With the 1996 general elections just around the corner, the nation's premier political parties are back to making elaborate 'green' promises. But behind the tall claims and pledges of their manifestoes, are they really serious about the problems that plague our environment? When the country goes to polls on April 27, will it be voting for an environmentally secure future? Researchers from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) trudged to different corners of India to find first hand answers to these and other related questions
Promises to keep
THE concept of environment concerns itself with issues likewaterforests and podutionall of which exercise inutti-dimensional impacts on common people's lives. With the rising con-sciousnes;s in the fieldpolitical parties of all hues hageover the yearsadded 'green sections' to their manifestoes.
Our analysis shows that the parties' responses to environ-mental issues are essentially governed by political exigencies;green votes have finally begun to count. But how do the environmental credentials of various mainstream parties comparewith each other?
Environment became a significant concern for these partiesonly in the '80s. While the Congress(i) and Bbaratiya JanataParty (Bfp) added independent sections on it in their 1984 election manifestoesthe Janata Dal OD) - formed in 1988 - hadipctuded an elaborate chapter on environment in its 1989 manifestoThe concern for ecology made a marginal entry into theCommunist Party of India-Marxist (cpt-m) manifesto as late asin 1989Barring the tono party seems to have put environmentat concerns at the centre of its espoused development strategies.
The CSE'S Citizens' Reports on the state of India's environment (1982 and 1985) had pointed to the fact that developmentstrategies followed so far by the country had degraded the country's landswatersforests and air and eroded the survival base ofthe rural poortribals and the fisherfolk who depended on theseresources for their livelihoods. From the realisation of thistruth arose The popular demand for redefining the developmentmodel around principles of 'equity' (redistribution of naturalresources)'people's participation' (consultations of local people in development programmes) and 'sustainability of naturalresources' (sustainable use of the environment).
Environmental perspectives articulated by most partieshoweverhave remained far removed from these pointers. The main -festoes of the Congress(i) - 1984 to 1991 - for instancehavefocussed on the vocabulary of'sustainable development'but theparty's governance has implemented bureaucratic programmesfor afforestation and pollution control instead. Apart from avague reference in 1991 to "people's participation in the protection of environment"the party's manifestoes say nothing aboutthe effects of environmental degradation on poor people's lives.
The i3lp's election manifestoes (1984-91) promised a naturalresource management policy and outlined a set okcchnotagicaloptions like anti-pollution devices to combat environmentalproblems. But the issue of decentralised governance systemthekey to tackling the degraded state of environmenthas not yetfigured in the party's electoral agenda. This anomaly stands outstarkly against the party's much vaunted policy of respectingpeople's cultural traditionswhich in the Indian contextoughtto translate into respecting the traditional rights ofcommunities to use and govern natural resources.
But if the Congress(i) and BIP manifestoes articulate significantly watered down environmental visionsthe cpi-m's electionmanifesto pays nothing more than a lip service to the cause. itremains the only party which has not given an independentspace and emphasis to environmental issues. in factthe document dismisses ecological concerns with its remarkably succinctone-point agenda on environment: an environment policy inline with sustainable development. The manifestofor reasonsbest known to the partyneglects to elaborate on the basictenets of such a policy or outline a programme for the same.
The ID manifestoeson the other handwith their communitycentred green policieshave provided the welcome change. The1989party manifesto had promised a natural resource generation policy that put people's survival needs at the centreandemphasised the 'equity' component. The 1991 documentaffirmed the demands put forward by many environmentalmovements with its promise that tribal people will be displacedfrom their habitats only with their prior consent.
... and their deeds
Keeping aside the promiseshow have the parties actually performed in their respective romping grounds? Did they live up totheir claims and pledges when in power? In the case of the it)the commitment of the V P Singh government towards environment issues was hamstrungwhat with intra-party wranglingsbetween Maneka Gandhithe minister of state for environmentand Nilamony Routrayher senior colleague in the ministry.Thusthe ju's I I -month stint with power had little impact onthe major environment problems faced by the country.
In the case of forestrythe mundoubtedlycan take thecredit for meeting the first central notification on joint forest management (TFM)which sought to introduce the crucial issueof people's participation in forest management. But the partyalso has to contend with the obnoxious reputation of allowinglargescate clear felling of forests; more forests were cleared inthree months of the JD'S rule than were clear felled in a wholeearlier decade.
In the current JD-ruled states of Karnataka and Biharafforestation efforts have been by and large neglected. Once inpowerthe state leaderships of the it) seem to suffer from thesame malaise affecting other parties: they forget their electoralpromises. For examplenotwithstanding the promises of theparty not to displace tribals without their consentthe LalooYadav government in Bihar and Deve Gowda's government inKarnataka are going full steam ahead with the building of controversial projects like Koel-Karo in Bihar and Cogentrix inKarnatakaamidst massive opposition from local peoplo andtribal groups.
But if the JD rules stand out as sagas of betrayed 'promises'has the Congress(l)'s performance been any better? Under RajivGandhithe party did undertake some programmes to revive thedegraded environmentbut most of these programmes gotembroiled in endless bureaucratic delays (a typical feature of theparty's regime)without actually achieving much.
Rajiv's Congress(i) chose Bhajan Lal as the government'sminister for environmentwhose principal claim to fame todaylies in the furore he created when he told the Parliament thatdamages to the lives of people in the case of an earthquake following the building of the Telin dam (a possibility predicted byexperts and one of the reasons for opposition to the dam byenvironmentalists) had no significance for him!
Rajiv Gandhi's promised 'peoples' movement' in afforesation never took offthe bureaucracy remained at the helm ofmanaging forest affairs and calling the shotsas the vision ofIpeople's participation' was lost in a maze of unnecessary verbiage and rhetoric. The anti-people character of various billsfloated by the environment ministry in the Narasimha Rao-ledCongress(i) governmentafter it assurned power in 1991clearlyindicts the party on this issue. The draft forest billfloated in1992by environment minister Kamat Nathis a case in point.The billreferred to as "draconian" by several people's groupshad magnified the bureaucracy's powers by several degrees.Another such malafide attempt was the move to give degradedforest lands to the paper and pulp industry for raising captiveplantations. The proposal was roundly criticised by NGos andenvironmentalists for subsidising the industry at the cost of thepoor rural people who depended upon the degraded forest landsfor their fuel and fodder needs. Another recent move by RajeshPilotwho recently replaced Kamal Nath as the environmentministertowards appointing Van Mukhncts for looking afterafforestation and JFM programmes has the potential to deal afinal death blow to the limited community participation inforest managment programmes. Moreoverdespite its Promisesto implement the Bhuria committee recommendations fortribal autonomythe Congress leadership has not done so. Ineffectwith every mooted notificationthe Congressft) government has seemed to take forests further away from the local people's governance.
The Bu's slate of ecological concerns is not clean either. Theparty's dominant preoccupation seems to be the Centre-stateequations of power in the context of environmental policiesthan conservation issues per se. For instancethe only reactionthat Rajasthan's Bhairon Singh Shekhawat seems to be giving toany forest conservation bill floated or passed by the Congress(i)government at the Centre has been that "the Centre is usurpingthe state's powers" in forest areas. Yetthe BJP chief ministershave not recognisedby the same logicthe rights of the localcommunities to decide whether they want development projectsat the cost of their forests and environment or not.
The environmental performance of the cm-st is as apatheticbarring perhaps its initiatives in the area of jFm in West Bengalto some extent. Here toohoweverthere are problems like theparty cadre-dominated forest protection committees extendingbenefits such as employment generation through afforestationand other worksto the families supporting the party.
While sustainable development finds a clouded mention inthe party's manifestoactions of the ctt-si betray otherwise in Keralathe cpt-m leadership is supporting projects such asPooyanikuttiwhich has been opposed by environmentalists forthe largescale destruction of virgin forests that it threatens toengender.
In West Bengal the party seems to be actually provokingenvironmentally destructive activitieswith its cadre's links withlocal mafia. For examplethe cpi-m cadre in the state wenton anecological rampage in the two 24 Parganaswhen they broughthuge tracts of the paddy fields in the arm under shrimp cultivationby forcethereby endangering the fragile SunderbansSimilarlythe state government has taken the issue of industrial pollutionlightly-no action has been taken to shift Calcutta's pollutingranaeries to another area as ordered by the Supreme Court.
While most parties and their representatives talk about sustamable developmentnone of them have even marginallythought of whether their economic policies look into the sustainable limits in the use of any natural resource. The cpi-mclaims environmental issues are a part of the larger ecoAomicissuesbut its developmental perspective has much in commonwith those of the Congress(i) and the BJPwho advocate rapidindustrialisation without suggesting any concomitant checksand balances to counter the unbridled harnessing of naturalresources. The BJP'S call for liberalisation of the licencing procedures in industrybut without reciprocal measures that wouldensure that the industry will not abuse the environmentstandsout as an example. The complicity of the BJP governments - inthe limestone rich Himachal Pradesh or in Rajasthan - inallowing unchecked mining leading to ecological devastation inthose regionsraises serious questions about the judiciousness oftheir industrial policies. The industrial policies followed in WestBengal tell a similar tale.
While the In flaunts its village-friendly image in its manifestoesLaloo Yadav in Bihar and Deve Gowda in Karnataka arebusy wooing industries into their foldunmindful of the ecological consequences of their actions. In Karnatakarampant illegalgranite mining has flowered with the blessings'of both ID andCongressf) politicians.
With an eye on the polls
The scenario appears to be exceedingly gloomywith no partyactually caring for the environment or even performing according to its stated promises. Ecological issues have remained votegrabbing baits. The Bip had rode to power in Maharashtra byopposing the multi-crore Enron power plant (Dabhol). The Intoo had come to power in Orissa and won seats from Bahapal byprotesting against the missile testing range programme whichwas proposed to be based there.
it has also been observed that in order to seek green voteslocal party representatives or members of legislative assemblies(mLAs) have taken up the cause of the environmentat timeseven in opposition to their central or state leadcrships. Forinstancein Karnatakathe local In and Congress mLAs areopposing the Cogentrix power projectinspire of the party leaderships' avowed support for the same. In Keralathe local cpi-mcadre has opposed the official party position on projects such asPooyamkutti and Goshree. in another instancethe local RIPcadre in Dabhol are protesting against the Enron power projectunder the banner of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manchwhosevolunteers are affiliated with the partyeven while the party hasnow formally approved of Enron after riding to power inMaharashtra.
Sometimesparties have acted under @ressurc from people'smovements. All the anti-pollution laws enacted by theCongress(i) werg done under duressas popular agitations onissues such as pollution of waterbodies and air rocked the country and forced the government intodecisive action. Strong environmenttal protests which followed theBhopal tragedy had propelled theRajiv Gandhi government to bringforth the Environment ProtectionAct in 1986. The '80s also saw atremendous rise in public interestlitigations filed by local groupsagainst polluting industries. The rising environmental consciousnessamongst the people had led to thesetting up of environmental tribunals by the Congress governmentin 1995 to speedily settle cases ofenvironmental disaster. Other similar causes led to the introduction ofthe environmental impact assessment notification by Kamal Nathwhich calls for appraisal of development projects from the environmental point of view.
The people's agitations haveoften received support from someoutstanding individuals andvisionaries within these politicalpartieswho have displayed an acutesensitivity (o and commendableappreciation of environmentalissues. At presentall such leaderscontinue to offer a critical debatewithin their partiesKarnataka'sR K Chandrashekhar (JD) and AnantKumar (Bip) have been voicing opinions even in opposition to their parties' stated positions.Chandrashekhar's protests stopped Deve Gowda from allowingthe setting up of dye-making factories ncarTipagondanhalli.The veteran JD leader Surendra Mohan's efforts have made theparty manifesto more sensitive to environmental issues. cpt-mleaders like Govind Pillai from Kerala have been instrumental inbringing environmental concerns to the centrestage of their party's politics within the state. In the Congress(i)tribal leaderslike Dileep Singh Bhuria from Madhya Pradesh have been pushingthe agenda of community management of natural resourceswithin tribal dominated areasa step which would surely checkunbridled abuse of natural resources. Individuals like them givethe country some cause for hope; upon them rests some of theresponsibility of bringing in (he necessary policy changes in theirparties' perspectives on environment.
A hand in every pie
AS THE party in power at the Centre
for 45 out of 49 years, the
Congress(i), with all its factions,
can be held mainly responsible for
India's achievements and failures.
In the politically tumultuous '70s,
,environment' was attracting international attention, with the UN-
sponsored Conference on Human
Environment taking off in
Stockholm in 1972, where the first
attempt was made to link development with environment.
Consequently, Indian politicians too began evincing interest
in the issue.
The anti-poor roots
At the Stockholm conference, the Indian Prime Minister
Indira Gandhi had proclaimed: "Poverty is the biggest polluter." This analysis, which made the poor the main adversaries of environment in the eyes of the government, influenced the party's policies on environment.
During Indira's tenure, India launched 'Project Tiger' to
protect the tiger and its habitat, leading to eviction of people
from reserve areas. One unfortunate outcome of this was the
police firing in Bharatpur's Keoladeo Ghana National Park in
Rajasthan (1982), which led to several deaths and injuries;
locals had let their cattle into the Park for lack of grazing
In February 1980, the government appointed the Tiwari
committee to suggest ways to improve environmental protection. On the committee's recommendation, a separate department of environment was created in November 1980 to carry
out environmental appraisals of development projects. But the
practice of viewing certain regions (like adivasi homelands) as
backward and needing upliftment through industrialisation,
with unchecked mining of natural resources, continued.
1984: hope and despair
Environment found an independent reference for the first
time in 1984 in the party's election manifesto, which stated that the party will "optimise use of natural
resources so that while meeting the current
needs of growth, the resource base is oriented
towards sustainable development". The manifesto admitted that the development strategy
followed by the Congress(fi till then could not
be continued at the expense of ecological
degradation and unchecked exploitation of
natural resources. It said that the Congress(i)
formulate a national conservation strategy to
promote rational resource management;
establish biosphere reserves;
emphasise environmental concerns in education and information media;
take effective steps to control air and water pollution;
establish task forces for eco-development programmes;
protect existing forest wealth and undertake
massive afforestation programmes.
However, as it neglected local people's rights to
forest resources, the document remained a long
way from explicating the actual links that environment had with people's lives.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi introduced
the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) in 1986 for cleaning up the Ganga river. However, the Plan got
bogged down it) bureaucratic procedures. A
national wasteland board was created in 1985.
A process to devolve powers to local levels with
an effort to give a constitutional status to panchayat raj institutions was also initiated. The
Prime Minister invited Anil Agarwal (CSE) to
deliver a series of lectures to his cabinet ministers and subcommittees on environment,
However, the exercise demonstrated that not
many of the ministers were really interested in
The Rajiv government upgraded the environment department to a level of ministry in
1986 with Bhajan Lai as its first minister.
Ironically, Lai had neither an interest in environment matters nor could develop a perspective or actions on them.
1991: so much to do
In 1991, while reiterating some of the earlier
promises, the manifesto pledged to take
effective steps to enforce pollution control
regulations, to evolve integrated national water
and land policies and to implement the GAP
with renewed efforts. Wildlife was declared a
priority area. The important addition was its
categorical assurance of involving the people in
protecting the environment.
During the tenure of Kamal Nath, the
Congress(i) minister for environment and
forests under Narasimha Rao, the ministry
acquired a high profile image, with the minister
jet-setting around the world to attend
international conventions voicing'I hird World
concerns and networking with NGOS on global
environmental issues. However, critics say
Kamal Nath did not exhibit the same openness
regarding domestic issues.
Critics also point out that the government's
liberalisation policies have the potential to
affLt the survival base of the poor with more
intensive exploitation of natural resources. The
government's budgetary allocations have not
encouraged 'green' efficiency; the 1995-96 budget does not propose tirs concessions to industry for polhttion'@Ontrql, nor any punitive taxes
for causing pollution.
- 'Rajesh Pilot, who took over the charge of
the ministry from Kamal Natb, has had his
share of controversies within his short stay in
office. In a letter to CSE, he stated that although
he was aware of the hardships caused to local
communities due to the Wildlife Protection
Act, he expected these commupities to
continue to play the role of martyrs! Forests: popular non-participation
The National Forest Policy, 1952, introduced
by Jawaharlal Nehru, had vested all forest land
under the state, thus restricting the forest-dwelling population's access to forest
resources. In keeping with Nehru's economic
outlook, the government saw forests as a
resource to be extracted for the development of
industries and infrastructure - a policy continned in Indira Gandhi's time. However, with
the increase in degraded forest lands, the
Fourth Five Year Plan (1974-79) introduced
the term 'afforestation' for the first time.
Forests were brought into the Concurrent
List in 1976, enabling the Central government
to enact legislations on the same. The 1980
Forest Conservation Act, which banned the
diversion of any forest land for "non-forest purposes" without the Centre's permission, followed. While environmentalists felt the Act was
a symbolic beginning of an understanding that
national 'development' had been achieved at
tremendous costs, it brought Centre-state politics to the fore. Opposition chief ministers
claimed the Act was being used by the Centre to
keep their states 'backward', while allowing
Congress-ruled state governments to divert forest lands for development purposes. The lease
approval of 144 ha of forest lands for mining
purposes given to B K Gadhvi, the then Union
minister of state for finance - under pressure
from the Gujarat Congress(i) chief minister
Amarsinh Choudhary - was cited as an example.
Social forestry programmes, initiated during this period, failed because pulpwood
species like eucalyptus were planted, which did
not provide for the biomass needs of people in
1984, the National Remote Sensing Agency
(NRSA) calculated the nation's forest cover as
only 35.43 million ha. The following year, Rajiv
Gandhi declared: "Continuing deforestation
has brought us face to face with a major ecological and socio-economic crisis- The arend
must be halted. I propose to set up a National
Wastelands DevIelopment Board with the
object of bringing five million ha of land
every .year tinder fuelwood and fodder
plantations. We shall develop a people's
movement for afforestation." The toard was
duly created, but internal hickerings and
neglect of the aspect of popul#' partlizipation
denied it any considerable achievements; by
March 1989, lh@- Board had succeeded in
afforesting only 7.16 million ha.
. In more recent times, strident criticism has
effectively stalled Kamal Nath's draft forest bill
(1992) -which proposed to give more powers
to the bureaucracy - and his proposal (1995)
to give degraded forest lands to the paper and
pulp industry for growing their captive raw
material. Moreover, Rajesh Pilot's proposal to
appo int Va n M ukh ins i n each panchaya t by forest departments, who will act as middlemen
between the viltage protection commitees and
the departments, is causing considerable heartburn. Environmentalists fear the retrograde
step will take away whatever little say communities have in forest management today.
Energy: stalked by losses
Energy policies of the Congress have been
governed by heavy subsidies. The party has not
been keen to pursue the question of price hike
in the sector for fear of antagonising the farming and industrial lobbies, which constitute two
important vote banks.
In this scenario, internalising the ecological
costs involved in production of power seems to
be a distant dream. Moreover, the constant
wrangling between the power and environment
ministries has made matters worse. Kalpnath
Rai, the former minister of state for power, had
complained, "The power sector has been singled out for tough environmental standards."
Environment ministry officials have retaliated
by maintaining that "power projects are often
taken up with total disregard for environmental guidelines, with the hope that once the initial investment is made, the clearances can be
Investments in eco-friendly renewable
energy resources have been given a boost by
creating a ministry of non-conventiorial energy,
presently, non-conventional energy accounts for only one per cent of the country's total
energy production. With a far from encouraging budget, much needs to be done in the field.
Pollution and hazardous industries
Over the years, various Congress governments
have enacted legislations to deal with the
problems of industrial, water and air pollution
under pressure from people's movements.
The Indira Gandhi government had introduced the Water Pollution Control Act, 1974 - one of the first central acts on pollution after
independence - which laid down that effluents from factories should be treated before
they are released into rivers. It was followed by
the 1981 Air Pollution Control Act.
Following the Bho at tragedy, Rajiv's
Congress(i) government made the first attempt
to bring in various kinds of pollution under the
umbrella of the Environment Protection Act,
198& This Act placed the responsibility of protecting the environment on the Central government, which secured powers to close, prohibit
or regulate any industry. It also gave all citizens
the right to move courts against those who
damage the environment. But the Act could
not grant justice to Bhopal's victims; in a total
sell-out, the Government of India settled the
case with Union Carbide for us $470 million in
1989 and absolved the company from any
criminal liability. In the same period, the
Rashtriya Chemical Fertilizers Ltd, an urea-manufacturing factory in Clbembur, Bombay,
notorious for its polluting effects, was awarded
the Priyaclarsharn Award for Environment
Protection by the government!
In January 1994, Kama] Nath issued a
notification on environment impact assessment (FIA), under which new projects with
investments of over Its 50 crore in 29 sectors
were to be appraised by expert committees of
the ministry. The notification did not include
the public hearing clause, which would have
allowed people's participation in evaluating the
ecological damages that an industry can cause.
On top of it, the May 1994 amendment gave
discretionary powers to the ministry to
disregard experts, environmental groups
and voices of affected populations and even
allow some industries to dispense with EIA
In the meantime, the widespread demand
for environment courts led to Parliament's
approval of the much belated bill for establishment of environment tribunals in May 1995.
While Kama] Nath claimed the bill to be
unique, environmentalists have considered it a
piecemeal measure, pointing out that it
did not deal with prevention of environmental accidents or disasters or force
industries to take safety measures;
did not ensure local communities' right to
information regarding industrial hazards;
exempted the government and its agencies
from the purview of the tribunal.
With elections due, the ministry of
environment and, forests (MEF) claims to be
working on a new notification eyipowering
local communities with the right to any
information r4arding' hazardous industries.
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)
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 flymgrButdq@.es 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
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)
A world of double standards
VIRTUALLY routed in the 1984 parliamentarry electionsthe BharatiyaJanata Party (Bip) made a remarkable comeback in the 1989 and1991polls. The party also came topower in four states in the 1989-1990state assembly elections:RajasthanUttar Pradesh (UP)Madhya Pradesh (MP) andHimachal Pradesh (HP).
1992saw the four BJP governments dismissed following the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The four states went to polls in November 1993along with Delhi. The party retained power in Rajasthan andcame to power in Delhifollowed by Maharashtra and Gujaratin 1995.
In a 'holy' cause
Environmental concern figures in the RIP election manifestoesas a 'sacred responsibility'. The party's manifestoes proclaim:we look Upon India as a holy land. Our land, air and water,
our hills, forests, flora and fauna, are all sacred to us. We will
keep them neat, clean and intact. We will
formulate a national resource management policy and adopt a holistic approach in planning;
require anti-pollution devices to be installed to process and
clean industrial and municipal effluents before the same are
discharged into out rivers;
keep a strict watch on chemical fertilisers and insecticides
for any poisoning of the soil;
improve auto-exhausts to prevent the fouling of the air;
curb noise pollution in cities;
plant 20 crore trees every year / undertake massive afforestation programme;
while protecting the traditional rights of vanavasis (forest-dwellers), we will require the planting of three trees for
every single tree that is cut;
take special care in the import of technology, and
promote research for developing indigenous pollution-free
It is clear from the agenda outlined that far from following aholistic approachthe Lar's prescribed solutions to environmental problems encompass just the technological (like antipollution devices). Strangelyfor a party which prides itself onits reverence for Indian culturepeople's traditions that preserve ecological well-being do not even figure in its concerns.The BIP keeps the issue of environment within the purviewof Centre-state relations and as a matter of sharing of powersbetween them. Party leader L K Advarn advocates more powerto states in this regard: "Our representatives in the states have been urging all the while that there is a need to take acomprehensive holistic look at the problem of environmentand that this be juxtaposed against the requirements of development. I also feet that laws should be suitably amended to letstates take most decisions in this regard."
Howeverideologue Govinclacharya is candid aboutthe gap between the party's avowals and practices. In arecent conference in Delhihe saidAlthough we aspiie
to save the environment in our policies, our practices have
lagged behind... but we are moving in that direction.AriantKumarthe Karnataka bip general secretaryachnitsGreed
and corruption is at the root of environmental degradation.
The nexus between criminals, politicians arid hurcaucrats
is the biggest monster devastating the environment. The
only way out is to build strong public opinion and
develop adequate legal measures... We need c1canand efficient
governance. Agriculture: more the merrier
In agriculturethe absence of water regulatory systems and lowcost of power in the country has led to indiscriminate use ofthe two resourcesaffecting groundwater levels in the process.But in its bid to woo the farmer lobbythe l3pdoes not evenacknowledge these concerns as problems.
The party manifestoes profess no strategies to tackle lowproductivity in diviand and tainted areaswhich occupy themajor percentage of India's agricultural land. The party'sfocus has remained on increasing the yield through irrigationand the states where the party has been in power are notoriousfor their ruthless advocacy of large dams; the project over theNarmada in Gujarat is an example.
Forests: all for more power
If I am permitted to do mining on five bighas (a state-wise
variable land unit) of land, I can give 30 bighas toT plantations... but it will not be possible to fill people's stomachs with
simply fresh air and forests,says Bfuiiron Singh Slickhawatthe Rajasthan chief minister. Given this viewpointit is notsurprising the BIP state governments have been resentful ofCenti at acts which regulate forest telling or any diversion offorest lands for development purposes; following strongprotests from chief ministersthe Forest Conservation Act1980- which necessitated Central clearence for diversion offorest lands - was amendedauthorising the state governments toclear upto five ha of forest lands for developmentpurposes.
But the BFdoes not spell out how the national goal (whichit identifies with) of raising forest cover to 33 per cent of thetotal nation's area can be reached ifeach state is left to plan development projects bvitselfThe 1991 manifesto promised apew forest polic 'v based on a partnership between tribals andauthorities. But there has been no discussion on the community's say in the management of forest i esources or in theirequitable distribution. At bestthe party his talked of givinglimited US11finCt Tights to adivasis.
Ironicallywhile the party argues for dilution of theCentre's powers in f4vour of the statesit does not extend thisclecentralisation to rural communities. For exampletheShekhawal govevurpent had given active support to illegalmining of dolonfite and sandstone inside Rajasthan's Sariskatiger reservedisregarding IOLal protests led by the TartinRhauat Saugh (TBS)do Nco. According to latest reportsSariska is once again in the newswith environmentalists alleging that the government has clandestinely given around 364bighas of the reserve's land on lease to the Heritage ResortsPrivate Ltd for building a resort - in contravention to theForest Conservation Act1980
In another instancethe former 11jichief minister of lipShanti Kumarwas accused of launching an official forest landgrab movement with his ifforestation scherne in February1991the Van Lagao Rozi Kaman Yojana. It promised two haof forest land each to around 750families who would plantsaplings and protect them in return for a trionthly incomeThe Congress(i) alleged tile scheme was politically motivatedas the targeted beneficiaries were allsupporters. The schemewas shelved with the government's dismissal.
In Karnatakacritics claim the BJP's forest conservation drive is tinged with regional parochialismtakingshape as a programme for uprooting outsiders(Keralites who had come to the state in searchof livelihoods) from the state. Environmentalists question this 'holier than thou' attitudealleging that "in Coorg district aloneBJP workershad cut down around 10trees to block theroads during a bandh tall given by the party".
Power: the slate is not dean
The party has been trying hard to flaurit a greenimage in this sectorwhat with its opposition tocontroversial projects like Cogentrix andKaigaThe Cogentrix project is being opposedby the Karnataka Bit. "Wewantpowerbut notthe cost of environmentdeclares Anant Kumar.
But the actual picture is not as simple. The
Dakshina Kannada jistrict (where,Cogentrix
will be located) BIP unit, has not been participating in the protests led by the party. The
main reason for this apathy, apparently, is the
BJP'S efforts to counter the influence of the
district's dominant industrial house of the Pais,
traditional supporters of Congress, by advocating the entry of mega industries in the region.
While the party's emphasis on efficiency
and renewable energy sources is laudable, the
states ruled by it - instead of increasing efficiency - are on an energy production spree,
The track record of the party in the states where
it has been in 'power' is far from impeccable. It
has been pushing for private investment in the
sector, regardless of the environmental costs. in
Rajasthan, theShekhawat government is making overtunes multinational power gencration giants for building the second phase of the
Suratgarb4her 11il power plant. Besides, the
state's Dholpur thermal power plant has been
in the eye of the storm for several years now. it
is feared that sulphur dioxide emissions from
the plant would cause acid rains and affect
Agra's Taj Mahal, while hot water emissions
would spell the doom of crocodiles in the
Chambal. Despite the Union ministry of environment and forests's (mrF) opposition to the project, Shekhawat,whowon hisseltfrom Dholpur
constituency, had been personally pushing the
project, which was finally cleared in 1995.
Industry: clear and present danger
With the BJP advocating tiberalisation of licensing procedures for industry, any attempt to
streamline industrial activities subject to environmental clearance is like raising a hornet's
nest. Shekhawat had vociferously opposed the
environment impact assessment notification
mooted in 1994 by the NfEF. The notification
regulated development activities in all states in
the interests of environment, and specified
mining among many other industries requiring
clearance from the Central government.
NGOS point Out that despite the Supreme
Court's (sc) stay orders on mining in Sariska,
the Rajasthan government has issued fresh
mining leases. Attacking the notification and
the crivironniental movements in Rajasthan,
Shekhawat had remarked angrily,What kindof environment are we talking about? Becauseof the Ranthambhore National Parkwe cannotdevelop Sawai Madhopur town; because of TajMahalwe cannot have the Dho)pur powerstation; and to save crocodileswe cannot builda hydropower project on the Chambal!"
The party has been accused of giving cleanchits to politically favourabic polluting units inthe state. The Pesticides India Ltd factory inKhempuraUdaipuris an example. The factorywhich has been indiscriminately disposing offtoxic waste and other pollutants in the openisowned by Safl Singlialnephew of AshokSinghalBip leader and general secretary of theVishwa Hindu Parishad. The district administration has not shifted the factorydespite theRajasthan Board for Prevention and Control of Pollution's recommendation to do so.
Rajasthan's time-tested indigenous water harvesting systemsare dying a slow death. Thestate had traditional systemscalled johads and khadmas -checkdams for collecting waterfrom small catchment areas -which served as water storagetanks as well as drinking watersources for cattle and were alsoused for minor irrigation.Besidesjohads helped in re-projectcharging well-water and in theimprovement of moisture content of the soil.
Instead of reviving these systemschiefminister Shekhawat has invited Israel's TahalConsulting Engineers Ltd for implementationof the Rs 13-crore irrigation water managementproject. Quietly working in the direction of arevivalhoweveris the TBSoperating in Alwardistrictwhich has put new life into the johadsystem. Five hundred sixty-five johadsundercollective use of farmershave raised waterlevels in wellsincreased the irrigation potentialand led to a 10-fold rise in yields of maizemustardfodder and wheat. Gram sabhasformed for the management of johads invillageshave now acquired the role of people'scouncils for the protection of jaljungle andjameen (waterforests and lands). Himachal Pradesh: lobby land
Environmental degradation due to mining inthe state has taken the dimensions of a politicalfeud between the BJP and the Congress(i). ThewrangliDgs have led to an 'economics' verses'environment' rhetoricand the Bip hasin thiscasetaken a pro-economics stand.
The conflict started in 1993when governorB R Bhagat disallowed two cement plants andlimestone mining in the state. Alleging thatBhagat's actions were politically motivatedthestate leadership of the party pointed out thatthe Congress(i) did not want BJP to take thecredit for generating employment from themining operations in the state.In a state where unemploymentis a major problemvillages aredivided over the ecological outfalls of mining. Those reapingits benefits support the activitieswhile the victims of ecological degradation protest againstthem. For examplewhen mining debris dumped in a canalnear Sangraha village inSirmaur district had washed'onto farms and damaged cropsthe angry villagers had taken theminers to court. With the mining lobby emerging as an electoral force in the statenone of thepolitical parties - including the BJP- wants totake a hardline position for ensuring safeguardsin mining operations.
Cement is another major industry inHimachal Pradesh. Chief minister ShantaKumar's BIP government had announced thesetting up of four large and 12 small cementplants in the state. I he iup was euphoric whenthe NIEF gave its clearance to the GujaratAmbuja cement plant at Darlaghat; the projectwas controversial since a part of the neighbouring wildlife sanctuary was being denotified toprovide land for it. But local villagers wereunhappy as existing cement plants were knownto cause irreparable damage to crops: a cementplant in Sirmaur had shrivelled the region'scrops and grass under a heavy coating of limestone dust and caused fodder crisis.
The tnp's clearance to cement plants hademerged as a major issue in the 1993 stateassembly electionswhich the Congress(i) wonmaking political capital out of the population'sgrievances against cement plants. But in powerthe Congress(i) has suddenly given sanction tothe three cement plants which the party hadopposed before the elections'.
Political analysts claim that another factor- the influence of the apple lobby - cost theWits position in the state. A decision by ShantaKumar regarding the withdrawal of subsidies (on apple procurement) had infuriated thelobby. Interestinglynotwithstanding theswadeshi rhetoric of the BJPShanta Kumar'sdecision had been fuelled by consideration for aWorld Bank aid (linked with the conditionalityof withdrawal of subsidy).
Delhi: beauty and the beast
In its 1993 manifesto for Delhithe BJP coveredits environmental concerns under the curioushead of Environment and Beautification. Theemphasis of the programmeevidentlywas on'beautifying' Delhi by undertaking massive treeplantationdeveloping new 'picnic spots' =dmaintaining the old ones and controlling airwater and noise pollution.
But for the appioximately 20 lakh peopleliving in the city's 3.8 lakh jhuggis (slums) andanother 20 lakh (1994 city survey) in unauthorised coloniesthese measures have meantnothing. Industrial pollution is another causeof woe for Delhi's populace. Delhi's first masterplanprepared in 1961had envisaged a pollution free capital; todayDelhi is the fourth mostpolluted city in the world. The National CapitalRegion (NCR) master plan (1990) had kept athree-year deadline for shifting out pollutingindustriesas ordered by the sc. Instead of making any progress on this frontthe Delhi government started providing ad hoc licences tothese illegal units; it also stopped the previously followed practice of disconnecting electricityof polluting units.
The sc bad ordered the shifting of 9164polluting units (out of which 170 are hazardous) located in the non-conforming zones in Delhi. Notices sent to these industries by theDelhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) didnot achieve much.
A DPCC reportfiled in the 5c in August1995says there are about 930industries inDelhi. Many of these units emit hazardoussubstances - like sulphur dioxidelead andsodium - and use highly polluting rubber asfuel. A year agoSiraspur village had come intolimelight for deaths of cattlebesides healthproblems for humanscaused by lead smeltingunits. It took a disaster to close down Siraspur'slead unitsbut several such lead smelters areoperating clandestinely in the city today.
Rumours are rife about how the smelterforced to close shop in Siraspurhas set upbusiness in another village - Mundka -where the present chicfministerSahib SinghVermahails from. The Delhi government hasdone precious little to safeguard the surrounding populations or the workers who work inthese sinelthig unitsCynics point out that theinaction is but to be expectedwhen industryminister H S Ballihimself is allegedly shelteringan illegal factory for electroplating cooking ovens and metres at his residence.
Another example of the same ilk is that ofthe silica-rich illegal Bhatti mines near Delhiwhich had been shut down and the areadeclared a wildlife sanctuary by the late PrimeMinister Rajiv Gandhi. But M L Khurana's Bipgovernment in Delhi reopened the link roadspassing through the sanctuaryallegedly for thebenefit of illegal contractorsone of whom wasRam Chander Baindaa party candidate for alegislative assembly seat in Haryana.
Reported by Sinchita V Bhatracharya and Supriya Akerkar from Delhi
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
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
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
The environmental movement in
India has raised the
problems of equitable and
sustainable use of natural
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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