Monday, December 28, 2009

Nucler plant triggers reaction

Residents of five konkani villages are all set to combat the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (NPP). The three thousand-odd people from Rajapur tehsil in Ratnagiri district say that there is no transparency in the land acquisition proceedings. While 144 Niveli villagers have rejected the compensation cheques offered by the Maharashtra government - the land acquisition authority - 151 Karel and 112 Mithgawane villagers have discarded the compensation distribution notices.
French company AREVA with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) plan to set up a 9900 MWe NPP over 938 hectares (ha) of land. 692 ha is required to build six nuclear reactors, each of capacity 1650 MWe, and remaining 246 ha for building residential complex. The land belongs to five villages – Madban, Niveli, Karel, Mithgawane and Varilwada. But, villagers were not taken into confidence since the beginning. “We did receive notices informing us about the land survey in 2006, accordingly we had gone to the site; but they had asked us to depart saying that assembly is unlawful, we do not have any clue about exactly which piece of our land they have planned to acquire,” said Anil Tirlotkar, a Niveli villager. The land acquisition officials rubbish the villagers’ claims and say that the acquisition process is at its final stage and the land acquired will soon be handed over to the project authority.
These villages have a distinctive konkani way of living. Traditional laterite brick houses with inclined roofs settled on the natural slopes remain hidden in comforting greenery of coconut and Beatle-nut palms, trees and orchards; while farms and grazing grounds are at a higher level, on sadaa (laterite plateau) exposed to harsh sun and rains. People share this landscape with a wide array of flora and fauna. The spectrum ranges from small grassland birds to the Malbar pied hornbill and White bellied sea-eagle; magnificent birds which are protected in schedule 1 under the Wildlife protection Act, 1972. While dolphins can be spotted in the ocean; some of the sea shores provide nesting grounds for sea-turtles. Inimitable mangrove ecosystems have thrived in creeks over the ages. Villagers often catch fish for domestic consumption in these creeks. The land use is diverse here. In recent years, many villagers have planted mango and cashew trees on sadaa. The land provides farmers with bhaajaawal (burnt dry vegetation used as manure). Every monsoon villagers take a single crop; usually rice and/or finger millet, which they say is just enough for yearly family consumption. Grassland ecosystem on sadaa is used for grazing sheep and cattle. On the fringes of village boundaries fishing communities spread out fish for drying. These sites cannot go un-noticed as flocks of egrets often feast on crispy, half-dried fish. A piece of land which is less fertile is sometimes given out on lease for small scale laterite mining. Around eight thousand cheera (laterite brick) can be mined out from one guntha land. Considering the market rate of Rs. 20 per cheera, cost of not so fertile one guntha comes out to be Rs. 1.6 lakh.
The NPCIL has paid the state government around 16.3 crore rupees towards the land cost since 2006. For Karel village, the government has estimated land rates between Rs. 337.5 to 1825 per guntha depending on the quality of land as per the government classification. However, villagers said that they do not wish to part with their lands even if they are offered one crore rupees per guntha. They are convinced that money can’t buy livelihood for their future generations. Dattaram Monde pointed out that many villagers are dependent on money-orders sent by their relatives in Mumbai. So, they surely need employment, but it can be generated through small scale industries, then why insist on big projects?
The NPCIL project will take its toll by making 768 people landless; while leaving another 150 with very small pieces of land (less than one acre of non-irrigated land), besides ten villages in the close vicinity – Tulsunde, Naate, Vijaydurg, Tiware, Dande, Aambolgad, Pangere, Vetye, Sagawa, Katali – will be affected by pollution. The fishing communities will be worst hit. Amjad Borkar, member of Maharashtra Machchhimar Kruti Samiti, Ratnagiri said that there are 15 thousand fisherfolks in Rajapur tehsil. Their average monthly income is three to four thousand rupees. As fisherfolks do not own any land they never qualify for compensation; if the catch is reduced they will be left to suffer. The NPCIL official claimed that there is no fear of catch reduction as the sea-water to be released back to the sea after cooling condensers would be warmer by no more than 5 degree Celsius. Yet, the requirement of seawater for condenser cooling is 100 cu.m/sec for just one unit of 1650 MWe. Looking at the gigantic requirement of water, it is hard for villagers to believe that the catch will remain unaffected.
It’s not only fisherfolks that are ignored, but also mango orchards on sadaa. Almost all land owners have planted on an average 100 to 125 alphonso mango trees, when yields give owners minimum 30-35 thousand rupees a year. Pravin Gawankar, the chairman of Janhit Seva Samiti, Madban, whose more than 43 hectares of land in Madban is identified for acquisition, said that though people have planted these trees on plateau, land acquisition authority does not recognize this land as irrigated. Hence, on paper “no irrigated land” will be acquired.
Now settled in Mumbai, 71 years old Dr. B. J. Vaghdhare has ancestral land in Madban. In an effort to fight the legal battle against the NPP he had filed a writ petition challenging the land acquisition process in Bombay high court in December 2008. But, the court dismissed the petition due to the absence of relevant survey numbers of land, in August 2009. Now, he is trying to appeal against the high court judgement. Armed with the supportive documents issued under the Right to Information (RTI) act Dr. Vaghdhare points out that as per the Maharashtra Project Affected Persons’ Rehabilitation act, 1999 and the MoU that was signed between NPCIL and state government in September 2006, a baseline survey is required to be conducted before proceeding with the land acquisition. When asked under RTI the special land acquisition officer (SLAO) informed that the organization Yashada is conducting the socio-economic survey for Jaitapur NPP; while RTI response dated September 22, 2009 from Yashada states that it is not asked to conduct social impact assessment. The questionnaire for baseline survey was to be finalized and due to protests by villagers Yashada could not conduct the baseline survey till date. Thus, the land acquisition is violating legal norms, he said.
As the SLAO Makarand Deshmukh was on leave, speaking on his behalf Circle Officer K. G. Thakre from Konkan Railway 2, Ratnagiri office claimed, “The procedural format has been followed during the land acquisition proceedings. We did issue notices to each and every affected person. Now, we have prepared a list of those Niveli residents who have rejected the compensation. With the help of this Panchyadi signed by witnesses, we shall soon hand over the land to the NPCIL.”
The policy addresses the demand of energy for rapid urbanization and industrialization, while ignoring nooks and corners of the social fabric in Konkan.

- Reshma

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

EIA : Implementation status in India

पर्यावरणरक्षणाचा फार्स

‘हापूस आंबा’ आणि ‘पट्टेरी वाघ’ यांना आंतरराष्ट्रीय पातळीवर विशेष महत्त्व आहे. तरीही यांच्या तुलनेत खाणकाम, ऊर्जानिर्मिती प्रकल्पांचेच पारडे जड ठरते. कंपनीचा प्रस्ताव, कंपनीचा प्रकल्प, कंपनीचा पैसा.. तेव्हा मंजुरी मिळविण्यासाठी बहुतांश कंपन्या ‘सोयीस्कर’ अहवाल देतील अशा खासगी ‘ईआयए कन्सल्टण्ट’ची निवड करतात. आंतरराष्ट्रीय पातळीवर मान्यता मिळाल्यानंतरही ही स्थिती, मग इतर पर्यावरण-जैवविविधतेबाबत काय बोलावे?
रत्नागिरी जिल्ह्यातील जयगड येथील ‘जेएसडब्ल्यू एनर्जी’च्या १२०० मेगाव्ॉट क्षमतेचा औष्णिक वीजप्रकल्प पर्यावरणीय अटींची पूर्तता करतो का, असे विचारत उच्च न्यायालयाने दिलेल्या आदेशामुळे केंद्रीय पर्यावरण आणि वन मंत्रालयाच्या तज्ज्ञ समितीला या प्रकल्पाचा पुनर्विचार करणे भाग पडले आहे. जगप्रसिद्ध हापूस आंब्याच्या परिसरात हा प्रकल्प येतो; तेव्हा, औष्णिक वीजनिर्मितीमुळे होणाऱ्या प्रदूषणामुळे हापूस आंब्याचे उत्पादन घसरेल, या भीतीपोटी आंबा बागायतदारांनी घेतलेल्या पुढाकारामुळे हा न्यायालयीन लढा शक्य झाला.
पर्यावरण संरक्षण कायद्यामध्ये ‘एन्व्हायर्न्मेंट इम्पॅक्ट असेसमेंट’ (ईआयए) अधिसूचनेची तरतूद आहे. नैसर्गिक स्रोतांच्या वापराची मागणी करणारा प्रस्ताव आल्यास, अशा प्रकारच्या वापरामुळे, त्यासाठी उभाराव्या लागणाऱ्या यंत्रणेमुळे पर्यावरणावर काय परिणाम होऊ शकतील याचे मूल्यमापन करून ईआयए अहवाल मांडला जातो. प्रकल्पाला पर्यावरणीय मंजुरी मिळविण्यासाठी केंद्रीय पर्यावरण व वन मंत्रालयाकडे अर्ज करायचा. त्यांनतर मंत्रालयाने जारी केलेल्या अटींनुसार ईआयए अहवाल तयार करायचा. त्याआधारे जनसुनावणीने मत विचारात घ्यायचे. या प्रक्रियेनंतर मंत्रालय पर्यावरणीय मंजुरी देते अथवा नाकारते, अशी ही सुरेख रचना आहे. ईआयए अहवालानुसार प्रकल्पामुळे पर्यावरण धोक्यात येत असेल; तर प्रकल्प रद्द करण्याचा पर्याय या कायदेशीर तरतुदीने दिला आहे. प्रत्यक्षात मात्र पर्यावरणीय कारणांमुळे प्रकल्प रद्द करावा लागण्याचे प्रमाण दोन टक्क्यांहूनही कमी आहे.
ईआयए अधिसूचनेची प्रत्येक टप्प्यावर काटेकोर अंमलबजावणी झाली तर बहुतांश प्रकल्प नामंजूर होतील. पण या तरतुदीला कायद्यानेच एक पळवाट काढून दिली आहे. ईआयए करण्यासाठी त्रयस्थ यंत्रणेची योजना या तरतुदीमध्ये नाही. हा अभ्यासअहवाल कुणी करावा, याविषयी कायदा काहीही भाष्य करीत नाही. मात्र, या अभ्यासाचा खर्च प्रकल्पाचा प्रस्ताव मांडणाऱ्या कंपनीने करावा, अशी सूचना तो करतो. साहजिकच, कंपनीचा प्रस्ताव, कंपनीचा प्रकल्प, कंपनीचा पैसा.. तेव्हा मंजुरी मिळविण्यासाठी बहुतांशी कंपन्या ‘सोयीस्कर’ अहवाल देतील अशा खासगी ‘ईआयए कन्सल्टण्ट’ची निवड करतात.
चंद्रपूर जिल्ह्यातील ताडोबा-अंधारी राखीव व्याघ्रक्षेत्रापासून जवळच कोळशाची खाण प्रस्तावित आहे. या खाणीबाबत केलेला ईआयए अहवाल त्रोटक असल्याचे पर्यावरण-वन्यजीव संवर्धकांनी दाखवून दिले. पुढे, तत्कालीन प्रधान मुख्य वन संरक्षकांनी राष्ट्रीय व्याघ्रसंवर्धन प्राधिकरणास लिहिलेल्या पत्राने त्या त्रुटींवर शिक्कामोर्तबही केले. प्रकल्पाला विरोध करणाऱ्या या वनाधिकाऱ्याची बदली करण्यात आली. या प्रकरणी वन्यजीव संवर्धनाचा आराखडा तयार करणारे कन्सल्टण्ट मात्र मूग गिळून राहिले. ‘खाणीच्या प्रस्तावित परिसराची सद्यस्थिती व्याघ्र अधिवास म्हणून कशी आहे?’ या साध्या प्रश्नावर त्यांनी मौन धरले, यातून सुज्ञांनी काय तो बोध घ्यावा. ‘हापूस आंबा’, ‘वाघ’ यांना आंतरराष्ट्रीय पातळीवर विशेष महत्त्व आहे; तरी त्यांची ही स्थिती, मग पर्यावरणातील इतर घटकांबाबत काय बोलावे?
जळगाव जिल्ह्यातील ‘बोदवड परिसर सिंचन योजने’साठी ईआयए अधिसूचनेच्या काटेकोर अंमलबजावणीअभावी २३ जुलै रोजी बोदवड येथे जनसुनावणी घेतली गेली. या प्रकरणात एका स्वयंसेवी संस्थेने महाराष्ट्र प्रदूषण नियंत्रण मंडळाला पत्र लिहिले होते. त्यात ‘ईआयए अहवालासाठी आवश्यक अभ्यास पूर्ण झालेला नाही, खेरीज जनसुनावणीच्या ३० दिवस आधी ईआयए अहवालाचा सारांश प्रसिद्ध करणे कायद्याने बंधनकारक आहे. मात्र, जनसुनावणीला अवघे तीन दिवस उरले असतानाही अहवालाचा सारांश केंद्रीय पर्यावरण आणि वन मंत्रालय तसेच महाराष्ट्र प्रदूषण नियंत्रण मंडळ या दोहोंच्या संकेतस्थळांवर प्रसिद्ध झाला नव्हता. तसेच त्याच्या प्रती या मंत्रालयाच्या कार्यालयांत उपलब्ध नव्हत्या. त्यामुळे २३ जुलै रोजी होणारी जनसुनावणी बेकायदा ठरते,’ ही बाब स्पष्ट करण्यात आली होती तरी जनसुनावणी झाली. मंत्रालयाच्या नदी खोरे आणि जलविद्युत प्रकल्प तज्ज्ञ समितीने हा प्रस्ताव बैठकीसाठी ग्राह्य धरला. मात्र, दुसरा प्रकल्पग्रस्त तालुका मुक्ताईनगर येथे जनसुनावणी झाली नसल्याचे लक्षात आल्याने या प्रकल्पाला मंजुरी मिळू शकली नाही. परंतु समितीने बोदवडची जनसुनावणी बेकायदा असल्याचे नजरेआड केले.
जनसुनावणी घेतली जाते, तेव्हा त्यासंबंधित कायदेशीर तरतुदींचे काटेकोर पालन केले गेले आहे हे जनतेने तपासून पाहायला हवे. कायद्यात नमूद केलेल्या सर्व ठिकाणी ईआयए अहवाल व त्याचा सारांश उपलब्ध आहे का, जनसुनावणीचे ठिकाण व वेळ यांना आवश्यक प्रसिद्धी दिली गेली आहे का, जनसुनावणीला जाण्यापूर्वी अहवालाचा सारांश समजून घेणे, जनसुनावणी घेण्यासाठी उपस्थित व्यक्तींची पाश्र्वभूमी कायद्यानुसार आहे का, जनसुनावणी झाल्यानंतर तीत चर्चेस आलेल्या मुद्दय़ांची लेखी नोंद प्रसिद्ध झाली का, या बाबी स्थानिकांनी जाणून घेणे आवश्यक आहे. परंतु एकूणच ‘कायदा म्हणजे किचकट’ अशी समजूत करून दिल्याने जनसामान्य कायद्याच्या वाटेला जाण्याचे टाळतात. खेरीज, ‘गैरसोयी’च्या ठरतील अशा कायदेशीर तरतुदींना फारशी प्रसिद्धीही दिली जात नाही. त्यातूनच विकसकांचे आणि प्रकल्पांची शिफारस करणाऱ्यांचे फावते.
सध्या न्यायप्रविष्ट असलेले प्रकरण पहा - रत्नागिरी जिल्ह्यात दापोली तालुक्यातील उंबरशेत गावात तसेच कोल्हापूर जिल्ह्यातील शाहूवाडी तालुक्यातील गिरगावात अशा दोन ठिकाणी प्रस्तावित बॉक्साइट खाणींसाठी पुण्यातील एका ईआयए कन्सल्टण्टने अहवाल तयार केला. या दोन ठिकाणांमध्ये जवळपास २०० किलोमीटरचे अंतर आहे. तरी हे दोन्ही अहवाल एकसारखे आहेत. इतकेच नव्हे तर कन्सल्टण्टने ‘कोमी अ‍ॅल्युमिनिअम’ या रशियन कंपनीने तयार केलेल्या अहवालातील मजकूर ‘कॉपी-पेस्ट’ केल्यामुळे या अहवालांमध्ये ‘रशियन वनस्पतीं’ची नावे आहेत! कागदोपत्री चोख भासणाऱ्या या अधिसूचनेच्या अंमलबजावणीचे प्रत्यक्षातील चित्र हे असे आहे.
पर्यावरणीय मंजुरी मिळविणे ही निव्वळ औपचारिकता मानली जाते. याला आपले लोकप्रतिनिधीही कारणीभूत आहेत. पर्यावरणावर होणारे परिणाम कितीही घातक, दूरगामी असोत, प्रकल्पाला मंजुरी मिळते, असा संदेश खुद्द पंतप्रधानांच्या कृतीने दिला. अरुणाचल प्रदेशातील ३००० मेगाव्ॉट क्षमतेच्या दिबांग प्रकल्पाची ३१ जानेवारी २००८ रोजी पंतप्रधान मनमोहन सिंग यांनी इटानगरमध्ये पायाभरणी केली; तेव्हा या प्रकल्पाच्या पर्यावरणविषयक कायदेशीर तरतुदी पूर्ण झालेल्या नव्हत्या. किंबहुना, स्थानिकांचा प्रकल्पाला विरोध असल्याने अजूनही या तरतुदी पूर्ण झालेल्या नाहीत.
जयगड प्रकरणी न्यायालयाने समितीला ‘कोणताही पूर्वग्रह न बाळगता’ पुनर्विचार करण्याचा आदेश दिला आहे, आणि तोपर्यंत वीजनिर्मितीला स्थगिती दिली आहे. परंतु प्रकल्पाची उभारणी जवळपास पूर्ण झाली आहे. म्हणजेच, त्याकरिता आवश्यक जमीन संपादन, वनस्पती तोड, भौगोलिक रचनेत फेरफार हे सगळे करून झालेले आहे. परिसरात कायमस्वरुपी पर्यावरणीय, सामाजिक, आर्थिक बदल घडून आलेले आहेत. या टप्प्यावरील प्रकल्प रद्द केल्याचे उदाहरण नाही. दशकभरातील प्रकरणे लक्षात घेता समितीच्या पुनर्विचारानंतर हा प्रकल्प रद्द झाल्यास ही पहिलीच घटना ठरेल. त्यामुळे या प्रकरणाचा पाठपुरावा करणारी पर्यावरणविचारी मंडळी न्यायालयाच्या या निकालाच्या अंमलबजावणीबाबत आशावादी आहेत. आता त्यांचा लढा आहे तो या प्रकारांची पुनरावृत्ती टाळण्यासाठी.
कोणत्याही प्रकल्पाला मंजुरी देण्यापूर्वी त्या परिसरात येणाऱ्या सर्व प्रकल्पांच्या एकत्रित पर्यावरणीय परिणामांचा अभ्यास केला जावा, ईआयए अधिसूचनेची काटेकोर अंमलबजावणी व्हावी, यासाठी हा प्रातिनिधिक लढा असेल!

रेश्मा जठार
बुधवार, २८ ऑक्टोबर २००९ published in Loksatta

Friday, October 9, 2009

Those were the best days...

Pasted below is a link to an old article by Dr. A K Das, published in 2003. One of my favorites. Beautifully written, speaks about traditional wisdom.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

GM i.e. Genetically Modified crops needs urgent attention

Don't get surprised if you find a GM Brinjal on your platter; Aah! rather you won’t be able to distinguish between GM and natural brinjal, it will be served and you will eat it… mind you; but it is not going to be matter of your choice.
In India we do not have an organized distribution system, and, this is a major hurdle in introduction of labeling system for GM foods.
I don’t mean that introducing labeling system will put consumers in a win-win situation, but, it may at least offer us right to choose. A Greenpeace activist told me that we do not have a legal framework to address the issue of GM crops. And, if GM crops enter our country (I won’t dare to say that that are yet to…) we will be treated as lab rats.
Supporters of GM technology and GM seeds developers claim that it is a safe technology, and, environmentalists claim it is not. Whom should we believe?
Don’t you think that precaution is always better than cure?

I have written about this issue long back, attaching that article here for reference, just an introductory article... may help you think further.

- Reshma

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Surely you are joking Mr. Ramesh…

Our honorable union minister of environment and forests Jairam Ramesh is in news since he has taken charge of the ministry. He has been meeting NGOs all over the country working on various environmental issues. Be it an issue of Genetically Modified crops, of climate change, of tiger conservation, of mining or that of reformation of regulatory system for implementation of environmental law of the state; name the issue and you’ll find a couple of his statements reported in national media. Seems to be a considerate environment minister? media-friendly and accessible… Some activists, some NGOs must be flattered. Well, beware those who are flattered, here is a glitch…

This looks like a ‘Yes… But’ game. It means whenever there is a ‘but’ in a statement that starts with ‘yes’, one must take a special note of the second half of a statement, and it usually indicates unwillingness to act. Let’s evaluate a few of Mr. Ramesh’s statements from this ‘Yes… But’ point of view.

Bt brinjal can wait, says Jairam Ramesh. Yes he said so; “There is no great urgency to launch bt brinjal, [but] I see a very strong case for bt cotton. Country needs GM crops.” He also assured that GM foods will not enter the Indian market immediately and the system for labeling imported food needs to be introduced.

He announced that the country will have a monitoring agency for strict implementation of environment law. Agency will be funded by the union government, and the amount is quite handsome, Rs. 2000 crore… to save environment?! [But] this amount is generated through the conversion of forest lands for non-forest purpose!

The chairman of an expert appraisal committee (EAC) for river-valley projects is also on the directorial boards of at least six companies those are interested in building large hydro power projects. The EAC plays a crucial role in decision making process of environment ministry. Therefore, NGOs opposing large dams and hydro power projects have taken objection to this ‘conflict of interest’. They approached the union ministry of environment and forest and demanded an immediate action on this issue. Environment minister was quick to react, “People playing double role will be ejected,” he declared. His declaration made front page news; rather a headline in a Delhi newspaper, [but] the next meeting of the EAC was conducted with the same person as the chairman.

And, here is last one. He said that environmental standards will neither be diluted nor any laws will be by-passed, [but] at the same time environmental issues would not be allowed to become stumbling blocks to economic growth.
Now, how will you make this possible Mr. Ramesh?

- Reshma

Monday, May 25, 2009

Numbers… don’t impress me much

Reading newspapers can be annoying at times for those who think. Here are two news reports recently published. One says that now farmers will cultivate marketing skills with the help of a World Bank project. The Maharashtra Agriculture Competitiveness project costing Rs. 650-crore includes animal husbandry, dairy development, fisheries besides agriculture and marketing. The scheme is meant for 33 districts in Maharashtra. The World Bank will loan 415-crore for this project, half of it will be interest- free and the bank will impart all the required proficiencies to our farmers… how kind the World Bank is! And, how interesting, that it repeatedly seeks to solve debt- caused problems by disbursing more loans!

The second one was about the deals signed by the Reliance Power with the Arunachal Pradesh state government. Four deals for hydropower projects have been signed. The piece reports that, with these deals, Reliance Power’s hydropower portfolio reaches 4,620 MW in Arunachal Pradesh. The author claims that it is one of the largest in the country’s private sector, compared to that of the state-owned NHPC’s 5,175 MW installed capacity.

So, what is annoying about these?
The first report projects a Rs. 650-crore World Bank scheme as the superlative plan to help debt-ridden farmers. And the second report seems impressed by the huge figures of installed capacities. But, neither of them evaluates the information on the basis of root-causes. And hence, do not leave space for the reader to form his opinion, but merely serve to promote the interests of project proponents.

The World Bank may teach our farmer marketing skills, but, is it only lack of marketing skills that has put Indian agriculture in trouble? Or do Indian farmers need to learn the know-how of farming their own soil from the World Bank?
What will be the cost of farm produce that will reach us consumers through sophisticated marketing channels? Will we afford it?
Instead of endlessly taking up such costly training schemes, how about reviewing and revising our misguided agricultural policy?

What is our ‘real’ requirement of electricity? Do we need large hydropower projects to fulfill it? Is it essential to have them in an ecologically fragile state like Arunachal? Did the government or the company check the ecological viability of these hydro power projects before signing the deals? And, what is the earlier performance of this power company?

Has the Maharashtra government taken these farmers into confidence, or that of Arunachal Pradesh, its local populations?
Can all strata of our society bear the environmental costs of such projects? Rather, in the first place, are we aware of the fact that electricity generation has a huge ecological cost, and so it is with modern agriculture and marketing techniques?

- Reshma

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Is it a mere positive political story?

Maharashtra government is planning to encourage Mahua wineries in Vidarbha. Wineries will be a part of a scheme which will include production of fuel oil, soaps using Mahua seeds.
As per the conventional definition of development such an industry will generate employment for locals. And, these wineries will exploit local resource which is abundant in the target region. That’s a good card to convince pro tribal environmentalists and organizations. So, this announcement would have been treated as “positive political news”.
But, that’s an old story as the announcement was made last year. What’s new is that recently a television journalist rang me up asking about Mahua tree. He wished to add an environmental aspect to this story! A political reporter working with a Marathi media thinking of a political announcement from environmental point of view is a rare thing to happen. I wish we get some more of them in near future!
Now let’s take a look at some points this TV reporter can add to his story; forest minister has announced that the government will give the winery license to whoever asks for it along with a slew of incentives. What does he mean by ‘whoever’? Why did he speak only of ‘a slew of incentives’? And, didn’t he speak of conditions to be imposed on outsiders to help involve more number of locals in the project?
Has the government included social and environmental costs in the production cost of the Mahua wine? I mean, Is the government - especially forest minister - aware of the fact that a large scale extraction of any natural resource does have long term impacts on the ecosystems, and so does the monoculture? What the government has planned to avoid these impacts?
Do the answers to these questions turn out to be satisfactory even after crosschecking with the experts (experts not related to the project or government of course)? And a ground reality checks… what say locals have on this offer? Do they want it?
Considering these points, now tell me will it remain a mere positive political story?

- Reshma