Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Environment still has low priority in Kerala

Gulf Today

A slight rise in global temperature levels can force coastal residents to seek shelter in the interior as climate refugees, a scientist said at the Indian Science Congress, held in the state capital last week.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan was among the state dignitaries who attended the Congress. In a prepared speech, the chief minister even made a sensible point when he deplored the tendency among the youth to neglect basic sciences and give weightage to information technology related subjects.

But the sound warning about the need to protect the state’s environment has not made any impact on the official establishment, which has been promoting ecologically disastrous schemes in the name of development.

The state comprises three distinct geographical regions, all of which are in an extremely fragile condition. The long coastline is subject to erosion by the sea at many places. Much of the tropical evergreen forests has been depleted over the past half century as a result of encroachments by settlers who enjoyed political patronage. The plains in the middle have suffered heavy soil erosion.

Depletion of underground water sources have been reported from all regions. The hills, the lakes and the backwaters are the mainstay of the tourism industry, which has lately emerged as a major element in the fast growing service sector. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that further damage the environment may well spell death.

Environmentalists saw the writing on the wall 25 years ago and raised a hue and cry against the Silent Valley hydro-electrical project which posed a serious threat to the surviving rainforests. The political parties, bureaucrats, engineers and the media forged a united front against them. The small band of environmentalists could prevail over this formidable combination because Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s recognised the justness of their cause.

Since then political parties have paid lip service to environmental protection but while in power attempted to take up projects without regard for ecological consequences. One project successive governments have relentlessly pursued is the Athirappalli project, which has been projected as a substitute for the Silent Valley project.

Environmentalists and tribal residents of the forest areas that will be submerged campaigned vigorously against the project. At one point the central government gave environmental clearance to the project, overlooking all objections.

But the people continued the campaign. Last week the centre issued a notice to the state government to show cause why the environmental clearance cannot be cancelled.

Electricity minister AK Balan rushed to New Delhi to plead against the contemplated action. He claimed that clearance was given after studying the likely environmental impact.

Union minister Jairam Ramesh told Balan he had personally looked into the matter and was convinced the project would adversely affect the forest and the lives of the tribal communities living there.

Balan returned to the state fuming there was a conspiracy against the state. Apparently the political leadership has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. The state of the environment and the fate of the poor continue to be matters of low priority to the state administration.

Public resentment over the government’s indifferent attitude towards people’s protests against environmental pollution erupted into violence in the Mampad area of Nilambur last week.

Last Tuesday villagers protesting outside a polluting latex factory were fired upon by a security guard. Media reports indicate that the factory management had engaged the man, who hails from a northern state, as guard because he possessed a licensed gun. One villager received bullet injury and another suffered knife injury.

Angry villagers retaliated by setting the factory on fire. The next day a few other polluting factories were also set on fire.

The official establishment has reacted coolly to the bizarre events. No minister has considered it worthwhile to even visit the place. To the government it appears to be simply a matter for the police to handle. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 11, 2010

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