Today, as we popped UNEP palliatives to our skewed sense of self-importance, New Delhi played host to cruel irony, in this International Year of Forests. For today, the panchayats of Dhinkia and Gobindpur are under attack by their own state government that thinks nothing of flexing state muscle for the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, BHP Billton and POSCO. Today began the acquisition of thousands of acres of forest and agricultural land for cold, hard steel, while human chains stand in opposition.
As per this report, police have already blocked the road to Dhinkia, and aren’t allowing any outsiders in or word out. “We are searching all vehicles and persons round the clock to prevent entry of any armed person into Dhinkia,” says a sub-divisional officer for Paradip, just as he lets the reporter know that 12 platoons of armed police have been deployed.
POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti reported on 3rd June that ‘the administration is now sending loudspeakers on vehicles around the area, threatening people with the use of force if they do not consent to the destruction of their farms within 24 hours.’ Police, of course, contend that the PPSS is the real threat.
A total of 173 false cases have been filed against those who have been protesting against the project since 2005. Thousands have gathered on the village border to resist acquisition, and 17 protesters have been arrested since that note was sent out.
And there isn’t one law in the book that hasn’t been broken in this back-and-forth between a resilient people and an indifferent environment ministry, tossing them right back at a state government that wants them out at any cost.
It’s an attitude evident in Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik’s Jekyll-and-Hyrde routine best illustrated here.
Just as it is evident in the way the last attempt at judicial remedy was postponed, citing lack of time when it’s the people of Jagatsinghpur who are struggling against the hourglass.
Time is entirely relative in the environmental clearance process. It can be sped up and slowed down as per the whims of this hydra-headed public-private beast. All we can do is throw as many strategic spanners in its path, and be damned by the business papers.
E.g. 1: Not a man to miss riding the wave of precedent, Mines Minister Raghunath Mohanty wants to accelerate the process of getting gram sabha approvals, approvals that ArcelorMittal really won’t need when the state clears out 8000 acres for its massive steel plant in Orissa’s once forest-rich Keonjhar district.
E.g. 2: Jairam Ramesh, tired of having to explain his duplicity, decided to go on an a cathartic clearance spree. Amongst the 40 permissions awarded that day was a thermal power plant in Dholpur, Rajasthan that will draw its water from the National Chambal Ghariyal Sanctuary that is also home to the endangered Gangetic Dolphin. Committee members complained that project proposals running into hundreds of pages reached their homes after they’d arrived in New Delhi, giving them no time to prepare their objections.
That “there’s more to life than POSCO” was clearly spelled out by the media and the administration, who chose to caricaturise/focus the national agenda on how quickly the prime-time resistance guru, Baba Ramdev, would break his fast or be broken, how much money was spent on air coolers, tents and hospital beds, and the number of ministers who came to meet him.
So, where will you be, Inspector Greenback, when the police arrive in Dhinkia with their lathis and torches, snip away at hundreds of betel vines, set fire to homes, beat women and children, throw activists and local leaders into jail? How many ribbons did you cut; how many CSR saplings did you shove into this soil that we’ve sheared, bombarded and laid bare to gross personal profit on this day of shame and destruction?
No, we must thank you for the incredibly sensitive idea to set up a bio-diversity museum in a state where you’ve successfully hacked away prime chunks of forest and handed them over to the highest bidder. Monuments of flowers, you say, will compensate the unmarked graves and prisons full of those who’ve resisted the violence of your development. Then again, who cares for the fatelines behind 2997 thumb prints vetoing India’s largest foreign direct investment.
A centre for biodiversity studies and Olive Ridley turtles? Yay! What are you gonna teach them students? How sometimes you have to say “chalega, lekin thoda dekhke boss” to a missile testing base right next to the largest turtle rookey in the world? That the more endangered the species, the better the funding? Special modules on how to grow a thicker skin if you have something to protect, how to say *conditions apply when all you mean is yes, yes, and yes? What next? EIA Speed-reading classes with a special note on how to scan Palli Sabha resolutions?
Speaking of doing the right thing- where are you now, Rahul Gandhi? What’s it going to take to put your cherubim face to Dhinkia, or for that matter, Sompeta, Polavaram or Bellary and declare shame on your party’s policies that have put people and their environment last?
Where are you now, Messrs. Ramdev, Hazare & Co.? Isn’t this corruption/prana pollution at its most blatant, when the state holds its people to ransom for foreign currency? Isn’t the empowerment of the gram sabha closest to the kind of swadeshi alternative that you’ve proposed in your list of demands?
No, what we need is to a send a bill to a system in the hope it’ll cut us a cheque, enumerate sins committed in retrospect. And so we wave a blanket cause as vague as the ‘war on terror’, in the continuing world tradition of focussing on the unattainable, and sidelining the specifics.
Perhaps now, as you’ve been evicted from your grounds, now that you’ve seen the flip side of the state’s tolerance for non-violent protest first-hand, you might get a taste of what grassroots environmental movements have been up against for years. 15 years of peaceful agitation in the case of Narmada, 6 years against POSCO. The people of Kakarapalli and Santabommali continue 9-month long hunger strike, hoping someone will notice. and the people of Dhinkia and Gobindpur brace for the worst, determined to fight till their last breath.
As our foxy minister once implied, violence against bio-diversity is a sustained ‘learning and evolving process’, especially for communities and conservationists who discover that the law and fancy international environmental treaties don’t really apply to them. It’s a A sentiment that goes really well with the fucked-up UN theme of “Forests: Nature at Your Service.”
On this World Environment Day, we stand to inherit an ecosystem that only has place for omnivorous capitalists, their henchmen and those enslaved in the worship of power. While those that produce anything of worth, any creatures besides us that walk the earth, those that understand nature’s laws and preserve its balances, those that bring value to its discarded excesses are the first to go on this self-consuming civilization’s hit list, as we pander delusions of saving this damned planet.