Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fighting the Odds

Jairam Ramesh, the Minister for Environment and Forests has candidly admitted that he has been forced to give his nod to many development projects that violate the Environment Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act and accompanying rules, especially those related to Environment Impact Assessment. Ultimately the costs of environmental and social rehabilitation of industrial projects is so high that incorporating them would make most projects unviable. So there is always pressure from the industrialists to turn a blind eye to the environmental laws and rules. However, with increasing unrest and protest from those affected by the environmental and social ill effects of such development and the tendency on their part to go to court to get their rights the Ministry of Environment and Forests under Jairam Ramesh had initially taken a hard stand after the United Progressive Alliance came to power for a second time in 2009. Even though from the beginning the Prime Minister's office has been clamouring for the taking of a more lenient stand initially Ramesh was able to withhold permission for mining of bauxite by Vedanta and the acquisition of forest land for the setting up of the POSCO steel plant both in Orissa. The permission for the construction of the Polavaram dam on the River Godavari was also withheld. Closer home the completion of the Maheshwar dam on the River Narmada too was withheld. But now all of a sudden the POSCO project, the Polavaram dam and the Maheshwar dam have all been given conditional clearances at the behest of the Prime Minister.
Presently there is a second power centre in this country in the form of Sonia Gandhi and the National Advisory Council. The latter has many social activists and retired activist bureaucrats as members. Thus, the NAC frequently comes up with socially and environmentally more just and sustainable suggestions which strike at the root of centralised governance and resource extraction for private profit. However, the limits of such radicalism seem to have been reached as at the end of the day Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul have to satisfy the ruling classes both nationally and internationally. They have been given to understand that it is not possible to follow a radical environmentalist and socialist agenda without jeopardising the economic growth and accumulation of capital. So the NAC and Jairam Ramesh have been reined in and environmental clearances are being given at a rapid clip.
The situation in the Narmada valley is really disturbing. The rehabilitation of the oustees of all the dams on the Narmada and its tributaries has not taken place. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has filed cases in the High and Supreme Courts against this omission and has stalled the completion of these dams or the closure of the gates in the dams that have been completed. Despite court orders the governments involved are dillydallying and trying to put pressure on the central government to bypass the laws and the courts. The Madhya Pradesh Government has gone to the extent of filing false affidavits and on the basis of these has tried to indict the activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan for contempt of court. Despite solid evidence and analysis to show that the dams are economically unviable apart from being socially and environmentally unsustainable the government is reluctant to pursue alternative projects for irrigation development and electricity generation.
The higher courts in India show some respect for the law but they too are handicapped in a situation in which the executive and the ruling classes behind it are hell bent on violating the Constitution and other statutes. The Supreme Court has not been able to do much to improve the human rights situation of ordinary citizens in the areas in which the Maoists are active despite several strictures being passed. Neither has it been able to ensure that proper compensation be given to the kin of those workers who have died or rendered terminally ill from having contracted silicosis after working in stone crusher units and mines in various parts of the country.  Bonded labour continues, especially among workers in brick kilns, throughout the country despite many orders and judgments of the higher judiciary for strict implementation of the law against such labour. Similarly trafficking of women and girls too is rampant. As is the evasion of taxes. All in all a comprehensive violation of the Rule of Law which is the cornerstone of liberal democracy.
Under the circumstances the future of grassroots activism indeed looks bleak. Organisations like the, POSCO Pratirodh Sangharsh Samiti, Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath can only fight a rear guard action in some small areas without being able to impact the system in any major way. A fight against Herculean odds. Nevertheless the fight must go on. 

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