Published: Thursday 31 August 2000

To cut or not to cut

About a year ago, I along with some other farmers planted around 15,000 Shivau-Teak trees in Aurangabad. However, I am in a dilemma today. A recent article in The Times of India , Mumbai, said that the Bastar Adivasis were not allowed to cut the eucalyptus trees they had planted.
What we want to know is whether we will be allowed to cut these trees once they mature. If we are not allowed to cut these trees, how do we encourage other farmers to plant these trees. Please help us in our predicament.


The editor replies:
There are indeed laws in this country which prevent people from cutting trees even on private lands. These laws were made because the forest department has not been able to control timber smuggling and, therefore, even certain trees on private lands need permission from the forest department before they can be cut.

In all this, of course, there is a lot of corruption that goes on. It is quite possible that in Maharashtra teak and eucalyptus trees are not covered under these laws. Therefore, you should find out from the local forest department what the rules are. These rules vary from state to state.

I have always opposed these laws because if we want people to plant trees, as you have done, especially on private lands, then we will have to do away with such outdated laws. The forest department must learn to protect its own forests without harassing private individuals....

Environmental space!

I appreciate and endorse the spirit and the message of Anil Agarwal's article 'Clinton's agenda in India' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 22; April 15). The article says that poor countries need some environmental space and there is need for a more robust framework, than the present clean development mechanisms ( cdm) call for financial support to meet the incremental costs of efficient technologies. The change cannot be brought in based on short-term considerations, economic or whatever. It is difficult to delink the economy from fossil fuels.

Now I don't see that you are applying the same to Indian environmental problems, and specifically to the Delhi automobile pollution problem. You advocate a tough policy to 'eliminate/reduce' pollution by poor autowallahs, or taxies. You do not advocate any 'environmental space' for them. You don't workout any robust framework to accommodate their interests, you do not call for financial support to meet incremental (I think, here it is more than this) costs of efficient technologies, you advocate change on short-term considerations, and you don't understand that Delhi's economy cannot delink itself overnight from these buses, autos and taxies.

Received on email

The editor replies:
Let me try and answer some of your questions. Firstly, it is important to realise that 'environmental space' is not a theoretical concept in the case of global warming. It is in fact a reality. The world's ecological systems have an ability to absorb carbon dioxide. These are known as sinks. There would have been no global warming problem if carbon dioxide production by human beings was within the limit of those sinks.

If the global warming problem has to be solved then ultimately the global carbon dioxide production will have to be brought down to within the limit of the sinks otherwise carbon dioxide will keep accumulating in the atmosphere. Since carbon dioxide emissions, which are not toxic, are so closely related to the current economy built on fossil fuel energy, it is vital that countries share the environmental space that is available to us. That is why we have been talking about equal per capita entitlements to the available atmospheric space that we have for economic development unless the world moves away from fossil fuel energy.

You cannot apply this concept to the pollution that you get from vehicles. This pollution is extremely toxic and a danger to public health. Therefore, there is in reality no 'environmental space' for these toxins and, ultimately, if you want clean air, we will have to reduce these toxins to the bare minimum. It is important to note that the worst public health and economic effects of this pollution are faced by the poor because today if a rich person gets cancer, it is possible that he or she can afford the necessary treatment but poor people will find the cost of the treatment beyond their means. We have no data in India on how pollution-related diseases affect the rich and the poor. But my guess is that given the low level of nutrition and the high levels of stress amongst the poorer sections, one would expect more of these diseases amongst them.

I would just like to point out that I am not at all against the idea of proper incentives being given to taxi owners and three-wheeler owners to move away from polluting vehicles. In fact, I have consistently written about this but somehow our government just does not seem to be listening. We have got a Supreme Court order on this issue but the Delhi government has taken its own time to come up with proposals for financial incentives.

I have repeatedly pointed out that mere Rs 1 sales tax by the Delhi government on diesel will rope in at least Rs 100 crore which can easily be used to help poor commercial vehicle owners to move over to compressed natural.

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