The great environment scam

SHARAD YADAV | Updated on August 30, 2013 Published on August 30, 2013

How long will her valley remain green? — Ritu Raj Konwar

A frenetic push to mine natural resources will run up incalculable costs.

The exploitation of natural resources to benefit select industrial houses under the pretext of catering to the socio-economic requirements of the people has become a matter of serious concern. Of course, for the economy to grow we cannot avoid utilising natural resources. The question is: How should we make use of them?

The answer to this simple question is not simple because the issue of utilisation of natural resources is a sensitive matter. Of late, the wrongful allocation of scarce resources such as oil, gas, iron ore and coal by unscrupulous elements has brought the issue into focus. Examples of how public money has been virtually looted include the 2G spectrum scam, the coal gate scam, irregularities in the exploitation of natural gas in the KG basin, and allocation of iron ore mines in Karnataka.

What is alarming is that while states lose huge chunks of revenue due to dubious methods of allocation of natural resources, corporate exploitation of resources to bolster financial prospects ignoresthe consequent ecological imbalance which affectsthe habitat of the regions concerned. But amid all this noise, there is a more fundamental question that has not been asked — what is it really that we are losing?

The loss to national exchequer is the manifestation of only one world view. It is a computation of the loss in rupees incurred by the national treasury because a whole set of people ducked the system. But in fact, the country is losing much more than revenue.According to a Greenpeace India report over 1.1 million hectares of forest are at risk from coal mining in 13 coalfields in central India that the report analysed; 40 others still remain to be evaluated. The estimated loss of Rs1.86 lakh crore is only the notional value of a single resource; it does not include the value of anything. The land is scarred, without concern for economic losses nor legalities.

The TINA factor

The question of electricity and power that the country needs, one would argue, is at the heart of all this. Going by the estimates of the Planning Commission, GDP growth of eight to nine per cent will need between 1,475 and 1,659 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of coal for electricity generation in two decades from now. This is more than twice India’s current coal consumption of approximately 650 mtpa.We are not even talking about the other millions of tonnes of iron ore, bauxite, limestone and uranium.

What we have today is the “there is no alternative” (TINA) chorus. We need the growth, there is no alternative; we need the electricity, there is no alternative; we need the coal, there is no alternative. What we have not realised is that Rs1.86 lakh crore is only a fraction of the cost that we will be forced to pay.

For centuries, vital resources such as land, water and forests have been controlled and used collectively by village communities, ensuring their sustainable use. The first radical change in resource control and the emergence of major conflicts over natural resources induced by non-local factors was associated with colonisation whichsystematically transformed these common vital resources into commodities for generating profits and revenues.

Colonial hangover

When colonisation ended, however, resource use policies continued along colonial lines. Further, today, those affected are the politically weak and socially disorganised whose survival is primarily dependent on products of nature outside the market system. Recent changes in resource utilisation have almost wholly by-passed the survival needs of these groups.

Therefore, when taking a critical look at the exploitation of natural resources in India, we must take note of how the fundamental rights of tribal people are being sidetracked when vast tracks of forest land are being used in name of mineral exploration. We cannot brush aside the fact that many indigenous and tribal peoples live in areas rich in living and non-living resources, including forests that contain abundant biodiversity, water, and minerals. Historically, the desire of non-indigenous society for such resources has resulted in the removal, decimation or extermination of many indigenous communities.

Today, the survival and integrity of the remaining indigenous and tribal peoples requires a recognition of their rights to the resources found on their lands and territories.

One of the prime reasons why Naxalite violence is spreading throughout the tribal belts of the country is that the basic interests of the tribal people are not adequately protected even as the natural resources of the land they inhabit is exploited.

It is legitimate, in principle, for states to formally reserve for themselves the resources of the subsoil and water. This does not imply, however, that indigenous or tribal peoples do not have rights.

New movements

It is in the interest of the integrated, balanced and harmonious development of the economy that all-out efforts be made to identify, respect and protect the rights of tribal peoples; such rights include the right to a safe and healthy environment, the right to prior consultation and, in some cases, informed consent, the right to participation in the benefits of projects, and the right of access to justice and reparation.

Fortunately India is now witnessing the emergence of ecology movements in several regions. In the context of a limited resource base and unlimited development aspirations, ecology movements have initiated a new political struggle for safeguarding the interests and survival of the poor, the marginalised, including women, tribal and poor peasants.

The market-oriented development process can destroy the economy of natural processes by over-exploitation of resources or by the destruction of ecological processes that are not comprehended by economic development. Without clean water, fertile soils, and crop and plant genetic diversity, economic development will become impossible.

Thus in poor and developing countries such as India, ecology movements are not a luxury of the rich; they are a survival imperative for the majority which is not taken care of by the market economy but is, rather, threatened by its expansion.

(The author is a Lok Sabha MP.)

Published on August 30, 2013
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