As Operation Green Hunt Extends To Engulf The Western Ghats, What Do We Stand To Lose?
By JNU Forum Against War on People
06 December, 2014
Unite to stop the state-backed corporate-sponsored war on people
As is obvious today, the Modi-Rajnath combine is desperate to carry forward the Manmohan-Chidambaram model of ‘development’ albeit with much more ferocity and single-mindedness. As the new “iron man”, Modi is expected to deliver to the expectations of the MNCs & big business by way of ironing out all possible dissent or “road blocks” in the path of ‘development’. This of course entails more death, destruction & displacement for the people and irreversible devastation for the environment. Taking it on from where the UPA left it, the present government has already embarked upon the vicious design to bypass, flout, dilute or do away with all safeguards pertaining to the grant of forest/environment/wildlife clearances and the acquisition of land for mining/industrial/SEZ projects. And to ensure that all possible resistance to this profit/loot-oriented anti-people and environmentally unsustainable model of ‘development’ can be quelled by force, the present government is not just willing to add more teeth to the ongoing Operation Green Hunt in the central & eastern parts of the country, but also expand this fascist corporate-sponsored war on people to newer areas.
One such area upon which the corporate vultures and the Indian state has its eyes fixed today are the Western Ghats.
Right before the Maharashtra assembly polls, Modi “assured” the investors that his government will remove all tax related obstacles in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) policy considering that Maharashtra has the highest number of proposed SEZs – many being in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats. “I have asked my Ministry to find out the problems in implementing the policy and we will sort those in few days,” Modi boasted after laying the foundation stone for a Rs 6,000 crore port based SEZ. He further assured the India Inc. that his government is committed to ease out the process for obtaining various licenses along the Western Ghats. When the then Maharashtra CM asked for clarification from the centre on the extent of implementation of Dr. Madhav Gadgil committee report on the Western Ghats, Modi responded “Few old diseases are solved only by new doctors”. We need to comprehend what is being referred to as “diseases” and what “solution” is in the offing from the “new doctor”. For this, we ought to take a brief look at the Western Ghats and the cautionary warnings issued by the Gadgil committee as to the threats that the Indian state’s ‘development paradigm’ poses to this ecologically fragile region.
The Western Ghats – What is at stake?
Arrayed along India’s southwest coast is a 1,600-kilometer-long mountain chain with forests older than the Himalayas: the Western Ghats. The mountains one of the world’s ten “Hottest biodiversity hotspots”, and the UNESCO recently recognized the region as a World Heritage site. These hills cover 160,000 km2 and form the catchment area for complex riverine drainage systems that drain almost 40% of India. The Gadgil report thereby refers to it as the “water tower of Peninsular India”. The area has over 7,400 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species, 179 amphibian species and 288 freshwater fish species; it is likely that many undiscovered species live in the Western Ghats. If there is one single reason to protect the whole of the Western Ghats, it is the phenomenon of endemism.. Though this area covers barely five percent of India’s land, 27% of all species of higher plants in India are found here. The range is home to at least 84 amphibian species, 16 bird species, 7 mammals, and 1,600 flowering plants which are not found anywhere else in the world! Historically the Western Ghats were largely inaccessible and well-covered in dense forests that provided food and natural habitat for lakhs of native adivasi people. They include the Kotas, Badagas, Kurumbas and Todas of the Nilgiris; the Soligas, Halakki Vokkals and Siddis of Karnataka; the Paniyas, Adiyas, Kuruchiyas, Kathinayakas and Kurumas of Wayanad; the Gaudes, Velips, Dhangars and Kunbis of Goa; and the Bhils and Warlis in the central & northern reaches of the western ghats. These are people who have coexisted with the natural environ of the ghats for centuries in quiet harmony with rich traditional knowledge and cultural life. In fact, it is striking that the ghats represent an extraordinary sliver of diverse life and have in fact survived on the basis of community support.
The Gadgil Committee Report: An effort in vain
The threat to the environment and people of the western ghats dates back to the British colonization with its extensive clearing of forests for plantations and timber. While this continued unabated even after 1947, the threat has been multiplied manifold under the present ‘development’ regime of indiscriminate loot garbed in the rhetoric of ‘economic growth’. It is with these concerns that the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by noted ecologist Madhav Gadgil presented a thorough impact analysis of the host of ‘development projects’ mushrooming therein. The Gadgil report elaborates upon the adverse effects of the various hydel power projects, for instance, the Athirappilly & Gundia projects; the mining, power production, nuclear power plants and polluting industries, for instance, in the Ratnagiri & Sindhudurg districts of Maharashtra; and the notorious mining-mafias of Goa. It shows an increase from 12.1 million metric tonnes in 1992 to 41.1 million metric tonnes in 2009 in the production of iron ore in Goa with a 20 million metric tonnes increase in the last 5 years alone! Around 10 million metric tones of ore comes from illegal mining. It further exposes the nature of this ‘development’ paradigm by showing that 100% of Goa’s ore is exported outside out of which about 89% is exported to China and about 8% to Japan. The Gadgil committee takes pain to demonstrate how the “on-going and proposed mining, industrial and power project activities are in serious conflict with the traditional economic sectors of agriculture, horticulture and fisheries”. It explores in minutest details the damage caused to the ecology, drinking water, agriculture, adivasi population, bio-diversity, land-use, even raising questions about the technical feasibility of the projects. Just as few examples, it notes how force and deceit has been employed with complete disregard for people to acquire lands for the above projects. Land was acquired from farmers of Jaitapur area by invoking emergency provisions leading to mass anguish. In Ratnagiri district PTIANA plans to set up a coal-based power plant on land people sold on the understanding that it was being purchased to set up an ecotourism resort. Finolex is forcibly closing fishermen’s traditional access to fishing areas. Residents of Tamboli village in Sindhudurg district narrate that they suddenly discovered in 2006 that mining had been entered as ‘other rights’ on their land records without so much as informing them. He also expresses his anguish that “while the Govt. takes absolutely no action against illegal pollution of Lote, it had invoked police powers to suppress perfectly legitimate and peaceful protests against pollution.” Gadgil gave concrete recommendations for a bottom-up approach for conservation and sustainable development wherein the participation and consent of the people in envisaging their development would be paramount. The report finally called for declaring the entire Western Ghats an “ecologically sensitive area,” much to the chagrin of ‘pro-development’ lobbies. It recommended the division of the Western Ghats into three categories: Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) I, II, and III. It recommended no new mining, power projects, dams, industries, rail/roads or eco-tourism projects in ESZ I and phasing out of existing mines by 2016. It recommended the same for new mining projects, polluting industries and dams for ESZ II with strict regulation of the rest of the activities. It recommended that no monoculture or plantations or use of pesticides, etc be allowed. It is only in ESZ III that it allowed such activites/projects that too under strict regulation.
Rejection of the Gadgil Report & adoption of the Kasturirangan Report: ‘Growth’ & ‘Development’ prevails over life & sustainability
It is the above concerns for the well being of the biodiversity of this region and its people that was virulently opposed by the profit-hungry big corporate & the mining mafias. And it is precisely these concerns, which boldly proclaimed 70% of the Western Ghats out of bound for ‘development projects’, that Modi calls “old diseases”. All the Govt. of Kerala, TN, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat were united in demanding the rejection of the Report. The Kerala assembly even passed a resolution unanimously for scrapping it. The then UPA govt., to begin with, even refused to make the report public for a long time. Making a mockery of the report, the UPA govt. finally appointed a so-called “High Level Working Group” headed by a space scientist (former ISRO Chairman K. Kasturirangan), to “review” the Gadgil report! Expectedly, Kasturirangan rejected Gadgil’s suggestion of a democratic devolution of decision-making powers, remarking that local communities can have no role in economic decisions! He also rejected the earlier recommendations and identified only 37% of the Ghats as ecologically sensitive throwing open the rest to corporate sharks. The National Green Tribunal clarified that with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) accepting the recommendations of K. Kasturirangan, it was no longer mandatory to follow the Gadgil report while deciding on project clearances. Today, of course, Modi with his “new doctors”, is advocating the way for furthermore clearances & even lesser regulations as the “solution”.
Green Hunt reaches the Ghats
As the eyes of the corporates and the Indian state have fixed themselves on this region, preparations have also began to dispossess those adivasis who seem to come in the way way of ‘development’. While such measures would inevitably and justifiably be resisted by those adivasi people fighting in defense of their life, livelihood & dignity, the state is extending its war on people into these regions. The resolution of the above debate between sustainable development and open loot in favour of the latter has further hastened this process. Over the last five years (2009-2014), the Operation Green Hunt had largely been limited to the central & eastern adivasi heartland of India to facilitate the corporate loot in the states of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Odisha, Bengal, Maharashtra & Telangana. But today the same is being extended & intensified also in the states of Kerala or Karnataka in order to quell the resistance brewing against the state backed ‘developmental terrorism’ pushed all along the Western Ghats. On the one hand, massive “Anti-Naxal” combing operations in the forests of Wayanad, Kannur, Malappuram & Kasargod districts in Kerala have been launched by the police since last year. A special commando force has been raised for the purpose named ‘Thunder Bolt Kerala’ which is yet another addition to the lethal Cobra, Jaguars, Greyhound, C60 forces in different states over the course of Green Hunt. Similar troop movements have also been intensified in the densely forested tracts of the Western Ghats in the state of Karnataka over the last couple of years. On the other hand, the govt. of Kerala has declared its plans to raise its own Salwa Judum styled force by recruiting adivasis for “counter-insurgency operations” in the forested tracts of the north Kerala. It has laid bare its designs to use adivasis as Home Guards and „informers on a daily wage of Rs.500 each. The stated aim, as per the Minister for Home, is supposedly “to ensure that the Maoists do not exploit them.” In the name of “Community policing”, the Police, Wildlife & Forest Departments have jointly unveiled a scheme of “forest-level vigilant committees” or Jagritha Samitis. This is modeled after the same Salwa Judum that in connivance with the big mining giants caused havoc in Chattisgarh displacing lakhs and by unleashing the most brutal terror of loot, arson, killing, maiming & rapes of adivasi villagers.
Adding further momentum to Chidambaram’s footsteps, Modi today is desperate to serve the corporate lobby and to that end expand and intensify Operation Green Hunt.
One can get a sense of this desperation when right after his coming to power in about a month’s time the MoEF has cleared a record 175 projects. Or when a “streamlined” and more “investment friendly” National Board for Wildlife cleared 133 out of the 160 waiting projects in just two days. And simultaneously to actualize these drastic moves he is also reinforcing his death squads to brutally crush the resistance of the people. For example, he has added an extra 10 battalions of CRPF only in the district of Bastar which adds up to nearly 30,000 paramilitary personnel in this one district alone district making it one of the most militarized region of the subcontinent. As this model of ‘developmental terrorism’ expands to bring newer areas like the Western Ghats also in its ambit, the struggle of the people fighting for their jal-jangal-jameen is also going to grow in strength. Those of us amongst the progressive democratic sections, those who still care for the preservation of our ecology against the rapacious state-corporate nexus of loot, those of us who believe in a pro-people participatory and sustainable form of development must unite. We must stand by the struggles of the people and demand an end to this war on people ravaging this country in the name of Operation Green Hunt for last five years.
“It would appear that we are now more British than the British and are asserting that a nature friendly approach in the cultural landscape is merely a contrivance to prevent the rich & powerful of the country and of the globalized world from taking over all lands & waters to exploit & pollute as they wish while pursuing lawless, jobless economic growth!” – an excerpt from Madhav Gadgil’s Open Letter to K. Kasturirangan.
JNU Forum against War on People is a Forum oppossing the ongoing Operation Green Hunt constituting AISF, CFI, DSU and other concerned individuals working in JNU