Agriculture: no relation to ecology
In India, the issue of food security has always
been intimately involved with that of ecological
degradation. In 1he late '60s and early'70s, the
green revolution was introduced to increase
food productivity, along with an emphasis on
large dams, new seed varieties,' chemical
Fertilisers and pesticides. It led to an extremely
uneven picture in the distribution of agriculrural output and prosperity; states like Orissa
and Bihar reeled under starvation deaths
despite adequate foodstocks in the country.
Kalahandi in Orissa, an agriculturally surplus
district till early '60s, was reduced to a faminestruck zone. Congress(i) leader from the district, Sublias Chandra Nayak, claimed the
famine was caused by massive deforestation.
The CSE's 'First Citizens'Report points out
that given the nation's vast natural resources,
feeding even twice the existing population
should not be a major problem, provided land
is utilised properly. This judgement was substantiated by a report by the ministry of agriculture (1991) which estimated that out of the
total geographical area of 329 million ha,
around 174 million ha (nearly 53 per cent)
Rajiv Gandhi's ambitious Jawahar Rozgar
Yojana, which sought to take up development
works directly through panchayats, had the
potential to bring employment generation and
ecological healing together. But in the absence
of environmental priorities in the choice of
projects made by panchayats, the Yojana has
not had much impact in linking up food
security with ecological regeneration.
The Congress's main emphasis has always been
on developing the irrigation sector through
large dams. RajivGandhi's premiership sawthe
intensifying of struggles against mega irrigation
projects like Tehri and Narmada.
The party's emphasis on large irrigation
projects has led to a neglect of developing water
harvesting systems to conserve water locally,
with a resultant crisis in drinking water. In the
mid-'80s, a national drinking water mission
programme was initiated by Rajiv Gandhi to
provide water to all villages by digging more
wells. According to an estimate given by
Jagannath Mishra, the present minister for
rural development, about 1,300,000 villages
and ba5tiS (settlements) are still to he provided
with drinking water.
Critics assert that nonformulation of a
regulatory system for water use has led to
depletion of groundwater reserves. An attempt
in this direction by the Indira Gandhi government was made with the enactment of a model
groundwater (control and regulation) bill in
1970, Water being a state subject, no Central
law could be introduced. However, the
bill was not enforced by any state Congress(i)
government except Gujarat, which implemented it partially.
In L987, the Rajiv government formulated a
National Water Policy which took some cognisance of the broader issues involved in water
use and. management and gave primary importance to drinking water needs. But management of water in the country remains as hamstrung as ever. A 1992 bill for regulating
groundwater has, however, met with the same
fate as its 1970 counterpart. The mirage of decentralization
The panchayati raj system, initiated following
the recommendations of the Balwantrai Mehta
committee for devolving power to the people,
has failed in its purpose, riddled as it is with
political skullduggery and corruption. The
Congress(i) leadership has often worked
through the sarpanches (panchayat heads) to
corner rural votes, and in return let them carry
on illegal activities like tree-felling.
While the party has given more powers to
panchayats through the 73rd amendment to
the constitution in 1992, it has not extended
these powers to control over natural resources.
However, the recommendations of the Bhuria
committee, one of which is that natural
resource management in adivasi areqs be
handed over to local communities, provide a
ray of hope. Tb@ Congress(i) government
has promised a speedy execution of the
committee's recommendations, but nothing
has been done as yet.
Karnataka: liberal devastation
Karnataka played host to three'Congeess chief
ministers between 1989 and 190 14-V eerendra
Patil, S BangaLi@pa and Vecrappa Moily -
before power passed to the Janata Dal (113) after
the 1994 polls, Labouring under a liberalisation
drive, the state is witnessing a massive influx of
foreign capital and mega projects.
The fragile ecology of the Western Ghats in
the state is the one under direst straits. The
Yellappa Reddy commission, headed by the
former forest secretary of Karnataka, had
opined, "Idega projects should not be built on
the western coast." The Cogentrix power project (signed by Moily), to be set up in Dakshina
Kannada, and Nagarjuna Steels, to be set up
near Mangalore, are a few amongst man),
which have already be@ome controversial on
The state party leadership favours the liberalisation drive, Former chief minister Veerappa
Moily is the Only MLA from Dakshina Kannada
who favours setting up of Cogentrix in the district. Says Moily, "The liberalisation drive...
does not mean blowing off our soil, and harming our environment, but bringing in development with environmental considerations."
Congress(i) leader H K Patil, however,
strikes a different note: "Liberalisation and
globalisation, although necessary, to uplift the
economy, will act as curses to the environment.
The only way out is to listen honestly and patiently to the advice of those who are concerned with our
Apart from Cogentrix, the Kudremukh Iron and Ore
Company Ltd project at Mangalore, Harihar Polyfibres at
Harihar, Indal Copper Ltd at Narijanginur and a chain of distilleries near Mysore have all been targeted by crusading environmentalists. When asked about these polluting industries,
Moily claimed, "Most of the industries have today adopted
clean technologies. There are no major polluting industries in
the state today."
Belying this claim are the operations of the Birla-owned
HariharPolyfibres. in March 1994, largescale death of Fish was
observed in the Tungabbadra river near HAnhar and
Ranebermur, apparently due to effluents released by the company.
Mines of woes
Illegal granite and bauxite mining operations infKarnataka,
claimed to have been stopped by the Congress(i), continues to
take a heavy toll of the environment. Moily, however, claims,
"My government curbed most of illegal mining by making
changes in mining lease laws."
Rampant granite mining is one of the causes for the severe
groundwater depletion problem faced by Karnataka.
Outmoded methods yield More Waste than Useful Stones. With
vast areas needed to dump the waste, the washoffs; from it are
affecting water sources and agricultural lands. A former environment department bureaucrat, requesting anonymity,
alleges that the illegal mining activities are the handiwork of
underworld operators, who enjoy political patronage.
Following questions raised by 11 K Patil over the issue
in mid-1995 in Parliament, an enquiry committee consisting
of Congress(i) and jD members has been set up. Cynics,
however, do not expect a lot from the committee, pointing out
that illegal mining had continued during the regimes of both
In one fell swoop
Figures provided by the NRSA indicate only I I per cent forest
cover in Karnataka. While large tracts of degraded forest lands
need urgent attention, illegal felling continues. The findings of
the Yellappa Reddy commission (1994) in Coorg district
indicted the Moily-led Congress government by exposing the
criminal-politician nexus in illegal tree felling.
The Congress party workers cite the afforestation project
undertaken with aid from the Overseas Development
Administration, UK, in the Western Chats (under Moily)
as proof of their commitment to afforestation. But the
Its 195-crore project has already become a target of controversy, sources allege, "Around 60-70 per cent of the funding
is being spent on training forest officers in Europe." Activists
of the Appiko movement, which rose to fame for preserving
forests in 'Chipka' style, are also unhappy with the
project: "The project is going for mouniculture and
commercial species like teak and acacia, destroying the
biodiversity of the Western Ghats. The local species of the area
are ignored. Further, the local people are deprived of access to
forests an which they depend for their survival."
A crisis of power
An initiative by villagers of Chikkapadjsalagi in Karnataka's
Bijapur district is being put forward be environmentalists as
an example to emulate, instead of lonsiructing largescale irrigation projects. With the help of Congress(i) MLA Siddu
Nyarne Gowda, the villagers have succeeded in irrigating
around 4,050 ha of land by building their own barrage, But
Nyame Gowda has failed to influence his party to initiate
micro instead of mega projects in the state.
Karnataka's power shortage is cited as an excuse by the
regimes in power for going in for bigger power generation
projects. Bad planning and accumulated debts of the
Karnataka Nwer Corporation have contributed considerably
to the crisis. No political party has initiated any action against
the industries which owe the Corporation money.
People don't count
Environmentalists in Karnataka feet that "political parties'
commitment to decentralisation is key to understanding their
commitment to environment."
When asked about the possibility of extending the power
Of Village Communities to natural resource conservation, a
senior Congress leader countered, "But what is the relevance
of panc@ayats to the environment issue? Villagers have been
instrumental in destroying the forests. Giving the governance
of forests to the local people or panchayars will lead to their
further degradation. We need stricter bureacratic governance
and policing. Decentralisation of powers in these matters will
lead to disastrous results. The local people are not committed
to environmental issues."
On their part, local people feel that political parties are not
very responsive towards the environment. Environmental
awareness is acquiring importance among the people of
Dakshina Kannada. The Balakedayara Vedike, an NGO in
Basrur laluka in the district had forwarded a questionnaire to
the various political parties and candidates contesting in the
district's 15 constituencies during the 1994 state assembly
elections. The questions reflected the concern over the threats
to the fragile ecological balances due to industrialisation in the
Although most environmentalists in the state are pessimistic about the political parties' commitments to clean and
transparent governance, individuals in different political parties agree that close introspection by all is the need of the day.
A major problem, concedes a senior Congress leader, is the
corrupt political-bureaucratic system. He says, "The present
anti-pollution laws are enough to check polluting industries.
However, corrupt practices on the part of politicians and
bureaucrats have finished the environment at the cost of local
people." However, this acknowledgement of decayed political
systems is not fired by a commitment to change it on the part
of this leader. Instead, his assertion implies that "What can be
done if the system is bad and Corrupt?"
Reported by Supriya Akerkar from Bangalore (Karnataka)