Environmentalist GD Agarwal’s fast for a free-flowing, dam-free Ganga enters the 100th day today. Yet it -- as well as the June disaster in Uttarakhand that killed more than 4,000 people and destroyed the infrastructure in the state -- has failed to force the Union and state governments to take any decision on the future of hydropower projects on the river.
This inaction on the part of the State reminds me of the story of King Sagar who wanted to conquer everything. Are we becoming audacious like him — so overconfident that we want to conquer nature?
On Thursday, while hearing a case on the mining ban in Goa, the Supreme Court, too cautioned the government against an ‘economy first, everything later’ attitude. The court said: “…faster economic growth cannot be the sole criterion for determining the legality of the ban”. If this comment is applicable to the fragile ecology of Goa and the Western Ghats, then it is equally applicable to the Himalayas, the hilly tracts of the Northeast, the jungles in the tribal belts and the riverbeds that are being destroyed by the mining mafia.
But the government, it seems, has no intention of correcting the course. Last week, the ministry of environment and forests reconstituted the expert appraisal committee for river valley and hydroelectric projects.
Environmentalists expected that someone with experience in handling environmental issues would head the reconstituted panel. But that was not to be: the ministry chose someone, who according to the green lobby, ‘is known to be anti-environment’, has accused the ministry of blocking coal mining, and shown ignorance of environmental issues on several occasions. Appointments like this only prove that the government has little interest in a holistic development agenda.
Developmental activities such as dam building and excessive tourism in ecologically sensitive areas for commercial gain are just a few examples of the self-destructive steps and misplaced priorities.
This lack of interest in pursuing sustainable economic growth reminds me of what a senior forest officer said some years ago — and it still holds true: “Keep environment first, development will last. Keep development first, environment will be lost.”