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Print edition


When planting trees is a curse

 Forests have been blacked out in the economic assessment of the country. The Economic Survey does not even list forestry as a sector, for which accounts are prepared. Instead it is lumped together with agriculture and fisheries. In other words, there are no estimates of the productivity of this sector, which encompasses over 20 per cent of the country’s land area.

Ganga needs water, not money

It was way back in 1986 that Rajiv Gandhi had launched the Ganga Action Plan. But years later, after much water (sewage) and money has flowed down the river, it is as bad as it could get. Why are we failing and what needs to be done differently to clean this and many other rivers?

Breaking the impasse of 2013

When I look back at 2013, I hear a cacophony. There was huge dissent about the way we are mismanaging coal reserves; the Supreme Court shut down iron ore mining in Goa; there was outcry about rampant sand mining and the havoc it is wreaking on rivers. There were equally loud calls for the need for green clearance to all projects, from hydropower projects in the Himalayas to mines in dense forests of central India. One side wanted to shut everything; another wanted to open up everything.

Loud and unclear

Does the Indian government’s loud voice in international negotiations produce results? At the recent WTO meet in Bali, the Indian government went all guns blazing to defend the rights of its farmers and to ensure food security for millions of poor. It opposed the Agreement on Agriculture that limits government food procurement at 10 per cent of the value of total production, based on the prices of late 1980s. It said this clause would impinge on its right to offer farmers a supportive price and to procure food stocks for its food safety programme.

The climate and trade tango

India has emerged as a “voice” in climate change and trade negotiations. At the recently concluded trade talks in Bali, the Indian government was insistent that the rights of poor farmers should not be compromised; in climate change it has raised the matter of equity in sharing global atmospheric space. The already industrialised countries say India is obstinate, strident and unnecessarily obstructionist in crucial global debates. The problem is not that India is loud—that it must be.

India’s twin environmental challenges

In the past 10 years, India’s environmental movement has had a rebirth. It was first born in the 1970s, when the industrialised world was seeing the impact of growth on its environment. In that decade the air and rivers of London, Tokyo and New York were full of toxins. The world was learning the pain of pollution. The first major global conference on the environment, the Stockholm meet, was held to find ways to deal with this growing scourge.

Climate science in real world

What we desperately shut our minds to is once again being pronounced ever more clearly: climate change is here; it is already bringing devastating extreme weather events; it will become worse in the years to come. In late September, part 1 of the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released in Stockholm.

Call the monitor

In Goa mines are closed. In Bellary, iron ore mines, once closed, have been opened on the condition that they will now follow a plan for environmental restoration and will not indulge in unseemly and distasteful activities. But the institutions for checking the reformed miners are still in disarray. They cannot monitor and enforce the rules. So, believe it or not, little will actually change in the Bellary landscape.

Gas, found and lost

Natural gas as fuel has environmental benefits, particularly when compared to burning coal for power generation or using diesel for vehicles. So when the government increases—in fact, doubles—the price of domestically produced natural gas it has far-reaching implications for air quality and public health. But these benefits do not matter at all in the price-benefit calculations.

Himalayan blunders

 The floods in the Himalayas have been ferocious and deadly. Fears are that the final body count could run into several thousands. There is no clear estimate of the number of villages wiped out, property destroyed, roads washed away and hydropower projects damaged in the mountain state of Uttarakhand. The mountains are bleeding and its people have been left battered, bruised and dead.

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