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When a "senior journalist who has written several books on development" abdicates either sanity or integrity or both and starts spouting propaganda that has been rejected by the people it attempts to enslave, it falls upon the humble blogger with no dependence on advertisers to call for a sanity check, because it appears that B G Verghese has lost it totally.

All quotes are from this article except ones in italics where it is specifically mentioned otherwise

In essence, B G Verghese has some knowledge of mining. Or tribal life. Or uses irrefutable statistics (no, not the Vedanta pamphlet). No? Oh well.... So, Mr Verghese, let us see what this article is really saying in the name of an expert opinion on the *welfare* of the tribals.

The State government decided that a sample poll of 12 palli sabhas located on the slopes of the proposed mining site would suffice though others, including the Union ministry for tribal affairs hold that all the 112 or so Dongaria Kondh villages in the Niyamgiri Hills should be consulted.

That is not a coincidence. Vedanta built a $2 billion refinery and signed on for 150 million tonnes of bauxite from the (state owned) Orissa Mining Corp BEFORE getting environmental clearances. Vedanta sinking is not going to make the state happy. Reports from the ground clearly indicate that the 12 sabhas were selected (by the state) as to be least hostile to the project. All 12 ended up rejecting Vedanta anyway.

This sacred land was the source of their religious and spiritual wellbeing, livelihood and water, plant, wild root and herbal resources as (hunter-) gatherers and jhum farmers. Should mining be permitted, streams would dry up and people would despair and die.

Are these viable arguments or partly the product of understandable anxieties based on exaggerated notions of the consequences of mining expressed by project and ecological naysayers?

Dongria Kondh DanceLolwut? A carpet bombing of religious beliefs and traditions and entire livelihoods? Here's an idea. No livelihoods depend on the Ram Temple. It is also a religious belief thing and has actually done more damage than some remote tribals few even know about. How about convincing them to give up their rights (Either side - not picky as long as conflict ends) and saving the country from a major headache?

As for whether drying of streams is a viable argument, most of India is headed toward being water scarce in a little over a decade. Does water count as an important factor in decision making? Damn straight it does.

Are these partly the product of paranoia? "

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you” ~ Joseph Heller (Catch 22)

Red mud, increased turbidity in water bodies, irreparable damage to aquatic habitats and corrosive dust are recognized as consequences that will need severe mitigation to minimize. We aren't talking prevent or reverse here.

Some fears are clearly wrong. Bauxite hill tops are here characteristically overlain with impervious strata that do not permit percolation. Thus rain drains down the hill slopes where some percolation takes place. The hill tops therefore only have sparse forest cover. Removal of the overburden to extract bauxite would thereby facilitate percolation and improve the water regime.

Orly?

Here is some information from Jamaica (deliberately not using data from India, since it will either get blamed on the inefficiency of the system, or "foreign funded" NGOs or some nonsense). Whole document is worth a read, but I'm quoting some important bits here:


Jamaica Bauxite Case (BAUXITE)


CASE NUMBER:131
CASE MNEMONIC:BAUXITE
CASE NAME:Bauxite and Jamaica

[...] The principal environmental issues facing Jamaica's second largest industry are caustic soda contamination of water supplies, bauxite and alumina dust, and eco-system dislocation. However, the island is so dependent on the export that it is very difficult to stop the practice. [...] The major environmental problem caused by the industry is the disposal of the tailings, which form an alkaline mud. The original procedure that was used to dispose of the red mud to pump material into mined-out ore bodies and dyked valleys. However, these "red mud lakes" resulted in the percolation of caustic residues (sodium) into the underground aquifers in local areas.

Worth mentioning here is a hint that it might be a good idea to google for news on Vedanta's tailing ponds in Goa. Not claiming it as my data though. Let's continue with the "neutral".

[...] Furthermore, these ponds never dried out after they were full and consequently had to be abandoned. Recent readings obtained from domestic water wells in the vicinity of Jamaican alumina refineries have indicated elevated sodium and PH readings. Also, the escape of caustic soda (which is used to extract alumina from raw bauxite) into the groundwater supply significantly increases sodium concentration of domestic well water mostly in the rural areas. Sodium is associated with a higher incidence of hypertension. As a result of its genetic composition, the Jamaican population is particularly subject to hypertension, which can be aggravated by high levels of sodium. The environmental impact of Jamaica's bauxite mining symbolizes the majority of mining or heavy industrial operations. Bauxite mining, which is considered as surface mining, is land extensive, noisy and dusty. Mining pits are often interspersed with small rural communities, thereby requiring companies relocate the people and/or to monetarily compensate them. An increasing concern is the loss of habitat for Jamaica's unique plant and animal species. Also, bauxite mining severely affects the water retention capability of the soil. The Jamaican Mining Act of 1947 requires mines to remove topsoil before mining, and restore it as part of the reclamation process. However, due to the enlargement of the surface area after mining, and the extraction of much bauxite, the soil is less capable of retaining water. Where formerly annual crops were grown, now only tree crops and pasture are feasible, and water reaches the aquifers more quickly.

[...] Two other environmental impacts of great concern is dust and caustic soda contamination. The particularly small size of both raw bauxite and alumina very often affect areas downwind of mining, transport, calcining, and ship loading operations

[...] In addition, since the 1950's a significant amount of land purchases have been executed, however there still remains a substantial amount of small settlers residing and carrying out subsistence-level farming on bauxite lands. Generally, these individuals are found within very tightly-knit communities and kinship groups. The overwhelming impact of the acquisition of their lands and the process of relocating them into new communities that are yet to be developed very frequently results in the separation of family groups. Attempts have been made to relocate of these individuals onto larger subdivided holdings in close proximity to the established community facilities. However, the voluntary admission of small settlers to temporarily relocate during the period in which their lands is being mined, and to which they are permitted to return once the lands have been rehabilitated is yet another goal to be attained.

New projects are hardly news in Orissa. Development-hit people from everything from mines to weapons testing ranges have the privilege of being relocated here. Many of them several times, as in relocated from their relocated reloation. What will a few "do-gooders" tell them about "generous compensations" that they haven't seen around them. Vedanta is hardly Orissa's first mining project. Most "development hit" people are left to fend for themselves here, while a few token ones are given pretty goodies and a lot of photo ops so important people can showcase their development.

Further, the current levels of education, malnutrition and health are utterly pitiable, with rampant cerebral malaria and other killer diseases, lack of easy access to potable water from distant streams, and the absence of roads and market access.

Erm, Vedanta is a MINING COMPANY, which wants to mine their land, which adds dust to the air and caustic soda to the water (please read again), not some romantic version of "Doctors without Borders" or something.

Thus any external intervention, properly regulated, could be a blessing.

Erm, the government isn't capable of ensuring people's rights, you pointed out. Vedanta went and built a refinery without environmental clearances. What part of this sounds like the government is capable of "properly regulating Vedanta? How does this compute?

Instead, we have relatively well-heeled outsiders and activists coming from afar, like Rahul Gandhi and Bianca Jagger and other do-gooders, striving to preserve the notion of the’noble savage,’ whose life at the end of the day is “nasty, brutish and short”.

Ah yes, the outsider argument by the native, right? Oh wait... I meant in defense of the native... oh scratch that... One kind of outsider is "evil", but this company may be British and it may have caused environmental messes in other places, but it is called Vedanta! Which would be based on the name of holy books of completely native people from... not Niyamgiri. Do you have *any* idea how absurd this sounds, Mr. Verghese? On one hand, you're claiming a right to appropriate the living grounds of people against their consent. On another, you're foulmouthing the intervention of outsiders who don't have the interest of the tribals at heart, and at no point does this occur to you that it may be *you* who's coming in with an idea no local can recognize? At least you can't be called a do gooder, Mr Verghese. Or even do good.

On the orders of the Supreme Court, VAL is committed to spending 10 per cent of it profits before tax or Rs 10 crore, whichever is higher, for “sustainable development” of the area. Thus it has over the past decade spent some Rs 170 crore on developing social and economic facilities for the benefit of those living around the Lanjigarh refinery and Niyamgiri mining site.

You can't have it both ways, dude. Chaps built an illegal refinery that got heavily contested. They did a lot of CSR bribes to get away with it. It was a gamble that failed. Believe it or not, whatever goodies they threw at the tribals were clearly not as good as you imagine, since the tribals prefer to keep their mountain instead of them. And it is their right.  They are not required to be able to write editorials in order to justify their decisions. They spoke in the gram sabhas.

This includes the building and running of schools, a hospital, operating mobile health vans, provision of water supply and power, setting up a self-help group for the local women and so forth. Has any critic compared this with the work done by the state-sponsored Dongaria Kondh Development Agency? And what of other tribal areas in Odisha or elsewhere? Which loud-mouthed activist has lifted a finger to assist the most wretched of our people who languish in splendid isolation? What even has the state been able to accomplish?

The idea that because people were not helped by a lazy state, there must be a free for all on whoever wants to exploit them is absurd. I know several activists who have indeed lifted more than a finger to help those people as opposed to slotting them into convenient places in your visions of development.

The Supreme Court has declared that the mineral and other natural resources  are national assets held in trust by the government. The tribal people have an entitlement to surface minerals but cannot claim exclusive overall rights.

You will have to provide me with some legal source for "The tribal people have an entitlement to surface minerals but cannot claim exclusive overall rights." particularly that "cannot", because they just did, and the Supreme Court is not unaware of the proceedings.

Hopefully, the ministries of environment and forest and of Tribal Affairs will jointly advise the Supreme Court accordingly.

The ministries aren't smoking whatever Mr. Verghese smoking! They know there is only so much they can stretch a fictional case of development. Contrary to what Mr. Verghese believes, Odisha has the second highest revenues in the country from minerals - the first is not a state. Surely any development mines would bring would have been evident by now? Here's a nice quote from the first paragraph of the statewise mineral scenario page of Ministry of Mines for you. Going to be really tough for the ministries to explain the virtues of that argument with these statistics.

During the year 2010-11, mineral production was reported from 32 States/Union Territories of which the bulk of value of mineral production of about 90.03% was confined to 11 States (including offshore areas) only. Offshore areas continued to be in leading position, in terms of value of mineral production in the country and had the share of 25.64% in the national output. Next in order was Odisha with a share of 10.62% followed by Rajasthan (8.58%), Andhra Pradesh (7.81%), Jharkhand (7.72%), Chhattisgarh (6.65%), Gujarat (6.33%), Madhya Pradesh (5.28%), Assam (4.64%), Goa (3.49%) and Karnataka (3.27%) and in the total value of mineral production.

Not only is leading the country in mineral production doing zero for Odisha's development, the top five slots are not famous for development either. So it is this one mountain that is preventing mines from causing development, I think. BULL SHIT.

The nation needs bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper and other minerals, well-conceived water storages and diversions, power plants, rail and road connectivity, ports and social development in these back-of-beyond regions that the Maoists are taking over on account of callous neglect and lack of development.

No, Mr. Verghese, the Nation needs its financial deficit to go down. It needs a lot of money to fix a lot of very serious problems. The refineries and such are just one way of achieving it. Not even the best, since economists are forever whining about how it is not good to be exporters of raw materials and importers of finished products and how it brings about poverty (for Odisha?).

So, let us try another version of "greater good". Are you willing to retain an equivalent of the mean national income and give the rest to the state in the interests of the "larger good"? If you refuse, would it be because some foreign funded evil people brainwashed you? Tribal communities that live in nature own the land as much as you own your home. Just like a slum dweller can't say "oh, you have a large inherited property, use one room, we'll settle development hit tribals in the rest (with adequate compensation as per govt rates, of course) and a small pickle business with smells that won't really bother you" you can't say "oh, they should be satisfied with this much and country can do what it wants with the rest.

If they live on it, it is theirs. We can give them a good deal they want to take, but we can't just snatch it and throw some money their way, just because we *really* want it.

Wealth of some is in bank balances. For others it is free spaces to live in harmony. Don't touch another's wealth without giving up own.

Baat karte hain.

2

and so on.

With minor variations, the story is the same. A miracle fix for our country's water woes. Affordable drinking water. And so on. Sarvajal currently not making a profit is seen as a halo, but creating a market out of a fundamental need is hardly a loss making proposition, so I'll save my tears of concern here.

Most of the articles are very upfront that this is not an NGO, but a for profit company Sarvajal backed by Piramal Enterprises. The era of purchasing drinking water and praising the lord that it is cheap, is here. Except, none of the articles have noticed it in the flood of clear, drinking water. Paid for by an ATM card, of course.

Animation of dripping water
Animation of dripping water

Considering that there is an abundance of people who think lie a certain ex-CEO of Nestle and see water as a commodity that must be paid for, rather than a basic human right, I'm not going to get into that ugly debate here. I'm going to raise several other questions about this miracle.

  1. This company digs bore wells (or makes its franchisees dig borewells) to access water to treat through reverse osmosis to sell. Underground water aquifiers are a national resource and the indiscriminate use of them, particularly in a way that spoils the quality of water is a crime against the country. Even if you pay people to use the water instead of selling it cheap.
  2. The Sarvajal plants are using the waste water from the reverse osmosis to recharge the ground water. I have no idea why they are doing this, but then I have no idea what else they could do with brine either. Offer it as a substitute in processes that need salt water? My guess is that "recharging the ground water" is just a pretty term for treating a borewell like your gutter, because the brine from the Reverse Osmosis contains the Totally Dissolved Solids from the water that got cleaned as well. In other words, if you are operating on a 50% efficiency (the plants are capable of 65% according to the blog of someone who worked there), then the waste water is TWICE as problematic as the water you began with. Dumping that into the water source makes zero sense.
  3. But it isn't like these concerns haven't been raised. A Business standard article from January says: D C Garg, hydrologist at the district groundwater department, says this process may increase the TDS content in groundwater. But Anuj Sharma, chief operating officer of Sarvajal, argues that only 0.5 per cent of the extracted water is used for drinking. Most is used for agriculture, shows groundwater extraction data. The rather casual answer is worrisome, because it ignores the fact that the Sarvajal plant will make the water worse for those who are not their clients and still use ground water for drinking. A sort of self-fulfilling business if the purification plant is making the water worse than it used to be, so that it can't be used without their technology. This is rather alarming when you are speaking of the water of an entire area at large. The casual dismissal of concerns about water quality should raise alarms.
  4. But can the 99.5% of water used for agriculture purposes be dismissed so easily? An irrigation experiment with saline water at different concentrations was carried out over a 7-year period on the same clay–silty soil in the Volturno Valley at Vitulazio to evaluate long-term effects of irrigation with saline water on crops and soil. The abstract of the research paper ends with the following paragraph. Irrigation with saline water led to an increase in ESP and a degradation of the soil physical properties that were estimated indirectly by measuring aggregate stability in water (IASW). The index of aggregate stability in water for the top layer (0–0.15 m) was inversely correlated to the ESP values, even after the leaching due to the autumn–spring rainfall. Can a business be allowed to risk this for the entire region?
  5. While drinking water does not need approval from environment ministry, how can it be that adding undrinkable water to the water aquifer is not prohibited? The Environment Ministry needs to answer for why it allows clear degradation of the quality of the water across the country so that dependence on commercial methods increases.

Sudden epidemic of Solar-Powered ATMs in newsFinally, I think it is not about the cost of the water, but the responsibility of the water. Citizenship of the country cannot be divorced from the right to life essential resources in it. It is not a question of who provides the cheaper water, but a question of the responsibility for providing clean water being transferred to individuals without access to water bodies, so that they end up becoming purchasers of a fundamental need. It is a different matter if the Reverse Osmosis unit were owned by a village to provide water for people in it and the resulting degradation of the water table were accepted by the residents of the area jointly.

This is also a convenient excuse for the government to abdicate its responsibility to ensure sustainable water distribution across the country and hand over more and more of this precious resources into the control of corporations. The low price is the lure, but the destination is still the abdication of your right to clean drinking water. The destination is yet another place where people buy a product in the place of what they had for free.

Sudden epidemic of Solar-Powered ATMs in newsAlso, it is not true that extracting ground water is the best choice for drinking water. Rainwater harvesting is a far superior method of collecting and storing drinking water that needs no processing to be drinkable. Rainwater harvesting is also an urgent need in a country that is expected to be mostly water scarce in another couple of decades. Depleting ground water is a dangerous way of getting water, as depleted tables will mean the need to sink borewells deeper and deeper. Ground water is also not infinite, and reckless extraction will result in wells running dry.

To base a method of substituting a government responsibility with a product that is created through a shared resource and that damages the shared resource in the long run cannot really be seen as a long term solution. Yet, more and more areas are buying bottled water for drinking. Sarvajal is planning an expansion, as are other "brands" of water, but there is little news on rainwater harvesting, sustainability, pollution control or equitable distribution of water that puts life over industry.

Faced with droughts every year, we continue with our reckless worship of development that boils down to  commodification of public resources in an extremely short sighted manner. The government simply does not care to monitor hens that lay golden eggs - be it taxes, or providing the people an alternative to revolting against their theft of natural resources.

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Vijay Panjwani has sent in a report on Supreme Court proceedings in the Union Carbide case with regard to disposal of contaminated waste from the Bhopal Gas Tragedy:

Union Carbide Bhopal H-Waste Safe Disposal

New Delhi, Friday 6th Sept 2013

The Supreme Court today considered the joint inspection report of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)and MP State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) in the matter of safe disposal of 350 tons of Hazardous Waste lying in the premises of Union Carbide plant Bhopal. A trial-run to treat 10 tons of H-Waste is necessary before the entire quantity of 350 tons is treated.

map of India showing cities <strong class='StrictlyAutoTagBold'>Bhopal</strong> Indore Jodhpur Ranchi Jamshedpur LucknowThe joint report has found the operation of plant and machinery of the Treatment Storage Disposal Facility (TSDF) near Indore at Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh to be sufficiently satisfactory and compliant. Mr Vijay Panjwani counsel for CPCB told the court that the scientists treated H-Waste from Hindustan Insecticide Ltd, Cochin, Kerala on the directions of the supreme court which is similar to the Carbide H-Waste lying untreated since the night of December 2, 1984. Mr Vijay Panjwani submitted that the entire process from transportation from Cochin,packaging,storage to treatment was compliant. He said all precautions would be taken to monitor gas emissions and if anything goes wrong the plant would be shut off immediately. He said the scientists would be present 24 hours during treatment within the facility. Mr Panjwani said there is no chance of any harmful gas leaking since the plant is working efficiently.
When asked whether the NGO ‘Bhopal Group’ would hold protests against incineration counsel soght time to seek instructions. This was a master stroke from the Bench anticipating trouble and quelling in court itself. The case of trial-run of 10 tons of H-Waste would be heard again on next Friday.

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A lunacy drives India's development. Vast untouched treasures of nature are discarded with scant thought on the altar of a mythical development. Lakhs of development hit Indians are reduced to lives of despair.

A tiny hamlet in the state's Raygada district consisting of merely 48 Dongaria Kondh tribals, empowered by Supreme Court's landmark decision of April this year, was the first in a series of twelve village sabhas which will be held across the areas that will be affected by Vedanta's bauxite mining at Niy bbb camgiri. In a dramatic meeting that lasted over four hours and was attended by District Judge Sarat Chandra Mishra serving as observer, tribals emphatically refused consent to the project that various publicity departments were desperately trying to project as their salvation.

But much water has flowed under this bridge, and more will flow. The combined forces of greed and impunity from consequences are a formidable enemy and the state has a record of wearing down any demand for human rights by simply reverting to a stand that has been rejected by those who dissent. Over and over, in varied ways.

Proceedings got tense when on completion of the representation by the tribals, it was declared that their religious and community rights were confined to their villages and did not extend to the entire Niyamgiri hills range. Lingaraj Azad, organizer of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti said, "This amounts to cheating. We are traditional followers of our deity who not only resides in the Hundaljali but also elsewhere and this mining project will ruin their abode and also threaten our existence." Hectic parleys and heated exchange of words between members of the village and other tribal leaders and the district judge ensured that in the end, the resolution passed mentioned that the rights of the natives extended across the entire hill range.

Of course, the villages allowed to have a say are already selected from among those where the Vedanta view has the greatest chance of being echoed. Reminds me of how Maharashtra government had conspired to prevent the realities of farmers in Vidarbha from being observed by the All Party Parliamentary Committee that was to study impact of genetically modified organisms.

People living at the grassroots have existential struggles to prevent the rich and famous from appropriating their very lives.

All over the country are echoes of these same issues. In Gujarat, you have farmers resisting land acquisition for the special economic zone. In Uttarakhand, there were people whose homes were acquired for hydro electric projects that became their destruction. There are people opposing their land being acquired for nuclear plants. Dams dislocate people by the millions. We, who were aghast at peaceful protesters being lathicharged by the police when it came to middle class protests in Delhi, are barely aware that lathi charges are so routine for people the state intends to evict, that newspapers see no news in it. It is, after all everything going as per plan in a boring routine. Thrash the squatters (on their own land) till they get fed up and leave.

Even as vast tracts of forests go to companies for "progress", tribals who have traditionally lived off the land are losing access to it. Suddenly their home is National property and they must move out of the forests. They who nurtured forests, protected trees have lost their rights because those who can afford bulldozers can "process" them for paper (or something else) more efficiently.

And the propaganda is fantastic. I remember someone being angry with me for not knowing "ground realities" - that tribals were propped up by activists to keep demanding money and place hurdles in the way of projects. And why would activists want to place hurdles? It is a western agenda. Seriously? And here I was thinking that it was the "West" profiting from these projects. The World Bank has money stuck in some, multi national corporations are going to profit from others. How is it that the tribal is so stupid that they cannot recognize prosperity and can be "brainwashed" to remain in poverty and be thrashed by the humanitarian developers? Tell me, what incentive would be a good one to get you to deprive yourself and your family and keep protesting? Would you give up your home in return for inadequate money that cannot buy you comparable land and home? Why should you?

In a country that mints money from exporting minerals, the mines themselves are surrounded by crippling poverty. Economic policies are driving people away from traditional livelihoods. We are losing 2000 farmers a day. Every single day. for a decade at least. Do the math. We are losing 135 hectares of forest cover per day. Remember what they taught you in school about trees preventing soil erosion and retaining water in soil? The water table is in peril in large swathes of India, but the government hardly seems to see this in a crisis in a country of our population. Water bodies have been privatized - sold or on lease. Now we have metered drinking water. Soon, you will find water allocations and then when water is not enough, the whole thing will be turned over to private gigs waiting to own your needs in return for guaranteed money every month. What happens to those who will not afford to pay the bills? Who knows? a fifth of our population still lives below a completely absurd poverty line of Rs. 32. Many of them have water bodies at walking distance that cater to factories, while their fields have no water except rain.

All in the name of progress. The great God of GDP showers its blessings on the almighty decision makers. The textbook defense of progress uses words of law. Everyone will be rehabilitated. They will get a truckload of money - amounts they couldn't even dream of. Locals are greedy. Activists have anti-national agendas... the list is endless. Few of these noble defenders will admit, that the World Bank, famous for extending money to third world countries like us for an agenda, was forced to admit that most people displaced by projects they funded were not rehabilitated. This will not be something you will find the Prime Minister announcing when he announces a new project bringing pride to India in a canned speech delivered from paper to camera without going through a human in between. Imagine:

"It is with great pride that I announce a new dam to be build on river XYZ, which will cost [insert-amount]. Around 2 million people will have to leave their homes and we will make sure they do it. We have clobbered the protesters yet again and we will continue to do so till they give up. We will also give a couple of thousand of them homes so that we can show the world we are kind and you can enjoy your electricity without guilt. Jai Hind"

Why would they? After all, they care about you. Why bother your conscience with the cost of development?

The answer to "Whose land/water/country is this anyway?" invariably seems to be "The guy with the pile of bank notes sitting in another place".

And now the second gram sabha on Niyamgiri too has voted solidly against Vedanta's bauxite mining on their land. Expect more underhand nastiness from our beloved government. Too much money at stake to not squash these brave people like bugs.

An article by Tavleen Singh in the Indian Express is accurately named Environmental fraud, though it is rare for such transparency of intent to be declared upfront. I do appreciate the legitimate opportunity to pun "Environmental Fraud by Tavleen Singh" when introducing the article. Considering that the article is an umbrella attack on the legitimacy of environmentalists and an endorsement of policies known harmful to the environment, it is very shabby of Indian Express to not state the conflict of interest in this supposed "truth" being stated.

While I do not hold it against her and will address her arguments directly, I think it is important here to state that Tavleen Singh happens to be the partner of one of the promoters of Lavasa (his name is not required here, since the article is not about him). Lavasa township has come to much grief (and financial losses) due to legal action by environmentalists that had enough substance for the judiciary to put a halt to work on the site for a year. Thus, people with a vested interest in Lavasa having a dislike of environmentalists cannot be called unprejudiced or unmotivated. Additionally, Sharad Pawar, our agriculture minister, whose interests in GM seeds are identical to those this article promotes happens to the Godfather of said Lavasa project. While this in itself may or may not be intellectually incestuous, NOT being transparent about a connection makes one wonder if this is a case of "You scratch my back, I scratch yours and let us be discreet and pretend that it is all very neutral and deserved."

All quotes by Tavleen Singh from article linked above.

"Real environmentalists" / "serious environmentalists"

Reminds me of the "true Hindus" and "true Muslims". As if the rest are made of thermacol. The idea that her disagreement makes environmentalists real or fake is absurd. She is not required to like or agree with all of them for them to be real. Their actions make them environmentalists.

"one of our noisiest lady environmentalists actually declare in Davos that Indian farmers were rich until international seed companies like Monsanto arrived"

This is presumably Vandana Shiva, though the article does not name her. I have no idea what she said in Davos, but I believe that Indian farmers were better off before the seed corporations for several reasons:

  • Patented seeds mean that farmers cannot save their seeds to sow the next year's crop, leading to a direct annual expense for seeds, which also happen to be costlier. This in turn puts them at serious risk of bad debt - a leading cause of farmer suicides.
  • GM crops require more water. I am not inventing this. Monsanto says this. India is rapidly becoming water scarce with industries taking up a vast share of the water and irrigation being overallocated and iffy at best. Not that either manufacturing or agriculture have added jobs since 1995... Unless of course they are Sharad Pawar's pets doing sugarcane and getting a whopping 60% of available water for 6% of the crop.
  • Input costs for fertilizers and pesticides are higher for GM crops.
  • Most farmers in India are small and marginal farmers and cannot afford to plant waste strips of non-GM crops to try to avoid the "expected" resistance to pests that is the selling point of Bt seeds. The idea of these strips is to grow pests like the bollworm (for example) that have no resistance to Bt so that they can breed with Bt resistant pests from the "superstar" seeds and keep them killable. The crop on this land is wasted by design.
  • The resultant race of more GM, more fertilizers and more pesticides has resulted in diseases among humans and animals, which add to the burden of medical expenses compounded by low access.
  • The actual claims of productivity are severely contested per crop and with authoritative, independent research and are beyond the scope of this article to go into detail. It isn't without any evidence that developed countries are limiting or banning use of GM seeds. A simple google search will bring forth an avalanche if anyone is really interested.
  • Productivity itself has been seen to drop with lame excuses from Monsanto that may be good PR, but do nothing to actually change the production. Including in a "perfect" state like Gujarat, which supposedly reports great profits from GM. Monsanto blamed the farmers. Done.
  • Finally, do you know that Indian farmers have set world records for crop yields using organic farming that have left results from GM in the dust? The same traditional methods and bio fertilizers that had been systematically decimated by the British?

Enough said.

"Any farmer could have told this lady that the international seed companies are a welcome change from state-owned companies which have often sold them junk. But farmers have no voice on television and the lady fraud has a very loud one."

Leaving aside the personal comments about the lady environmentalist who sounds suspiciously like Vandana Shiva, Tavleen Singh is clearly ignorant about the 37th All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee on cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops - Prospects and Effects, which clearly states that the farmers explicityl detailed problems they faced because of GM crops and demanded a ban. Additionally, ALL MEMBERS of the All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee - across political parties - unanimously endorsed banning cultivation of GM crops in India. The report condemns the paid media report in Times of India promoting Monsanto with falsified information about prosperity of farmers. The members of the Committee physically went to those villages and saw that there was no such thing. How much more voice do you expect? Or is the gold standard of voice about performances in a corporate controlled media? Would Indian Express give space to an angry farmer trashing Monsanto, when their awards of excellence in journalism are sponsored by Mahyco?

I called up a few people who were present during the visit when outlandish tales of outright manipulating the committee came to my ears and can confirm that the government of Maharashtra made great efforts to prevent the All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee from speaking with farmers and tried to con them into meeting a few planted "farmers" - some of whom were input dealers - in a cosy circuit house. Farmers persisted and the Committee visited the villages reported to be prospering and chasing away money lenders and saw fields left barren. In front of the committee, farmers shouted down and chased away not money lenders, but representatives of Monsanto.

"There have been natural disasters in the Himalayas since the beginning of time. If this one was 'manmade' as they claim, then it was because the political leaders who have governed Uttarakhand have been careless about making contingency plans for natural disasters."

and

"Our two most sacred rivers have become sewers despite thousands of crores of rupees having been spent on 'cleaning' them. And yet, the only noise we hear from environmentalists is when a new dam is built. Have they noticed that it was the dams on the Ganga that stopped the whole of Uttarakhand from being washed away?"

and etc (this is getting boring).

First, I'd like to ask Tavleen Singh why she is writing an article about environmentalists instead of "seculars" and "NGOs" - after all, aren't all right wingers supposed to talk about that only?

If my question is absurd, so is the idea that all environmentalists are working on the same thing, namely hydel projects. There are people fighting dams and for more reasons than only the environment. There are people working to get rivers cleaned. Others fight to protect forests, marine life, fight drought, promote water renewal, whatever. Environment isn't one piddly subject that everyone is doing the same thing and from only one angle. Swami Nigamananda died when he fasted unto death in what is rumored to be a murder by political and mafia forces. He wasn't fighting dams, but the sand mafia and pollution. There are all kinds of people. Vijay Panjwani often updates from his legal activism to get judicial pressure for clean ups. To the best of my knowledge, no one has prevented her from taking up a concern she feels strongly about. If it is un-sewering the Ganga and not protecting roads from dog poop, so be it.

The blame for the tragedy has been consistently attributed to irresponsible construction work of which dams were a part. The greatest blame has been on the roads, actually due to the use of dynamite in cutting them creating fractures in the structure of the mountain. Hydel projects don't drop rom the sky. They need development of roads, as well as dam construction. They need construction materials which leads to further exploitation of the river banks. Dams already silt up the upstream while starving the downstream of silt leading to eroded banks and disturbed ecology.

Here is what happens to a construction made of reinforced concrete when subjected to reckless construction activity. Nowhere in the Himalaya, this is, but Katraj tunnel near Pune - a place that has little to do with floods and landslides. This news is not a month old yet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tUxN9nHco4

The page on Wikipedia about the environmental impact of dams is well referenced so I'm using this space for one last important piece of disinformation:

"Have they noticed that alternative sources of energy like solar, wind and bio-fuels have mostly failed?"

Failed?

Work on hydel power in India started in 1897, nuclear power started in 1948, renewable energy started in 1983.

India gets 57% of its electricity from coal, 19% from hydro electric power, 12% from renewable, 9% from natural gas and 3.75% from nuclear power.

The oldest dam in India is from the second century. That is older than several of the religions in this country. The first hydro electric power plant in India was in the year 1897 or fifty years before Independence. We currently produce approximately 39GW. We started chasing nuclear power when we were 11 months old. Several parts of current India were not India then. 4780MW to date and we call it the pride of the country and have gone into the international dog house for it. In contrast, our renewable energy production started in the 1980s and already accounts for 28GW or 12% of our electricity production, which Wikipedia assures me is more than the total production of electricity in Austria. In three decades.

India is rapidly growing in solar energy and fastest growing in the world in wind power. What failure?

The fundamental difference here is a difference in what Tavleen Singh sees as a good thing and what I see as a good thing. Projects she thinks are good for the country include Vedanta's bauxite mines and Lavasa and what not. I am not so sure we should be growing to suit the fastest runners. In my view, large projects have delivered comparatively little in comparison with robust grassroots efforts. I am also of the opinions that the super rich have done more to destroy economies and free enterprise than build them. I also think it is dangerous disinformation to club all large projects as one regardless of whether they are government or private. Masses cannot hold private enterprise accountable.

We are both entitled to our opinions. My expectation from media however is transparency and accuracy of information. People can decide for themselves if the information is correct.

Update: I forgot to address Tavleen's point about the Tehri dam that supposedly protected Haridwar. Tavleen Singh might be delighted to know that the Alaknanda blew through the Vishnuprayag Hydro electric project and the water that had backed up behind it wiped out Lambagarh market when it exploded out of the dam. Additionally, dams on Mandakini River such as Phata-Buyong HEP and Singoli-Bhatwari HEP badly damaged. Small dams on Madhaymaheshwer and Kali river are also badly damaged. It is worth considering a moment what the Tehri dam could have done to Haridwar if it too had given way. Perhaps water simply overflowing banks wouldn't be as bad.

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