Environmentalists cheer news of scrapping of power project

May 18, 2010

INDIA-VEDANTAEnvironmentalists are hailing news that India’s ministry of environment and forests has scrapped a proposed power plant by Larsen & Toubro in eastern India close to a nesting ground for endangered Olive Ridley turtles.

But Greenpeace is quick to point out that there are ports proposed near all of Orissa’s mass nesting areas, and that these should be denied permission, as well.

It is a tough fight, one that is pitting environmentalists, tribals and villagers against large companies and government agencies keen on tapping resources and building infrastructure to keep pace with India’s robust growth.

The fate of dozens of mining projects, power plants, ports, even highways and special economic zones will be determined by India’s ministry of environment and forests, with reports every day of protests that have sometimes turned violent.

Like in mineral-rich Orissa state, where hundreds of indigenous people are battling to stop London-listed miner Vedanta Resources from extracting bauxite from what they say is their sacred mountain, in an eerie echo of the blockbuster “Avatar” movie.

Vedanta says it needs the ore to feed a refinery it has already built at the foot of the hills, and which will bring greater prosperity to the impoverished area.

India has some of the strictest environmental norms, but its failing has often been lack of implementation and lack of penalty for those breaking the law.

In some cases, the court or the state has stepped in: tourism-dependent Goa state scrapped its policy of special economic zones after determining it would harm its coastline.

In March, the Supreme Court suspended operations of a tourist resort in the Andaman island to protect the endangered Jarawa tribe, pending further deliberation.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh acknowledges that economic growth and environment protection often don’t see eye to eye.

The answer, he said, does not lie in abandoning industrialisation, but in taking a middle path.

But who will determine what this middle path will be?

One comment

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I think it is essential to take the middle path, bearing in mind that you cannot make an omelet without breaking any eggs. There will always be somebody or group that is adversely affected but that has to be then set off against the greater good, whatever that may be.

I think that what is primarily required is the need to have more comprehensive dialogues from the very beginning and for those involved not to take an uncompromising stand. Left only to the environmentalists, we would probably have to regress to the stone age and start living in caves again. Everything else either pollutes, or has a carbon signature, or displaces people or creates some problems for some people. I think awareness is spreading, albeit slowly, and that such problems very often get politicised and then there is simply no solution in sight.

Why not make a rule, that if something essential cannot be located somewhere, then those opposing or refusing permission to operate must also have a suitable alternate site.

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