Mon, 27 May, 2019

Politics of environment

Towards the beginning of 21st century our gargantuan appetite for natural resource consumption paved way for environ destruction & social unrest

15th March 2019, 02:36 Hrs

Dr Manoj Sumati R Borkar

I hold a humble yet unequivocal conviction, that I have the competence to dispassionately comment on the present state of Goa’s environment, being a firsthand witness over the last few decades to the changing environmental scenario in the state. I feel confident to evaluate the prognosis of environmental recovery, as I have assimilated a global environmental perspective and was the only Goemkar to have been invited with a full Swedish Government scholarship to attend the Stockholm 40+ conference in 2012; where I had the opportunity to listen to the leadership of 74 countries, and importantly have a discussion with Maurice Strong, the erudite Secretary-General of the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm.

 Towards the few erudite peers self-muted by their subservience to political  authority, I carry the risk of sounding boisterous; and preposterous to that aggressive lobby of ‘manufactured capital’, who menacingly scoff at any voice of dissent in favour of environment. I was born and have lived for more than 50 years in Goa, and have witnessed its progression with immense joy and decline with equally intense trepidation. Post 60s, having moulted from being a Portuguese colony to have been mainstreamed into the Indian republic, we have been a witness to the collective craving of our civil society for up-gradation of civic amenities, socio-economic empowerment and enhanced quality of life.  

Life then was simple and aspirations did not soar beyond the guarantee of livelihood, roof over head, nutritional security and basic health care. Societal camaraderie was natural to Goemkars;  and seeds of communal hatred were neither sown nor the harvest of dishonesty in public life reaped. Science and technology were yet to invade our lives then, and people still believed and practiced the time-tested recipes for a peaceful and content life, devoid of hurry, worry and fury. A few homes could afford a landline and long distance calls were booked. Visits to Fair Price Shop with ration cards for collecting monthly quota of edibles was a common ritual, and eating out in hotels was an unaffordable luxury. Public transport was dominated by private buses that would explode with passengers and run on narrow roads infested with stray cattle, but definitely reach the destination.  

The Mandovi was then mesmerising by the night and inspired poetry, and its waters had its fecal Coliform bacteria count within permissible limits, and the fish that the sea provided was safe for consumption without any FDA tests and approvals. During my college days in the 80’s, often the Panjim bound passengers had to be ferried between Cortalim and Agacaim, but the bus ride was eventful and the rustic landscape all along the route was hypnotic with grooves of swaying palms, homes with balcaos and Mangalore tiled roofs and the lush green paddy fields. The air, water and soil were still not saturated with toxins, nor was our food laced with carcinogenic chemicals.  

It is somewhere towards the beginning of the 21st century, that in Goa our quest for modernisation and progress got accelerated and our gargantuan appetite for natural resource consumption paved the way for environmental destruction and social unrest. All along, as the blue-print for modernization unfolded, the hardnosed polity assertively acquired the environmental resources and passed on the environmental costs to the unsuspecting society; in the garb of  urban landscapes, infrastructure up-gradation, and globalised economy.  

That modernisation is extremely destructive of nature, if not based on holistic understanding of the environment and that it commodifies nature was not a common knowledge. Since the tangible benefits of modernization were there for all to see, the subtle yet sure eco-degradation was willfully ignored by the society that craved for meeting the western benchmarking of development. This suited the governments well, and the ‘knowledge-authority nexus’ forcefully peddled aesthetic up-gradation of urban scapes for capital accretion through urban-industrial sprawls dominating the landscape and waterscape. This has willfully demolished our earth-capital and delegitimized the time-tested indigenous natural resources management systems of our people, allowing the dispensation in power to gain control over collective environmental spaces and resources!  

In Goa there are many examples of such competing knowledge claims between the state actors and the people, leading to conflicts between state sponsored professional expertise and people’s understanding of the ground realities with respect to environmental impacts of  infrastructure projects. Governments often use hired, branded and selectively reformulated expertise to further specific ‘developmental agenda’, refusing to acknowledge social moorings of environmental knowledge. This highhanded approach pushes the ‘Local knowledge’ and ‘State knowledge’ into a deep disagreement and antagonism, that  eventually flows into the politics of governance.  

Politics does not spare environment, but its impact on environment surely depends upon the politician’s understanding of environmental knowledge, its source, legitimacy, and ethics of its application in pursuit of developmental agenda. Technocracy must caution the governments on the pitfalls of diluting environmental concerns, and states must recognise local knowledge, and respect sentiments of environmentally conscious citizenry; all the time upholding the precautionary principle of environmental protection.

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