Common concerns

Common concerns

Environment for All; Media Reports and Analyses of Environmental Justice Issues in South Asia edited by Chitra Gopalakrishnan, Saneey Hussain and Kishore Pradhan Panos South Asia Kathmandu 2004

The state exercises almost total control over natural resources in South Asia. So, can the poor who depend on their immediate environments for survival expect equity? Will governments empower them to manage their living environment? Or will they continue to bear the brunt of environmental degradation? These are a few of the questions posed by the editors of the volume under review.

The book continues the agenda set forth by Justice for all, promoting environmental justice in South Asia. That 2002 publication of the Kathmandu Nepal based institute, Panos, had argued that the South Asian media needs to be sensitised to issues of environmental justice. In this volume, journalists from the region take up country-specific cases to highlight the inequity over access to natural resources.

But the concerns they raise are actually very common throughout South Asia. Let's take the case of pollution of the river Bhagmati in Nepal. In his piece, "Requiem for a river, requiem for a people", Surendra Phuyal shows how dumping of industrial effluents, and agricultural, religious and cultural practices have turned the river into a toxic stream. Bhagmati's problem could very well be that of the Periyar in Kerala or the Ganga in Varanasi. Likewise, coastal communities in India face problems similar to those encountered by their counterparts in Sri Lanka.

But Environment for all is not just about common concerns of South Asia's natural-resource dependant communities. It also widens the ambit of environmental justice by giving voice to diverse communities. For example, Mostafa Kamal Majumder's piece, "Soft-pedalling issues of migration and marginalisation", takes up the worries of Bangladeshi rickshaw pullers. Majumder takes issue with Bangladesh's planners for excluding this community from their baseline surveys of urban poor. At the same time, the rickshaw pullers are also excluded from village survey lists for they are deemed as life-long city dwellers by the rural surveyors.

A diversity of concerns is also espoused through the oral testimonies of people from marginalised communities in India, Pakistan and Nepal: a fisherman from West Bengal, a farmer from Gilgit, Pakistan, a housewife from the same area, a farmer from Nepal, a labourer in a tea plantation in Darjeeling, West Bengal.

The book is lucidly written. But all its writers are from the English language media. Panos could have done well to include a few contributors from South Asia's vernacular media.

Down To Earth