Posts filed under ‘Niyamgiri and Sustainable development’
Environments are not just containers, but are processes that change the content totally, noted the savant who mused about communication mediums, messages and the global village. That was then, in the halcyon days of the sixties, and well before the phrase sustainable development had been coined.
Fast forward to the here and now, and the decision of the ministry of environment and forests to disallow bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi district, Orissa, is clearly spot on. Niyamgiri is considered most sacred by the local Kondh adivasi population, and intensive mining activity would have been wholly alienating.
And apart from being socially devastating by forcefully removing its sense of mystery and lingering myths, mining on Niyamgiri would have also caused huge environmental and ecological damage in what is a fragile ecosystem.
Besides, there are plenty of proven bauxite reserves available elsewhere in the state, in adjoining districts and perhaps further afield in Kalahandi, with requisite prospecting. At a broader level, the idea that income growth can be positively beneficial for the environment needs to be qualified and nuanced.
Back in the path-breaking 1990s, the policy pundits did begin to take note of the growing empirical evidence that willy-nilly suggested that rising income levels could be ‘good rather than bad’ for the benefit of the environment. The evidence seemed to rubbish the notion of opposing growth on environmental grounds.
However, the reasoning that income growth by itself will be good for the environment also appears to be questionable and cannot really be taken at face value. For instance, a causal relationship between income and environmental quality cannot often be shown as correlated. Further, cultural factors may actually hamper and negate the income effects.
Although, going forward, it is plausible to assume that with proactive policy and rising incomes, better governance, more effective regulation and the steady diffusion of technological change all do tend to generally boost environmental protection on the ground.
Around Niyamgiri, for example, it would make better sense to rev up incomes by way of eco-tourism , cultivation of medicinal plants and arranging for boutique, leisure holidays in the lap of nature, for sustainable development . The environmental Kuznets curve, which shows that degradation at first increasing and then decreasing with rising incomes need not to be taken as inevitable, or verily accepted as a foregone conclusion.
In select habitats and regions, it should be eminently possible to chalk out plans for long-term income generation via better social indices, scope for profit earning and the like, sans large-scale physical damage to the environment. It is true that two years ago, the Supreme Court did give its conditional goahead for mining on Niyamgiri, and called for sustainable development, which cannot be faulted as a matter of principle.
However, the assumption that sacred space can be leveraged for guaranteed income streams — note that apex court ruling mandated 5% profit share complete with a floor level of annual welfare spend — may not be acceptable in practice.