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Globalisation vs India's Forests

Globalisation vs India's Forests

Wanton usage of forest land in the name of development has destroyed efforts towards community-led measures for protection and conservation in Orissa. The laxity in framing adequate environmental laws and the flouting of even the existing laws have had disastrous effects on the livelihoods of forestdwelling people in the state.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW september 13, 200819per cent). The anti-Christian campaign led to the barbaric killing of Graham Staines and his two sons at Manoharpur, Keonjhar, and also of pastor Arul Doss at Jamuboni, Mayurbhanj, in 1999. The Orissa govern-ment has passed the Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960 and the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967; both these Acts have helped the Sangh parivar to fan out its anti-Christian agenda. Conversion ControversyOrissa has remained under the hegemony of Jagannath culture for centuries; despite its celebration of universalism and syncre-tism, it still retains a brahminical core. First, when the parivar accuses Christian missionaries of converting Hindus, it knows well enough that caste prejudices are still rampant and dalits are not allowed to enter a Hindu temple despite the fact that the Orissa government has passed the Temple Entry Act way back in 1947. The panas of Kandhamal demanded entry into the Shiva temple in the early 1950s which was fiercely resisted; 50 years later the position remains the same. Hence, neither “lure” nor “force” is really needed for con-version; it is the Hindu hierarchical oppres-sive social order that forces the poor dalits to change their god. Second, the parivar raises the role of foreign money in prose-lytisation. However, the VHP and the Vanavasi Kalayan Ashram are in the list of recipients of the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), the Sangh parivar’s American funding agency. Third, the pari-var accuses missionaries of forcing the con-verts to discard their age-old traditions. Ironically, Laxmanananda systematically attacked all those tribal social and cultural practices which did not conform to “Hindu” traditions; for instance, ‘dhangda dhangdi’, a tribal practice of choosing life partners was denounced as ‘kusanskar’ (uncivilised) and was forcibly replaced with the Hindu marriage institution. Thus, Hindutva wants an exclusive proselytising right over the adivasis as they are “Hindus” without allowing them to exercise their freedom to choose their god.ConclusionsThe Kandhamal riots have exposed Hindutva’s brahmanical agenda which has no space for the poor dalits. When the panas demanded entry into the Shiva tem-ple in the 1950s, Hindutva did not recog-nise their legal right; if at all Hindutva per-mits, it has to be under the consent and patronage of the ‘savarnas’. Dalits in Kandhamal have consciously rejected Hinduism and embraced Christianity and hence, face the fury of Hindu communalism. In Kandhamal, the parivar’s anti-Christian and anti-dalit discourses run together. Milind Wani (milindwani@yahoo.com) and Ashish Kothari (ashishkothari@vsnl.com) are members of Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group.Globalisation vs India’s ForestsMilind Wani, Ashish KothariWanton usage of forest land in the name of development has destroyed efforts towards community-led measures for protection and conservation in Orissa. The laxity in framing adequate environmental laws and the flouting of even the existing laws have had disastrous effects on the livelihoods of forest- dwelling people in the state.There is palpable anger and frustra-tion in the village of Lapanga, in the Sambalpur district of Orissa. One hundred years of community-led forest protection is being undermined as the state government has given two corporate enti-ties permission to cut through the forest for laying roads and a water pipeline. Villag-ers’ protests have not been heeded, and the companies have already begun work. Lapanga is not an isolated case. Across India, forests conserved by local commu-nities for decades are being handed over to powerful commercial interests. This is in the name of the “development at all costs” that accompanies the country’s quest to become one of the world’s fastest grow-ing economies. At stake are lakhs of hec-tares of biodiversity-rich natural resource systems, the livelihoods of several million people who depend directly on these forests, and the water security of a much larger population. Nowhere is this more stark than the forest and tribal regions of Orissa, which the state government seems bent on converting into the raw material and labour capital of the world. Undermining Community InitiativesThe Rasol Khesra Jungle in Nayagarh dis-trict is a predominantly sal (shorea robusta) forest with two adjoining reservoirs. Spread over 860 acres, Rasol Khesra is an example of community initiated regenera-tion of forests and wildlife. The area is a pathway for elephants, and habitat for pangolin, wild dog, mouse deer, hyena, fly-ing squirrel, and other wildlife. Four vil-lages depend on this forest for various sur-vival and livelihood produce. Village forest committees (VFC) manage the forest using the ‘thengapali’ system. Thengapali (thenga = baton, pali = free/volunteer labour for the community), also interpreted as “turn of the baton”, is an ancient practice that has attracted forest management gurus from across the world. Voluntary forest guards from the community patrol the for-est against any untoward incident, and in the evening leave their batons outside the door of one or more households, who will take up the patrolling the following day. Anybody caught stealing forest produce is brought before the VFC for punishment. Around 1984, land in the village was leased to the Industrial Development
COMMENTARYseptember 13, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly20Corporation of Orissa (IDCO) for the Dharini Sugar Mill. This included 119 acres of the Rasol Khesra forest, but IDCO signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for their continued protection with the four neighbouring villages. In 1994, villagers got the Prakruti Mitra (“friend of nature”) award. In 2004, the factory was leased to Eastern Cylinders, now called Nayagarh Sugar Complex. The new owner started felling trees in 2005, without per-mission. It took strong protests by villag-ers for the forest department to take cog-nisance and book the culprits. The Central Empowered Committee (CEC), set up un-der Supreme Court directions for monitor-ing forest-related cases (under the T N Go-davarman case) has now also taken cogni-sance, on a complaint filed by the Orissa Jungle Manch (a state-level association of community forest management institu-tions). The matter is still pending. Mean-while, however, communities have been prohibited from collecting fuel, grasses, etc, from the forest even for domestic consumption. Shockingly, about 1,000 sal trees were felled in 2007, reportedly at the behest of the district collector, to build a road to a godown belonging to the Food Corporation of India.The Lapanga case in Sambalpur district also highlights the impacts of the current trend of globalisation-induced industriali-sation in Orissa. This area once consti-tuted a dense sal forest with a proud his-tory of over a 100 years of forest protection and management by community, termed the Dalki Praja Rakshit Jungle. Two projects now threaten this. The mining company Hindalco converted a grazing path through the forest into a pucca road of two km long and 50 m wide, to trans-port coal from a nearby mine. Bhushan Steel (a company with a number of joint ventures with foreign firms), is laying a water pipeline through this forest. Power-less to stop these moves, there is growing passivity amongst the local community towards the forest. Human-wildlife conflicts have also increased, perhaps due to enhanced disturbance of the wild-life within the forest, including coal dust andconstantmovement of trucks. Some flora species may also be on their way out, as indicated by villagers reporting the re-duced availability of several non-timber forest produce (NTFP). Globalisation threats loom large on Sun-dargarh district too. The area is charac-terised by dense forests, waterfalls, an elephant corridor (connecting Saranda in Jharkhand to Bhamragarh in Chhattis-garh), the rare limbless lizard sepsophis (recently discovered), and is the origin of eight major perennial streams. Sixty six per cent of the population belong to scheduled tribes. The Rs 51,000 crore investment pro-mised by the Korean multinational Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) includes a mine at Khandadhar, a steel plant at Jagatsinghpur, and a captive port at Paradeep. Together, according to local activists, these activities could threaten over 10,000 hectares of forest land, and the mining alone could displace about 30,000 people. Despite
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW september 13, 200821being components of the same project, separate environment clearances for each of these activities were sought by POSCO, obviously to portray relatively small impacts. It was thus able to obtain clear-ance under the Environment Protection Act, for the steel plant and the captive port. Clearance under the Forest Conservation Act for the steel plant is still pending.Already of serious concern is the pollu-tion caused by 48 sponge iron units in the area. Coal mining in Sundargarh district has already devastated many forest areas and villages. This situation will only be exacerbated if the POSCO projects are allowed to proceed. At each of the sites mentioned above, communities have vehemently protested. At the proposed POSCO plant site in Jagatsinghpur, for instance, thousands of villagers have effectively blocked any work, and villagers at its proposed mining site in Khandadhar are mobilising themselves to do the same. The access road to the pro-posed Tata Steel Plant at Kalinganagar, where several protesting villagers were ear-lier killed in a brutally repressive action by the state, has been blocked by the Vistha-pan Virodhi Manch for nearly 15 months, and all work at the plant is halted. In many cases, local villagers have been joined by state and nationalNGOs. In some cases such as the proposed mining by Vedanta/Sterlite in the biodiversity-rich and culturally sensitive Niyamgiri hills, conservation and human rightsNGOs have helped file cases in the high or Supreme Courts. The Orissa government, however, has bent over backwards to provide subsidies and facilities to the corporate companies, often overlooking their violation of environmental laws and human rights.Environmental DeregulationThe above case studies were amongst sev-eral that were discussed in a recent work-shop on Underlying Causes of Deforestation and Forest Degradation, held in Bhu-baneshwar, January 26-28, 2008. This was organised by Kalpavriksh and Vasundhara, NGOs working on environment and devel-opment issues, under the sponsorship of the Global Forest Coalition, an interna-tional network of civil society organisations working on deforestation issues. Examples from across Orissa, by researchers of Vasundhara and some other conservation-ists or academics, were put into the national context of macroeconomic and environ-mental policies by researcher-activists like Aseem Srivastava, Kanchi Kohli of Kalpavriksh, and Kishor Samal, professor of Economics at the N C Centre for Development Studies, Orissa. There is a close link between processes of globalisation that the Indian govern-ment has followed, and the ecological and livelihood crisis witnessed in Orissa and elsewhere. Spearheaded by Manmohan Singh as finance minister in 1991, under theIMF and World Bank influence, India adopted far-reaching policies of economic liberalisation. This included export-led growth with breaking of barriers to cheap imports as also foreign direct investment, delicensing of industry, and so on. Signifi-cantly enhanced mining, exploitation of marine resources, commercialisation of agriculture, and other processes have been the direct result of trying to rapidly increase export earnings. The logic of the current phase of globalisation, dominated by profit interests is based on externalisa-tion of environmental and social “costs” of development. Rarely do business interests bear the responsibility of the damage they cause. Interestingly, states like Orissa con-tinue to focus on the primary and second-ary sectors for economic growth, as wit-nessed in the spurt in mining and indus-tries. Foreign investments are high, such as those byPOSCO, and Vedanta/Sterlite (highly controversial for wanting to mine in a sacred landscape of some of India’s most vulnerable tribal groups, and ille-gally starting operations without neces-sary permissions). The push for such predatory economic growth, does not spare even existing envi-ronmental norms and policies. Recent changes in relevant laws and notifications have tended to help ease the licensing process for industries and mines, regard-less of their ecological and social impacts. A stark example is the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 1994, issued under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986. This notification made it manda-tory for development and industrial projects to undertake studies of their envi-ronmental impacts, and based on this obtain clearance from the union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF). This system was meant to bring some degree of sustainability into developmental deci-sion-making, as also provide an opportu-nity to local people and civil society organisations to make their voicesheard. Implementation of the EIA notification has always been problematic. In the period 1986 to 2006, 4,016 projects were granted environment clearance by the MoEF. A much larger number, however, operated without the clearance; noting this, in March 2005, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of all such illegally running units. Soon after, in July 2005, the MoEF set into motion a process of seeking tem-porary working permissions (TWPs) and post facto (i e, after the construction and operations have begun) clearances through an amendment to the EIA notification. Sub-sequently, the EIA procedures were over-hauled in 2006. Almost none of the sug-gestions made over a decade to improve the regulatory process enhance the quality of information for decision-making, or extend public participation and transpar-ency, were taken on board. Instead, the reforms focused on speedy clearances. They now allow only those with “direct stake” in the project or its impacts to par-ticipate in public hearings, effectively rob-bing civil society organisations who may have been able to study the project pro-posal, the chance to participate other than in writing. In any case, even overwhelm-ing public opinion against a proposed project in a public hearing can bedisre-garded as there is no necessity to take this into account in the final decision. The logic of economic globalisation is now playing out fully. In recent years there has been a massive increase in forest clear-ance for dams, mines, industries or infra-structure projects like roads, as brought out in documents obtained by Kalpavriksh from theMoEF using the Right to Informa-tion Act. Out of a total of 11,40,177 hectares of forest land cleared since 1980, approximately 3,11,220 hectares has been cleared since 2003; thus over a quarter of the total clearances in 26 years of imple-mentation of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, has been in the last four years. In Orissa, forest diversion doubled in the post-liberalisation era: from 9,800

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