It is good to hear from a Mumbai colleague that Jairam Ramesh is the best environmental minister India has had for a long, long time. She continued, “At least important environmental concerns like the proposed Navi Mumbai airport across many hectares of mangroves, illegal mining in Orissa, hydel projects in Himachal etc. aren’t being callously brushed aside . . . there is a sense of him trying to make a difference. He’s making the right noises with a hands-on approach . . .”
She will welcome the cabinet support he has received recently from finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in reversing the decision to construct a hydel dam. Jairam Ramesh stated: “It will be a no-dam area and the government will declare it an ecologically sensitive zone in the next four to five weeks.”
Devinder Sharma in Delhi covers the subject in a recent post, opening: “After the moratorium on Bt Brinjal — which could have been India’s first poisonous GM food crop — the scrapping of the 600 MW Loharinag Pala hydroelectric project on Bhagirithi river in the lap of the Himalayas (in Uttarakhand State) is another firm but major decision that has been swayed by public opinion.”
Sharma adds, “more such ecologically important decisions need to be taken to ensure that we don’t play havoc with the environment any further.”
An enchanting view of the Himalayan valley — photo by S Roy Biswas
He quotes a front page dispatch in The Times of India (Aug 21, 2010) by Nitin Sethi, showing a further stratum of support: “The decision to shut down the hydel project comes after the Congress leadership showed it was ready to lend more political credence to environmental concerns.”
He surmises that when the newspapers say Congress high command they actually mean the UPA President Sonia Gandhi, who recently condemned illegal mining: “It is a menace with profound political, economic and social implications . . . What is most worrying is the high degree of convergence between areas that are mineral and forest-rich and areas that are arenas of tribal deprivation and Left-wing extremist violence . . . Dealing with the Naxalite challenge will call for fundamental innovations in the manner in which the mineral resources are exploited and forests are managed.”
As most of these developments affect the rural poor, the stance of Rahul Gandhi is another hopeful sign. As Sharma wrote a week later, Rahul Gandhi has highlighted the real divide between the rich India and the poor India.’ As he said in Orissa [August 26th]: “There are two Indias — Ameeron ka Hindustan (India of the rich) whose voices reach everywhere, and the Garibon ka Hindustan (India of the poor) whose voices are seldom heard…. Two years ago, you had come to me saying the Niyamgiri hill is your god. I told you I would be your soldier in Delhi. I am happy that I have helped you in whatever way I could. What is important is that your voice was heard without violence.” See video.