Balancing the planet: We can’t just blame industry, we need to question our lifestyle too

 

By Bharati Amodkar* 

“Consumption for each individual is very subjective. One may be advocating for environment protection but at the same time might have home appliances responsible for GHG emissions. Climate change is critical issue world needs to address involving all stakeholders from Business, Government and society”, says Ms. Swati Desai, Environmental Activist, Gujarat, talking with me.

ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) driven strategies are quickly growing. Climate risk is generally heavily under stated. GRI tables, TCFD and SASB reporting standards and disclosures are becoming important norms to conduct business but are easy to manipulate through the routes of corruption, bribes, outdated technologies, governance leakage, local people information and knowledge gap to understand, lack of govt system to investigate  complex technologies and pollution issues with the business.  Also there is no single standard businesses can comply with. Ultimately, reporting can lead to “green washing” which many corporates do too. Question rises on political will as well. Standards has come down over time. Earlier standards were stringent. Recent trend by the govt. is to encourage industry, so the negotiating power with the industry is high.

Citing the example of Ankleshwar village in Gujarat, Ground water is degraded. Hand pump throws yellow water. It is absolutely not possible to use it even for washing.  Ms. Swati Desai, well known Environmental Activist, Gujarat has dedicated her life negotiating with businesses in the interest of society. “ In 1991, Ms. Desai along with her husband Michalle  tried to improve life of people living in Adivasi Gaon, Dediapada Taluka, village of 700 people. 

On one hand Ms. Desai was working structurally but on other hand Major hazardous chemical industries were hurting environment, those chemicals which are banned in other states and other countries. Narmada, Tapi, Daman Ganga all rivers were polluted and the water was  undrinkable. Agricultural activity thriving on this water was affected. Vegetables found heavy metals in it. Ms. Desai decided to work on policy front as well.  Ms. Desai runs “Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti” along with like-minded people who work on environmental awareness. This group interact with industry for the environmental issues.

Residential and agricultural Land is being acquired for industrial projects. 

Environmental Impact Assessment  processes have been strengthened by MoEF by a series of amendments while currently in practice is EIA notification 2006 and its amendments. As per this notification, public hearing is for local people and submission in writing from other plausible stakeholders. So NGOs/civil society organization (unless locally situated) have been excluded to take part in the public hearing.  Activists can’t speak what companies are doing but local people only can.  The hearings, documents  are in English language, People understand local language, they don’t know technical know-how.

Business also has difficulties. But Priorities and mindset need to change, being sensitive about the environment, about people surrounding  companies, factories also matters. Zero waste technologies are possible and we should take lesson from other countries. Sometimes  industries do not employ local people because they think if local people are employed, it would be an issue.  To cite some instances, if somebody is dead due to accident in a factory or company, it would be easier to  throw bodies on road. When vehicle crosses this body, it is much easier to convert ploy to accident and this is how  industrial death gets converted into accidental death. If workers from remote areas of the country are employed, it is much easier to do. It is human rights violation and against the spirit of constitution. 

Our country can decrease pollution provided political will to do so.  For example Chlorine, zinc, we are producing beyond what we need because we want to export. The countries to whom we are exporting are not producing because they know it is polluting. We are not only allowing industries to operate but in the cost of business we are selling our land, water and air. 

Ms. Swati Desai  further says “We get mixed response. Some industries listen to activists. But Industrial Lobby is so strong and so it’s difficult to convince and negotiate with all of them. Dies, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, chemical companies cause pollution. Pre COVID, activists could  have talks with govt authority also (State pollution control board). But since last 2 years this is not happening. Nearly 70 villages has been affected for tourism purposes near “statue of liberty”.

We cannot just blame industry. We need to question our lifestyle too. As long as there is demand, there will be production. To cite an example of Germany in 90s. They stopped using detergents and companies started closing. So collective response from society matters too.

*Student of IIM Bengaluru

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