Clear concepts, unclear courses

  • 14/05/1996

Clear concepts, unclear courses THE National Front (NF)the opposition alliance (between the JanataDal (it)) and some regional parties)led by V P Singhcame to power atthe Centre in 1989. The JD'S environmental concernsone of themost 'politically correct' of ourtimesprojects village-friendlygreen image for the party.

1989: era of no consensus
The party's 1989 manifesto said: "With the majority ofcountrypeople still being poorthe degradation of environment is leading to the degradation of the resource basewith which alone the basic needs of people can be met. Tostop this degradation and the consequent forced ruralexodusthe NF Will make the regeneration of the nation'sresources a priority area of state policy." The manifesto'senvironmental concerns ranged from watershed managementuse of non-conventional energy and pollution controlto equitable use of natural resources with stress on villagecommunities.

The ID-NF government that came to powerin 1989 triedto implement some of its electionpromisesbut the overall impact was minimal.The then minister of state for environmentand forests Maneka Gandhi's attempts inher initial days in office to review someprojects like Narmada and Tehri dams drewfire from other ministriesleading to theinduction of Nilamony Routray at thecabinet level in the ministry to keep acheck on her. Routray soon developeddifferences with Maneka ("Maneka canlook after the Delhi zooand I will tookafterthe environment"). Internal wranglesthusled to the failure of the stepspromisedby the manifesto.

The manifesto also promised a science andtechnology policy to bring in self-relianceand import substitution by developing indigenous technology. It advocated a researchpolicy which would cater to the needs ofsmall and marginal dryland farmers ancpromised promotion of organic agriculturaltechniques.

In November 1990the V P Singh government had to stepdown. For the environmental movements against TehriNarmada or Baliapal1990had been a lost year; the promisesof the party had come to nothing. In factTehri dam got conditional clearance during Routray's tenure. In the case ofBaliapal missile testing range in OrissaV P Singh's statementin Parliament thar there tvas neither a proposal for scrappingnor shifting of theproje6t from the proposed sitecaused considerable embarassment to Orissa's ni chief ministerBijuPatnaik; three important party leaders - Biju PatnaikSurendra Kundu and Nilamony Routray - had made theirpolitical careers by opposing the project.

Other controversial decisions taken during the party'stenure included clearing of a thermal power plant at Dahanuin Thane districtMaharashtraand an unsuccessful attemptto bring in a notification relaxing no Jrstruction zones forbeach resorts and hotels from 500 metres (in) to 200 in. Whilethe Dahanu project was cleared despite its threat to theregion's plantationsRoutray's controvesial notification waslater approved by Maneka Gandhi (then in the succeedinggo vernment of Chandrashekhar) with minor modifications;Maneka had opposed Routray on the issue earlier.

1991: politics of double-speak
The 1991 election manifesto of the partyputting a greateremphasis on people and the environmentonceagain stressed community rights of tribalsover forest resources. According to the documentthe party committed itself to the following:
Review and amend relevant laws to guarantee the customary rights of rural communites over landwater and forest resources

Tribals to be removed from their habitatonly in cases of compelling public interestand not without their consent

When and if such displacement becameunavoidablefull compensationadequaterehabilitation and alternative employmentto be guaranteed

Affected communities to be fully involvedin preparation and implementation ofrehabilitation plans

But these promises stand shattered in thelight of several callous grassroot actions.The to government's moves in Biharforinstancehave sparked off widespread environmental protestsespecially in the southerntribal belt of the state.

The manifesto also tried to link environmental concernswith economic realities: "In order to realise the massivepotential of employment generationhouse constructionroad buildingbuilding of canalsminor irrigation worksdevelopment of catchment areaswatershed developmentafforestation and integrated area development shall be givenspecial emphasis." The document asserted thatsolartidal andwind energy and biogas-based power systems should be thefoundation for agro-based industrial development. YetJD-ruled state governments are encouraging conventional thermal and mega hydel power projects at tremendous environmental costs.

Undoubtedlythe ju electoral package represents anenvironmentalist's dream. But its promises have remained onpaper. Apologists of the Singh government say that a small butpositive step was taken by it in the area of"forest managment':the government introduced the first central notification onjoint forest management (nm) in June 1990which recognisedlimited rights of communities over forest produce in returnfor protecting them. But at the same timethe party alsoearned the dubious distinction of clearfelling - in July'1990alone - 111166ha of forestswhich is nearlyihe equivalentof forests cut in the entire past decade.

Alsoduring its rulethere were too many ministries working at cross purposescontributing to a lack of holistic visionor goal that the government could strive for. HoweverleadersOf JD-NF claim that given another chance at the Centrethealliance can fulfil most of its electoral pledgesSays partyleader Surendra MohanWe were moving in the direction of fulfiling our electoral promises. The wia notification is a test of this... but we had to climb down from power within 11 months.Actions of the current ID state leadershipshoweverbelie this claim.

Agriculture: a lack of vision
An attempt towards a holistic polity an agriculture was madeby the party in 3 989 with the formation of the statutory advisery committee (sAc) on agriculture. Introducing a rationalpricing policythe sAc also argued for diversion of one-third ofland currently cultivated to grasslands or forestssustainablefarming methods and a move to replace chemical fertiliserswith their natural counterparts. The recommendations on thepricing policy generated heatbut there was no real debate onsustainable farming or landfertiliser and water use patterns.

The ID-ruled states today are following ad hoc policiesintroducing isolated programmes rather than looking atvarious interrelated dimensions of agriculture. In KarnatakaIn secretary general Nargowda suggested that rational use offertilisers and pesticides was a must for farming. Alsotheparty has amended the Karnataka Land Reforms Act1974restoring the leasing of land for aquaculture in Dakshina andUttara Kannada districts. Chief minister Deve Gowda hasdeclared aquaculture as equal to agriculturegiving one stateand four private prawn farms eligibility for benefits endowedto agriculturists.

Industry: the red carpet phenomenon
Party leader and former minister Sharad Yadav says that "thenew economic policy (introduced by the Congress) will be thebiggest issue" in the coming polls. Notwithstanding the JD'Scriticism of fiberalisationthe states ruled by it (Bihar andKarnataka) are wooing multinationals for the party's newtrump card of largescale industrialisation.

In Karnatakathe districts of HassanBelgaumMangaloreand Mysore are the focus of this 'development'. Thousands ofhectares of government wastelands / drylandsforests and irrigated agricultural private lands are being made available toprivate investors. "I see no relation between liberalisation andenvironmentDeve Gowda categorically told Down To Earth. Industries and refineries in other states have been releasingtheir effluents into the sea. But neither the growth of fish inthese areas nor its consumption has been affected."

But the Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd hasoccasioned protests from fisherfolk over effluent dischargesArecent environmental clearance given to a dye-making factoryat Tipagondanhallinear a reservoir supplying water toBangalorehad to be revoked due to protests. A deal made byDeve Gowda with the Lloyds Finance Ltd for clearing thousands of hectares of land around Bangalore for constructionpurposes has also drawn strident protests.

Some sceptics do not dismiss the possibility of kickbacksin the current liberalisation drive. Vinay Beindur of SaveanNGO working on vehicular pollutionsaysThe n) has to raise funds for the forthcoming elections. Quick clearances to mega projects is the easiest way to do so.

Bihar's chief minister Laloo Yadav is on asimilar spree. His recent efforts to wooinvestors during his highly publicised foreignjaunts have led to the signing of various mernorandums of understanding. in leaders inBihar are confident that these ventures will notlead to industrial pollution. Says RamanPrasad YadavMember of ParliamentBihar is the least polluted state in the country. Even with liberalisation, the JI) plans to keep the environment clean... We want multinationals to help us in the areas of power, food processing, mines and minerals in an environment-friendly manner. We will first make an assessment of the environmental impact of these schemes before allowing them.

Contrary to these assertionscurrent statistics paint a sad picture. Over 30 industrial andsix sugar units in the Barauni-Bela industrial beltand 100industrial plants in Dhanbad district have been identified ashazardous. The discharge from the thermal plants of BokaroPatratu and Chandrapura have been polluting the Damodarriver for long now. But the Bihar State Pollution ControlBoard chairpersonRamesh Chandra Sinha exudes optimism:While the Supreme Court has ordered the closure of as many as 186 industrial units in West Bengal and about 200 in Uttar Pradesh, only two were ordered to close in Bihar. These have been reopened now after the setting up of effluent treatment plants.He also says that a special task force has been set up toconduct surprise checks on industrial units.

Power: mega targets
Desparatc for power'the JD-ruled states have been invitingrncg@ projects with gay abandon. Besides CogentrixtheKarnataka ID leadership displays a dismissive stance withregard to the Kaiga nuclear power project in Uttara Kannadaas well. In early 1994large chunks of concrete from the Kaigadome fell offleading I@ fresh agitations against the project.Chief minister Deve Gowda countersIs there no risk involved in that mean that we stop flying? We need to take steps@to ensure that such risks are minimised._fayet another move echoing disregard for popular protestthe Karnataka government is considering revival of the controversial 210 mw Bedthi hydet power project. It is estimatedthat around 665ha of landincluding 4216ha of forestswillbe submerged by the project.

In Bihara national seminar on developmentheld inOctober 1995recommended smaller power generationschemesa network of mini hydel projects for rural areas of thesouth Bihar plateau and restoration of the three units of theBarauni thermal plant. Rarijan Prasad Yadav points out thathis government is willing to act according to these recommendationsThe state JD is interested it) swift completion of threemini hydel projects: Netaybatlower Ghaghri and Sadni. But atthe same timechief minister Laloo Yadav has been personallypushing for completion of bigger projects like Koel-Karo.

Water management aquaculture and wetlands
In the field of water resource managementJD manifestoessuggest contradictory strategies. They arguefor micro-level actions like harvesting rainwaterrestoring riverwater flow andgroundwaterdischargerationalising water usedevelopingwatersheds and sub-basins and ensuringriparian rights of downstream people throughminor and medium irrigation projectsButalongside this approachthe manifestoesadvocate a need to form a national grid tooptimise utilisation of water resources - asuggestion requiring tremendous amounts ofsocial engineering and mega projectswhichwould achieve opposite to the earlier declaredpriority on micro-level strategies.

With respect to aquaculturewhile thenational leadership of the party is posturingaggressively against foreign collaborations andlarge businesses in the sectorthe state leaderships have often gone'soft' on ventures of bigcorporate houses against the well-being oflocal fisherfolk. Illustrative of this is the role played by the BijuPatnaik government in Orissa in campaigning for Tata's Its20Chilika Aquatic Farms Ltd project in the Cbilika lake.The controversial project was negotiated initially in 1988 bythe then Congress chief minister I B Patnaik; at that timeitwas strongly opposed by Biju Patnaik.

In Karnatakathe once abundant lakes and tanks are facingextinctionwith the builders' lobby moving in with active political supportin Bangaloremore than 100tanks have been converted into posh residentialcomplexes (Down To EarthVol 4No 11). Therecent decision of the Deve Gowda governmentto convert 47 acres (18 ha approx) of theKoramangala tank into a games complexhas drawn protests. A petition against it hasbeen filed in the Karnataka High Court by sixenvironmental organisations.

Cutting across party linespoliticiansagree that submersion of tanks is the singlemost important reason for the dwindlinggroundwater levels in the state. But this rhetorical agreement has not induced them to take upthe issue seriously. One reason for the inactionis the prime estate value of many of these tanksand the politician-builder nexus.

Decentralisation: plain rhetoric
JD's 'power to the people' promise hasembroiled it in politicking. The debateinsteadof discussing enpowerment of localshas concentrated olLCentre-state power distribution.

The JD iovernment of 1989 advocatedtransfef. of resources to local communitiesBut intbe absence of grassroot institutionsthe promised "democratic decentralisation"remained at best a rhetorical exercise.Ironicallymaking use of the ambivalenceover the procedures and forms of devolutionof powersthe ID government in Bihar istrampling the local governance systems in thestate's tribal belts. Sidelining tribal villagepanchayatsa Jharkhand Council has beennominatedwhich lacks adequate representation from tribals.

Karnataka's tryst with despair
Environmentalists in Karnataka allege thatmuch of the ecological problems in the statehave been the jD's handiwork. As early as in1984R K Hegdethe then chief ministerhadsigned an agreement with Karnataka PulpwoodLtd (KPL) for lease of 750ha of forests forgrowing eucalyptus in captive plantations forthe Birla-ovvned Harihar Polyfibres. As afinance minister in 1969Hegde had invited theBirla group to set up the polyfibres factorywhich earned notoriety for throwing its effluents in the Tungabhadra. He had also lobbiedfor the Kaiga nuclear Plantbesides reviving thecontroversial Bedthi project.

The state's Hassan district has witnessed arapid denudation of forests. The 1981 districtgazette states that Hassan bad over 14 per centforest cover; todaythe forest cover is reducedto seven per cent owing to encroachments bycoffee and tea estates. The Kadumane teaestatefor instancehas encroached over70ha of forests. While these largescaleencroachments by industry have recievedlittle retaliation from the administrationpeople's encroachments over forests in Chikmagalur district have come in for harshtreatment.

Amidst this atmosphere of despairenvironmentalists' hopes are pinned on some inch-viduals still committed to the issues of environment. prominent amongst them is B KChandrashekhara )n ex-member of the legislative council. Says ChandrashckharI am unhappy that this government is not listening to people's environmental concerns and is giving in to fast growth of industries. We should develop principles along which lines industries should be allowed to set up. These principles should include consultations with local people and independent experts before setting up industry in any given area. There should also be compulsory public hearings oil any controversial project.

Bihar's agony
With 53 per cent of its population living belowthe poverty line and the lowest per capitaincome in the country (at Rs 294as against the national average of Rs 5583Bihar easily qualifies as India's poorest state.But chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav hopes toencash on the state's vast mineral wealth to lureindustrialists. His plans havehowevercomeinto rough weather. His dream project ofsetting up an industrial park in west Singbhuma joint venture between the Singapore-based K & M Company and the Usha Martin grouphas incurred the wrath of 50tribalswho arefighting displacement.

Elaboi ating on the state's green agendasagriculture minister Rarruivan Singh claimsthat steps have been taken to persuade farmersto use organic fertilisersgreen manurearid compost to increase yields. A decisionhas also been taken to recyde urban waste intofertilisers.

Activists in Bihar claim that the government's measures have remained largely onpaper. In Palamau district2systemand bonded labour still exist amidstrampantdeforestation. P -alarnau's dwindling forestcover and lack of water harvesting structureshas been the region's bane. The only successfulalternative water management system in thedistrict has come about with the efforts of thelocal mjcPani Cbetna Manch. Says Arjunworking with the Chhatra Yuva SanghaTshVaiiiiiiail organisadon ofactivists of the 1970ssocialist movement led by I P NarayanThe awareness of the masses and political parties about environment is dismally low. Such issues never became politically hot here.

Reported by Max Martin from Ranchi and Chitra Gopalakrishnan from Patna (Bihar)and Supriya Akerkar from Bangalore (Karnataka)

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