Efforts on to bulldoze Himalayas with destructive development amidst move to change environmental laws to suit corporates

himalayasBy Ashok Shrimali*

Over one hundred non-profit organizations and individuals from across India held a two-day consultation on October 8-9, at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi, on the impact on Himalayas because of the recent changes in ecology as well as human intervention. They discussed about the Himalaya’s future, and unanimously rejected the recent moves of the Government of India to bulldoze the Himalayas with destructive development, even as challenging the government effort to rapidly dismantle all the environmental laws of the country, and reverse earlier decisions for enabling greater corporate takeover.

Participants at the meeting agreed that the Government of India’s high level committee set up to bring about changes in the environmental laws itself is an effort to compromise on existing environmental norms by initiating legal changes. The effort is to ensure that no “developmental” project is rejected or delayed purely because of environmental concerns. The present government, following the footsteps of its predecessors, has been involved in violating the constitutional rights of the people over natural resources through Articles 39B, 21A and 19 (1). People, are who dependent on natural resources, have been struggling against this open loot of resources.

The meeting decided to resist and ensure reversal of the so-called policy-based changes which are blatantly helping the corporate sector through investment melas and concessions, allowing it to exploit the natural resources and livelihoods of communities. The new government needs to completely move away from this corporate-led development which destroys the nation. We need policies that promote the sustainable practices of the communities.

Special concern was expressed over the clearance granted to the Dibang hydro power project in Arunachal Pradesh, which was rejected twice by the Forest Advisory Committee. The meeting also rejected the initiative of the Government of India to revive the mindless river-linking project across the country without considering the ecological consequences. Rivers must be allowed to flow their natural course without disturbance of any kind. It decided to collectively resist the design of profiteering through a mass resistance.

Those who participated included Kulbhushan Upmanyu, president, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan; Vijay Pratap, convener, South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED); Radha Behn, chairperson of the Gandhi Peace Foundation; R Sreedhar, chairperson, Mines Minerals and People; , independent scientists Meher Engineer and Jayant Bandopadhayay; Ashok Choudhari, All India Union of Forest Working People; Dinbandhu Vats of the Public Advocacy Initiatives for Rights and Values in India (PAIRVI); Swathi Seshadri, Equation; Ravindra Nath, River Basin Friends; Akhil Gogoi, president  Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, Assam; and Guman Singh, coordinator, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan.

The meeting unanimously resolved that “the current capitalist development paradigm – based upon centralization, appropriation and sale of private and community natural resources in order to maximize state revenue, and corporate profit extracting and destroying  local livelihoods and the productivity of natural ecosystems – is ignoring basic issues like human values, social and cultural fabric, effect on climate, adherence to norms of public participation in decision making and environmental safeguards and deepening ecological crisis at an alarming speed.”

The resolution, adopted at the meeting, said, “The Himalayan region is ecologically complex and environmentally fragile. Unfortunately, official project based interventions have been made without giving adequate recognition to these issues, both by lack of knowledge and by avoiding the use of available knowledge, the vested interests in both plains and the Himalayas have pushed such a process. Such steps have compounded the adverse impacts of the environmental fragility, causing heavy loss of life, livelihood and property. This trend has to be reversed by open and democratic use of knowledge for addressing the Himalaya and the complete basin of rivers emerging from the Himalayas, served by their ecosystem services.”

It pointed towards the “need to defend Himalayan peoples’ rights over natural resources that include indigenous and traditional rights over natural resources.” It said, “State-citizen power conflicts in the Himalayan region shall be addressed in democratic sprit and state repression at all level against people shall not be tolerated and accepted”. It added, “This government and its predecessors have always violated the constitutional rights of the people over natural resources eg Article 39B, 21A and 19 (1). People dependent on natural resources have been struggling against the loot of resources.”

The meeting underlined that “all mega industrial and development projects such as damming of rivers, mega hydro power projects, cement plants, roads, mining, unsustainable tourism, any engineering structures and any interventions to the river-flow are causing environmental degradation, destroying forests, biodiversity, and all basic resources are posing threat to the very existence of mountain and downstream communities and their forests, biodiversity and river systems.”

The resolution said, “We are in agreement with development which is ecologically appropriate, sustainable and doesn’t detrimentally affect either upstream or downstream people. Ecologically fragile zones like the Himalayas should conform to the precautionary principles in all aspects of growth and development policies.”

The meeting expressed concern over the fact that “in the current political situation several existing safeguards are being dismantled and diluted in the name of speedier development by a slew of changes in subordinate legislation through various mechanisms.” It noted, “The government is trying to establish a single-window mechanism for expediting the destructive and extractive development process through a Ministry for Himalayas, and is seriously making effort through surrogate methods to force a consensus on such a mechanism.”

  • Keeping this framework, the meeting resolved that the participants would:
    Combat capitalist, communal and undemocratic model of development and support all struggles in the Himalayas and across the country and extend solidarity in other Himalayan countries in their struggle for sustainability and equality;
  • Work to uphold the basic intent of the constitution of realizing a socialist, secular, and democratic republic;
  • Ensure that constitutional rights such as 39(b), 21(a), 19(1), empowering peoples’ rights on commons, right to live and uphold democratic voice, are not violated;
  • Form a broad based think tank to engage with ecological, political and legal issues of power to the people to realize our constitutional goals; and
  • Challenge every such move by the state and the corporate sector intent upon destroying the livelihoods of communities for their revenues and private profits.

*Senior Ahmedabad-based activist associated with Setu Centre For Social Knowledge And Action, Ahmedabad, and Mines Minerals and People, Delhi

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