Western Ghats Calling - 9
(Western Ghats have an interesting ecological history of victories and defeats. While grounding of the controversial Silent Valley was an unprecedented victory in the 1988's, its haunting return to the Valley in 2004 signals defeat. With the state doing all round favours to industrial growth, the Western Ghats have become a new play ground for `destruction towards so-called development'. Much to the displeasure of the disempowered communities, the democratically elected government(s) are indeed digging their own graves by pitching people againt the state. The national consultation from Feb 8-10, 2009 in Goa will dwell on such emerging challenges.This is the 9th in the series of despatches leading to the historic event).
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Gandhi versus Gandhi
Mrs Indira Gandhi would have been shocked! The rare precedent she had set by scrapping the controversial Silent Valley hydroelectric project in the 1980's has long been archived. The Ministry of Environment & Forests she had set up, following the historic Stockholm Summit on Human Environment in 1972, has literally been reduced to being a Ministry for Environment Clearances. A leading Business fortnightly has recently remarked: from Nano to SEZ's; from aviation to telecom, India Inc. is a tale of state patronage. Socialist state supports capitalist corporations at the cost of the poor and the environment.
If facts are anything to go by, the ministry is in a haste to clear projects. Ever since EIA notification came into force on September 14, 2006, but for 4 construction projects the remaining have been cleared. The approved projects include: 952 industrial projects, 134 thermal projects, 1 nuclear power project, 1,073 construction projects and 587 non-coal mining projects. Experts argue that in doing so the ministry has not let the recommendations of the Govindrajan Committee go awry. The report had indicted controversy in site selection and peoples' growing opposition as the stumbling blocks to private investments for industrial growth.
As development juggernaut moves full throttle in the Westen Ghats, with Konkan region being its latest play ground, environmental regulations are being side stepped with impunity. Sample this: the JSW Energy Ltd first signed an MoU with Maharashtra Government for a thermal power project in Ratnagiri district and applied for environmental clearance later. Need it be said that in connivance with the powers-that-be, site selection for projects has become a cake walk for the project proponents. Socialist state is clearly in the service of the corporate world!
Public opposition, on the other hand, is being silenced through the convenience of `public hearing', mandatory for such projects. Ironically, the outcome of the public hearings is rarely, if ever, counted in the process of according environmental clearance to controversial projects. Consequently, public concern remains unattended till it takes violent form as was in Nandigram and Singur. The mining cases in Goa are a case in point where despite complete opposition by the gram sabhas, lease for mining is being granted. No wonder, affected people are taking to the streets. Undoubtedly, the State's support to private sector is fuelling peoples' ire.
Neglect of gram sabha's position is a clear reflection of `democracy deficit', a violation of constitutional mandate accorded to the panchayats. Critics argue that democracy has seemingly been restricted to electoral obligation by the citizens and does not necessarily translate into peoples' role in decision-making and governance. With the institutional mechanism of the state playing hands in glove with the private sector, the civil society and the responsible media have a major role to play in creating a greater appreciation of the simmering discontent amongst the masses, in the corridors of power.
In the present scheme of things, growth engine is clearing forest areas like never before. Forests are literally being `silenced' of their pristine riches and endemic wildlife. The threat to the Lion-tailed macaque in the Silent Valley had moved Mrs Indira Gandhi, resulting in her creating history of the sorts, but multiple threats to mute wildlife and poor humans in the Western Ghats is not even being heard by Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Without ecological contribution by flora and fauna, the fight to reverse climate change will remain incomplete. Else, the ghost of climate change will subsume the sparkle of economic growth.
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