to information in other areas of governance, when it comes to the environment, developments have been shocking, to say the least. Local communities in India now have few options of finding out the impact of mega-projects, thanks to the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, which greatly limits access to vital project-related documents. Public hearings, which required the views of the affected communities to be taken into account when planning a project, are no longer mandatory. Projects which can have a huge impact on ecology, like building roads across mountains and forests, or tourism projects, no longer need impact assessments. A notification to restrict construction along rivers, called the River Regulation Zone along the lines of the Coastal Regulation Zone, has been gathering dust for years.

ALTERNATIVE GRIEVANCE redressal mechanisms are practically nonexistent. Even when they are in place, they are non-functional. The National Environmental Tribunal which has the mandate to enforce the “polluter pay principle” and compensate victims of environmental damage is yet to be constituted, even though Parliament passed the Act establishing it in 1995. This is largely due to the lack of interest of successive governments. Mercifully the sc recently quashed attempts by the MoEF not to grant extension to the Central Empowered Committee — a special committee on forests and wildlife, which has taken a strong stand against many ecologically damaging projects.

The absence of such alternative forums, as well as the unilateral, exclusive and myopic vision that typifies environmental decisionmaking at all levels, will lead to more issues like the Sethusamudram coming up before the courts. The outcome could be embarrassing for both state and Central governments.



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