No truck with green

  • 14/05/1996

No truck with green WE HAVE a perspectivebut nopolicieson environmentdeclares Sitarain Yechury, the suave Communist Party of India-Marxist (cpi-m) politburo member. Green causes, till now, have lain low on the election agenda of red partiep. The main thrust of the cpi-m's election manifestoes (1984 and 1989, particularly) has been on economic issues facing the country; environment has yet to figure ds an independent explicit concern in the electoral priorities of the party.

1991: a non-beginning
The issue of environment appeared in cpi-m's election manifesto for the first time in 1991; the document promisedanenvironment policy which isintegrated withthe needsof rapidand sustainable development" anda science and technology policywhich encourages scientists to do Creative work to nurture self reliance as the basis of India's development.

The manifestoas expectedemphasised the economicissues facing the country in farmore detail. It is not verydifficult to discern the reasonsfor the vague reference to environmental issues in the party'sconcerns. After independencethe communists espoused adevelopment model similar tothat of Nehru's socialismemphasising on a self-reliantIndianeconomybrought about throughland reforms and industrialisation under state control.Although the manifesto talkedabout sustainable economicdevelopmentit did notarticulatea perspective that putsindustrial progress in harmonywithenvironmental well-being. ButDipen Ghoshcpi-m statecommittee member from WestBengalexplainsEnvironmental concerns cannot be independent of other economic concerns.

The environmental movement in India has raised the problems of equitable and sustainable use of natural resources and has advocated the rights of local communities to control these resources. The communists' electoral programme with its emphasis on inclustrialisation is still far away from explicating these rights, even in cases (the 1989 and 1991 manifestoes) where they recognise the right of tribal communities to autonomy. Achin Vanak, the leftist intellectual, says,The cpi-mwill have to make a break fromneoclassical socialist thinkingOnly then would it have adevelopment perspective that putsat Centre an ecological economy."

Water management: big is beautiful
We call for a balanced approach to development. we are against unrestrained abuse of environment, but we are not opposed to major development projects per se. We go by the merits of each development project,said Yechury whileadvocating the necessity tobuild the controversial Narmadadam. Implicit in thisexplanation is the cpT-m'spolicy on waterand its management.

The CPI-M's position on Narmada deflectssome basic questions. issues of how the limitedwater resources ire to be distributedused andconservedand what institutional mechanismswould be needed to conserve water locally or tomake water-use more efficientare riot Vet tackled by the party. With a perspective similar tothat on Narmadathe cpi-sl supports the building of fehrianother controversial daminUttar Pradesh.

Going by the party's approach to waterconservationit appears that its rvbpOu.Se to thequestion of meeting irrigational and domesticneeds has been through the conventionalmethod of building more large dams. TheTeesta dam in north Bengal's Darjeeling-lalpaigLldi district is all example; local proteststo stop its construction have failed. Industrial pollution: weak and unwilling
The party maintains a disturbing silence oil theissue of industrial pollution. This is explicatedby its positiongenerallyon cases of industrialpollution in factories/industrieswhere the( ju (Centre for Indian Trade Unionstheparty's trade union wing) is functionalandspecificallyillthe issue of pollution caused tothe Gingii by tanneries and other industrialunits fit Calcutta.

Calcutta's polluting tannery units had comeinio limelight after theywere included in a 198.5writ petition in the Supreme Court (SC). Theeast Calcutta tanneriessome 70 odd municipalitiespower producing units and hundredsof industries bad been brought within theambit of the 'Gauges case'which ordered theshifting of the tanneries and ciosure of polluting industriesBut till datconly a few unitshave been closedwhile none have been shifted.

Political sources say that the government ismuch too eager to reinclustrialise the stane. Theeuphoria generated by the Confederation ofIndian Industry holding its 150th anniversaryin Calcutti carly last yearand the pronounce-merits of foreign collaborators of industry thatCalcilita wiJJ be India's Singaporehas ineantthat the government cannot afford to let industry show a rrAIsigns of depressionUnder the circumstancesit is extrinrely reluctant to take anyaction against erring entrepreneurs.

As a resultindustries in West Bengal havebeen taking the sc orders lightly. cii-lu leaderand national general secretary of CIT11Nl KPandheputs the responsibility of curbing pollution on the Union govei riment "Carl closurebe a solution? Why can't the Union governinem conduct research and develop low costanti-poilution devicest The Court judgementsare impractical and unrealistic. "

Critics of industrial pollution point out thatthe It has not rflJV used its influence toforce managements into taking anti- pollutionproasines. In Karnatakaenvironmentalists areprotesting against the Birla-owned rayon unitat Harmar - Harihar Polyfibres -which isone of the Most Polluting industries in the statereleasing effluents into the Tunpabliacha river.Protests by local people have not moved theci it -led union in the company to extend itssupport to this agitation. V I K Nailthe generalsecretary Of(-.ITL in Karnataka saysif a factory is closed down due to our protests oil environmental grounds, what would the workers do? Unless there isa sufficient safety net created for workers, closing of the units on environmental grounds will not have our support. Most of the times we remain silent even when the company exceeds the prescribed pollution levels.

Aquaculture and wetlands
NGOs estimate that some four lakh ha of paddyland now ties under shrimp culture in the twodistricts of north and south 24 Parganas whichborder Calcutta. The sodden fieldsdemonstrative of the party's apathy towards ecologyareunder brackish waterpollutedwith nutrients.

Interestinglythe ongoingdevastation is the offshoot of apolitical decision related torural land ceiling and development of farmers' cooperatives.The bargadari system - introduced by the party after its1977victory - had givenfarmers who were once merelysharecropperslandholdingrights on lands held by biglandlords which exceeded theceiling limits.

This gave rise to a categoryof new kulakswho grew vestedinterests and resisted the idea of distributingland to all landless peasants equitably. To woothe massesin a dismal economic scenariowhere land was becoming increasingly scarcethe state rural land ceiling act was amended in1982to include waterbodies. Tank holdingsabove a certain limit were turned over to fisherfolks' cooperativeswhich the party set upmainly in the two 24 Parganas (home to thelargest Dumber of waterbodies). Goberia (in thenorth 24 Parganas) is a case in point. Goberia'stank was declared 'vest' land (government-owned) in 1985and hence free for setting up acooperative. The same ynran 80mob ran over the property; its power flowedfrom the barrel of the state's gun.

Most of the paddy areas in the 24 Parganaswere brought under shrimp cultivation after1990This has endangered the fragile ecosystem of the Sunderbans. The state pollutioncontrol boarddespite its anxietiescan do precious little as aquaculture practices have stvongpolitically linked mafia support.

The case of the Calcutta wetlands (30ha)merits a mention hiere (Down To EarthVol 4No 11). Under siege from real estate developersthe threat to' the wet-lands has a political component. With the rotting of thefisherfolks' cooperativesthereal estate math developedvested interest in the wetlands.After 1990the governmentallowed Development Consultants Limited (DCL)owned bySadhan Duttaa friend andfinancial advisor of Jyoti Basuto develop a permanent WorldTrade Centre on over 250 ha inthe wetlands. Other protectswere also sanctioned.

NGOs allege covert cpi-msupport to the activities ofdevelopers: "Overnightland records arechanged and the wetlands are declared agricultural land or wastelands." This makes it possible for developers to buy land legallywhichcannot be done in the case of wetlands.Following widespread proteststhe castCalcutta wetlands have been declared wetlandsof national importancebut menace of thebuilders still looms large.

Forests: banking on JFM
With no established policy on forestsmost ofcpi-m's adherents point to West Bengal's jointforest management (IFM) programme as aninnovative measure towards increasing theforest cover with the involvement of localcommunities. Arabariin West Bengalwas thefirst village to set up a forest protection committee in 1972.

Todaythere are more than 1800registered forest protection committees in thestate. Around 1250villagescovering1520ha of forest landare involved inthe JFM programmes. But these programmes have brought out the dilemmasand problems of institutionalising strategies and plans within the forest department's structure.

Todaythe forest department isinstrumental in deciding on a variety ofissues like choice of trees and harvestingplans. The widespread official implementation has brought with it more rigid standardisation of procedures and rules.

Power: economics is the key
In keeping with its development modelthecpi-m has been encouraging increase in powersupplyand has generally lent its Support topower projects. The main emphasisthe partypoints outis on formulating a power policywhereby private investors can be inducted inthe state's overall expansion plan withoutunclue burdening of the consumer. Jyoti BasuWest Bengal's mercurial chief ministerhasbeen busy wooing foreign direct investmentfor his stateand his government recently "Many partystruck a bargain with the i is giant csis Energy are conservativeCorp for investments worth $500 million togenerate power.

Closer to Calcuttathe government has but the importantallowed the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation to put up a 500 Niw thermal Power plant thing is thatin Pujali village near Budge Budge. The plantthinking"set up on fertile agricultural landis in contravention to environmental guidelines and thedemocratic rights of the local people. The power policy of the state governmentthusfocuses on theeconomics of power projects arid has nothing to say about theecological effects.

Kerala: different equations
The cpi-m cadre in Kerala ire singing different tunes on certain issueseven in opposition to the official voice.Particularlyindividuals in the party associated with the ssp (KeralaShastra Sahitya Parishad) have struck a dissenting note on sciencetechnology and environment.

The question of environment had not figured in the cpi-Nistate party agenda till the '80s. Govind Pillaia senior partyspoloesperson and assembly membersaysIn the 1960s-70s, our priority was to make Kerala self-sufficient. We wanted to make more dams for h ydro -electricity and irrigation- We wanted development schemes and did not think or were aware of their negative consequences to our environment.

The Ksspformed in 1962brought teachersstudentsworkers arid peasants together and became the leading massmovement for carrying sciencetechnology and environmental issues to the people. Although it is air independent movementits large Jullowing comes from cpi-mcadre and some of its general secretaries haveeven been pair 'y office hearers. The nuclearpower project It'l rikkaripursupported by allpolitical parties - including the - hadto be shelved due to opposition from the localunit of the partywhich was involved in theagitation launched b 'Y the K@sp. Such friddentsindicate that the cpt-isi in Kerala does not havemonolithic viewpoints on environmentalissues.

CPI-M-KSSP activists maintain that theycontinue to offer a critical debate within theparty. Most of thesedissenting members havehoweverfaced threats of expulsionfrom the party because of their anti-cpi-m stance onenvironmental issues.

Critics of the pirtyassci t that the leadership does not exude environmental consciousness. Thee recount in incident in which aPRAFUL BOWN snake park in Kerala was ransacked by partynicirdicri in 1992following the expulsion ofcpi-%l leader N1 V Raghavanwho was the president of theboard governing the park.

Some cpi %i-Kssp activists feel that the party is becomingmore sensitive on environmental issues. Govind Pidai advocates a reorgarnsation of the whole pattern of life. He saysKerala is the biggest consumer of items like cernent arid toothpaste. The question is, should we have so much consumption? A new way of living is our need. Going after more power and electricity is a mirage.Critics of thepartyhoweverfeel that such alternative thinking is marginalin the cpi-@xi. Noted journalist Praftil Bidwai commentsPolicies of the ci@i-m on environment have undergone a subtle but significant change in the last few years. Many party leaders are conservative on environment issues, but the important thing is that they are thinking. It is not the present position but the direction in which they are moving which is interesting.

Reported by Max Martin and Sujit Chakraborty from Calcutta(West Bengal)and Supriya Akerkar from Thiruvananthapuram(Kerala) and Delhi

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