Kasargod, Erezha in Kerala, Plachimada, and ironically enough good old Varthur in Bangalore are just a couple of examples of areas where chemical effluents have wreaked havoc in the life of people. Several villages in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, Bihar have been rendered uninhabitable, forcing people to vacate their lands, houses and become destitute in the city or turn into daily labourers. Children have been rendered physically deformed due to severe chemical contamination (endosulfan for example has destroyed the lives of nearly 10,000 victims who still continue to suffer its debilitating impacts). Government compensation to these victims cannot even sustain their family’s livelihood let alone restore them to normalcy. Particulate matters released by factories such as cement industries has increased bronchial diseases and illnesses amongst the population residing in the vicinity of such industries. Untreated chemical effluents that are released into the streams and/or land areas, have contaminated ground water, food crops and eventually rendered entire swathes of land unfit for cultivation. With the paranoia of chemicals percolating into the food chain gripping people, the elite of the society have taken up the fad of consuming organic products by paying a premium price. One cannot but laugh at our stupidity and sheer brainless behavior! The pinnacle of creation we just don’t seem to be!! Having destroyed the very fabric of nature due to our excessive indulgence, we are now paying a premium for something that was once naturally available in its pristine form. In this context, when the Government views with contempt the Social impact assessment clause, one cannot but wonder whether they have suspended their brains in the cash registry and the ka-ching has deafened them to the cries of the multitudes who are suffering due to negligence by the industrial set ups.
By saying that Social impact assessment would cause undue delay in the clearing of industrial projects, the underlying tone signifies a negligent attitude towards the long term impact of such industrial setups on not only the surrounding ecology but also the life of the people and their future generations. While economic development is a necessity, if the money earned is only going to be spent in attending to the treatment of ourselves or our progeny, it seems quite foolhardy to harp on it! Understanding the requirement of an industry in a particular area, its impact on the lives and livelihood of the people surrounding the area, and most importantly the ecology there, is paramount for sustainable growth. Bypassing long term sustainable development for immediate economic gains may postpone the pain to the future, but when it hits, it will shatter the very fabric of development that is being harped upon by everyone. Economic development HAS to be holistic. While the State cannot be the only provider of welfare for the people, it would be stupidity to believe that the industry and industrial development is the panacea for all the ailments of the society.
Selective blindness isn’t a monogrammed suit that can be flaunted proudly nor is it a last name that will win the loyalty of the party cadres. But both the ruling coalition head and the touted leader of the ‘principle’ opposition party have a panache for this selective blindness syndrome. Chattisgarh is a living example of how tribals are being exploited by grabbing their lands without their consent or by faking their consents. People have been killed or silenced in a bid to grab fertile lands. In many cases, the land owners were themselves not aware of their land being handed over to industries. The nexus of babus, industrial heads and village administrators have ensured that their voices shall never be heard. By openly removing the clause for the owner’s consent, the Government has now made it a field day to themselves kick the owners of the land out of their possession. The notion that Government will not do anything detrimental to the wellbeing of the community is now a joke that can at best be scoffed at. And this is more true in the case of tribals and villagers in Chattisgarh, Bihar, UP and Odisha. Neither Modi nor Rahul have truly displayed an understanding of the dynamics of tribal and village communities. The parties they represent can cry themselves hoarse when they are in the opposition, but when in power, they have both failed miserably in alleviating the cause of the public at large.
In short, if the earlier Land Acquisition Bill did not entirely ensure protection and rightful treatment of the aggrieved farmers, the modifications being introduced have outrightly dismissed any hopes that may have existed among the land owners. There are two important remedies that are being highlighted to redress the loss suffered by the owner. 1. A compensation that is 4 times that of the existing market rate. 2. Job for one of the family members. It would be quite interesting to understand how the Government proposes to educate the owners in utilization of their financial remuneration for a sustainable future. The lands in many regions aren’t owned by one particular person and typically its a family. How would the compensation be divided under such circumstances? The compensation that was provided to the families displaced due to the Kudankulam project has led to such an increase in family rifts that a record number of cases have been filed in the civil courts over sharing of the compensation package. Not only have the beneficiaries lost their property, but their Quality of Life has been completely destroyed due to such instances. Also, if a job is assured for one of the family members, what would the nature of that job be? Has the Government provided amenities that would help them qualify for a decent job? Is this job guaranteed? If the land is again shared by multiple families, which member of which family would be given the job? A single land can be a source of income for the entire family and also be worked upon by all the members of the family – including women and children. With that lost, what would the women do? Has the Government any idea of utilizing the excess resources that are available? The way the current Government is hell bent on destroying MGNREGA scheme, even the semblance of work that could have been provided to these members will be lost.
The burden of bad debts, the unseasonal rainfall, lost crops, Government apathy and sheer mismanagement has pushed thousands of farmers to the brink of suicide. The Government is yet to act constructively on this spate of suicides but all it has done so far is offer lip service. Modi’s Mann ki baat, was only a one way communication at best. If he had even deigned to address some of the burning issues the farmers are facing currently and have been facing, it would have made it worthwhile. So far, his walk and talk have barely matched. A ‘rejuvenated’ Rahul may be back with smart retorts and energized walkathons, but he would do well to first accept that his party had a major role to play in the debacle the farming community is now facing. And follow it up with constructive feedback and suggestions for the Government to implement.
The development of a country cannot be a short term vision progressing from election to election. Sustainable development needs a holistic approach in which environment and ecology plays a primary role. The incumbent Government has no sense about this – as is evident in the slew of measures it has undertaken.
(To be continued….)