Sunday, 15 July 2012

Why is Development always at the cost of Environment and People?

Well, can somebody please tell me how razing down an entire ecosystem (also called the Western Ghats) and building more than 400 industries, mines, SEZs, power plants etc in a narrow strip of land equal to ‘development’?  
Lots of money in a few pockets, yes. But development?  No way.
Why, u may ask. India needs more industries, more jobs, more markets, more money etc etc. Plus we do have to look after the ‘poor’ communities who live in the folds of these Ghats, don’t we?
Let me give you two examples and then I will let you decide.
In the Lote Industrial Area of Khed Block in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, over 377 industries have been set up. Out of these, 177 industries are fully functional and 53 of these are chemical plants which have been using the Dhabol creek to dump its chemical waste in. Till a few decades ago one could find more than 120 varieties of fish from the river systems here but now none exists. According to local fishermen who once used to live a comfortable life, the creek and river system is so polluted that they themselves don’t eat fish caught from anywhere in the region. The pollution has spread to the fields where even the growth of alphanso mangoes has decreased. And these fishermen are traditional fishermen who have no other skills, hence no jobs in these terrible plants as well for compensation. So from a life of abundance, they are now struggling to cope.
                                                          (fishermen at the konkan coast)
Sindhudurg is a tiny strip of land, all of 5207sqkms just before Goa. It’s one of the 18 bio-diversity hotspots of the world and is an elephants’ corridor as well. For me, this place represents a perfect piece of paradise, a unique example of how humans and nature can live harmoniously each benefitting from the other.
Most villages in the region are self sufficient as they get everything from the forest and land itself. Their main sources of livelihood are cashew nut plantation, areca nuts, pepper and coconut. Vegetables, rice, millet, chillies, jackfruits etc is grown here for their own usage. The villagers here joke that apart from tea and sugar, they do not need to buy anything. And no, they do not cut down trees to clear land for farming. Instead, they look for flat land near water bodies or natural streams where they can farm. Cutting down trees is not allowed and each village has a sacred grove or ‘devrai’ where not even a leaf is plucked. Each grove has its own animal god as its reigning deity.
                                                             (a Devrai in Sawantwadi)

                                                                (Areca nut plantation)
The people of the villages have even demarcated areas for grazing of cattle in different seasons, so that a particular area is not overgrazed and gets time to regenerate. Here the forest is not owned by the state government but by the village community themselves. On an average, a village of about 350 members often earn around Rs. 1.25 crores every year. People here are well off, women are educated and all children go to school. Well, can anyone ask for more?
It seems the state government does.
60% of this tiny strip of fertile land with happy people has been notified by the state government as mining zone. There are 49 mining and 19 power projects planned in the region. Around 17 mines are already operational dumping waste in people’s farms and polluting crystal clear rivers, the regions only water source. The funniest part is that these companies (all of which have violated their Environment Impact Assessments) have approached the communities with offers of jobs!!! Why would anyone need a job when you are getting aplenty at your doorstep through nature.  
India has three main watersheds which provide water to the whole of the country. The first of course is the Himalayas, the second is the Satpuda Range in Central India and the third is our very own Western Ghats which provide water throughout the year to states starting from Gujarat to Kerala. The region is thickly forested with so many varieties of unique plants, trees and animal life that it’s virtually mindboggling. Yes, there are way too many people who are not bothered with what happens to these plants and animals. But you destroy this eco-system and the main sufferers will ultimately be us; because you are destroying a whole watershed region of the country.
Yes, mining and other power projects are required for ‘development’. But we as a country do not have enough integrity to distinguish between working for real development or just for money.  Each state government needs to think strategically about the future - of how much to take and how much to preserve.
On second thoughts, that might just never happen.     

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