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   Friday, February 22, 2019
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Hiding behind the growth veil
By Carmen Miranda

The last thing we need is the increasing inclination of the State to suppress important reports concerning environment and ecology and allowing the destructive forces to play havoc with the natural wealth of the country.

Uncontrolled mining has caused irreparable damage to Goa’s ecology and

When Union Ministries commission “experts” to do a study such as the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report, or the investigation by the Shah Commission into the illegal mining in Goa, one assumes the intention is for the overall benefit of the country and welfare of its people. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a wrong assumption.

In the era gone by, when idealism still existed, ethics was part of the vocabulary and politicians genuinely fought for social justice. In those good old days, development considerations and governance were about five-year plans, equity, sustainable development and much more.

Are we imagining the existence of “good old days”? Perhaps those, soon after independence, when finally we got rid of those colonialists plundering our resources without mercy, count or measure! Or in a recent past, before the nine percent growth became that magic number driving the government’s “development” engine?

Possibly the truth is governments are not there to serve the people after all, and that explains the fact that despite bragging about the biggest democracy in the world, governments seem to be there to serve the interests of their own parties and that of the privileged minority, making them even more privileged and ensuring they plunder the country’s resources with impunity! Back to pre-independence reality? Forget about colonial powers plundering our resources! Privileged nationals are doing that exceptionally well without any help from colonial powers.

And they are helped and protected by the State which has begun to suppress important and useful reports, making it difficult to figure out whose interests the government is trying to safeguard or serve.

The Shah Commission investigation is a bomb waiting to explode and hopefully bury in the explosion rubble a huge number of Goan politicians’ careers whose levels of cynicism and criminal activity should be a national embarrassment.

Take the study commissioned by former Union Minister for the Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh to demarcate the ecologically sensitive areas in the Western Ghats. The report was unfortunately submitted after he left the ministry and took “transparency” with him. We found to our dismay that his successor Union minister Jayanthi Natarajan, shut the door of dialogue with NGOs. Further, in her new brand of “logic”, she decided that the WGEEP report, produced as result of pressure from Civil Society and contributions by many knowledgeable NGOs working in the field, should not be made public to Civil Society until state governments examined it first and most probably rejected it.

The logic of commissioning experts to do complex and costly studies, and then follow this wise initiative by handing the reports over to a bunch of “ignoramus” state government ministers, who are supposed to make “informed” decisions and act or not act on the recommendations of crucial reports they cannot even understand, beggars belief!

What is the significance of this manoeuvring and secrecy? Are the Western Ghats part of a broad national security plan, by any chance? It is an issue of national importance, as it relates broadly to food, water and energy. But the need of the hour in this case is precisely the opposite of secrecy – what is needed is public awareness and massive education of the masses and government officials, regarding the importance of protecting and managing this region wisely, and not a cover-up.

When the reports are released, the big issue for Civil Society will be to ensure the recommendations are implemented swiftly, whether the Union Government and State Governments like it or not.

Since when are recommendations to protect the environment a secret issue? Is it because it will put a break on the frantic exploitation by mining barons or corporates waiting to exploit natural wealth? Or, because it will impose tighter control over human activity and expansion into areas that are rich in bio-diversity and endemism? Or, because it will protect areas of crucial national and global bio-diversity importance? Or, it will stop the expansion of hill stations and curb commercial tourism in national parks? What is there in this report that led Madam Natarajan to raise it to almost a status of “national security secrecy”? Why has she been so reluctant to release the report to public domain that her ministry even ignored several RTI applications? Whose vested interests is she trying to protect?

On the other hand we have the Shah Commission investigation commissioned by the Union Ministry of Mines, which should have been made public before the end of the last year. But the prospect of elections in Goa ensured this report was also prevented from being made public (so much for freedom of speech and freedom of information!). But here, one can understand why they (not sure who “they” are) need to keep the report secret, given that many of the politicians in Goa are involved in the illegal mining business. Many candidates would have simply wiped out from the election scene and ended up in jail, if their scams were officially made public and acted upon before the elections.

The Shah Commission investigation is a bomb waiting to explode and hopefully bury in the explosion rubble a huge number of Goan politicians’ careers whose levels of cynicism and criminal activity should be a national embarrassment. But national embarrassment is a thing of the past. So no wonder this report too is shrouded in secrecy to protect criminal activity. But who is involved in illegal mining is now common knowledge and despite efforts to suppress the reports the public has a pretty good idea of what the gist of the reports is, thanks to leaks to the media.

When the reports are released, the big issue for Civil Society will be to ensure the recommendations are implemented swiftly, whether the Union Government and State Governments like it or not.

After all politicians will come and go frequently, but once the environment is destroyed irreversibly and our resources are plundered with no benefits for the people, the damage will remain for generations to come.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Carmen Miranda  |  carmitamiranda@gmail.com

Carmen Miranda is a renowned environmentalist. She is based in London and actively involved in Save Western Ghats movement. Her crusade against mining in Goa is well known.

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

 Other Articles by Carmen Miranda in
Environment Development  > Conservation > National Policies and Programmes

A tough act to follow
Saturday, June 05, 2010

Jairam Ramesh, as India's Environment and Forests Minister, handles one of the most difficult jobs in the Indian cabinet. He has to reconcile between ecological balance and economic growth, and that too at a time of the global economic crisis, and the biggest environmental crisis in living memory.
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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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