India Insight

Environmentalists cheer news of scrapping of power project

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.

Why let a debate determine the fate of GM foods?

Students hold a mock funeral procession against genetically modified brinjal crop in Chandigarh January 28, 2010. REUTERS/Ajay VermaThere’s nothing Indians like better than a good debate.

So when Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced last month that he would hold public debates to decide the commercial fate of genetically modified brinjal (eggplant), there were hopes these would provide a chance for all stakeholders to be heard.

But the debates, in seven cities including Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, were chaotic, nothing more than acrimonious shouting matches between environmental activists and scientists, who say they were not given a fair chance to voice their opinion.

One scientist said he had his hand raised for more than half an hour, but was not allowed to speak. Another said he was told he could make a presentation, but was again not allowed to. Others were not even permitted to enter the premises.

Singur: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it

As the deadlock over Singur and the Tata Nano plant rumbles on, much of the debate seems to be missing the point.

SingurThis week, Mukesh Ambani said a “fear psychosis is being created to slow down certain projects of national importance” and said industry should be encouraged to make such large investments.

But in the words of the old song by Ella Fitzgerald (and more recently Bananarama) “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”.