Wednesday, 17 October 2012

COP 11 biodiversity: India’s Economic Policies are Destroying Biodiversity and Livelihoods; Commitments Under CBD are Not Being Met

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 16: India's growth fetish is leading to a massive attack on biodiversity and people's rights and livelihoods.

India’s economic policies are destroying biodiversity and livelihoods on an unprecedented scale. The blind pursuit of economic growth is coming at massive costs, both to natural ecosystems and to hundreds of millions of ecosystem-dependent people, who are being affected by mining, dams, power plants, ports, industries, and other such projects. Such growth has also not solved the chronic problems of poverty, hunger and malnourishment, and social exclusion that affect more than half of India’s population.

Statements by India’s political leaders and bureaucrats at the CBD COP11 in Hyderabad, assuring steps to conserve India’s biodiversity and the rights of its people, appear to be doublespeak. A fundamental change in course needed if India is to actually achieve these objectives. This includes respecting the knowledge and rights of local communities, ensuring decentralized decision-making of development and conservation activities, reorienting economic policies to put biodiversity and people’s livelihoods at the core, strengthening conservation measures against damaging activities, and strictly complying with laws that guarantee community rights to natural resources while planning development projects.

1. India’s growth fetish is leading to a massive attack on biodiversity and people's rights and livelihoods. Policies of rapid industrialization and urbanization have caused damage to millions of hectares of forests, wetlands, rivers, mountains, coasts, marine areas, and grasslands, and to the lives, cultures, and livelihoods of tens of millions of people depending on such ecosystems. This attack has only intensified in the last two decades of ‘globalisation’, which was initiated in 1991 by the current Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh when he was Finance Minister under the then PM Narasimha Rao. 

2. Examples of the impacts of the economic growth model include the following:
  • Several hundred projects, including nearly 100 thermal and nuclear power plants, over 200 ports, and dozens of petrochemical and petroleum investment regions (PCPIRs), mines, tourism facilities, and sand mining are being carried out or proposed along India’s coast. There will be hardly any part of the coast left untouched, and will marginalize hundreds of coastal communities, if all these plans fructify.
  • Hundreds of mega dams have been planned across the country; as has happened with previous projects, these will obstruct the free flow of water, divert courses and change the riverine ecology and migration of fish species. The reduced flow of freshwater into the sea will also enhance coastal erosion, which is already affecting more than 25% of India’s coast.
  • Since 1980, over 1.5 lakh hectares of forest land have been diverted for mining; 50% of this has been in the last 10 years. About 15% of India’s total landmass is under mining reconnaissance.
  • Mining generates 2 billion tonnes of toxic waste every year; electronic waste totals 800,000 tonnes annually.
  • High-input, monocultural agricultural development has displaced thousands of varieties of crops and breeds of livestock; genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are taking this damage further, and some of India’s most valuable agricultural biodiversity areas are threatened. 

3. All of the above has been facilitated by a systematic weakening of the environmental governance framework. For instance:
  • Notifications under the Environment Protection Act, such as the Coastal Regulation Zone notification and the Environment Impact Assessment notification, have been repeatedly amended (and violated) to allow more and bigger industrial projects in ecologically sensitive areas;
  • There is no credible mechanism in place to ensure that such projects comply with the conditions under which they are cleared; and there is no assessment of the social and cultural impacts of projects, or of the cumulative impacts of several projects in one region;
  • The Forest Conservation Act has become a Forest Clearance Act, to divert lakhs of hectares of forest for mining, industries and other such projects;
  • Statutory public disclosure of important information pertaining to projects is often not taking place, despite orders of the Chief Information Commissioner, court rulings and repeated demands by community and civil society groups; this includes Environmental Clearance letters, Forest Clearance letters, etc.
  • The Biological Diversity Act has been mostly reduced to a law granting access to the country’s biological resources and related knowledge, without empowering communities to safeguard these. 
  • Further necessary laws and policies, such as those dealing with the rights of coastal communities, are being blocked or delayed.

4. In this context the recent proposal of the Finance Minister to mandate the National Investment Board to over-ride Union Ministries to clear development projects, is alarming and highly objectionable. It is not surprising that this atrocious proposal has been opposed by his own colleagues.  

5. Even laws and guidelines that mandate environmental and livelihood safeguards are consistently violated. For instance, the July 2009 circular of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to all state governments, requiring that they finish the Forest Rights Act implementation process and seek gram sabha consent for all proposals on diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes, has almost never been implemented. Though the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has recently reiterated this requirement, there is little evidence that MoEF is itself implementing it while giving forest clearance. Laws like the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, and the Forest Rights Act 2006, are repeatedly being violated.

6. Given this situation, we demand the following:
        i.      A moratorium on megaprojects and processes (including mining, megadams and power projects, GMOs, ports and others) that threaten or undermine fragile ecosystems and livelihoods based on them, until the following actions are undertaken.
      ii.      A comprehensive and participatory review of economic policies and planning processes, to put biodiversity conservation, and peoples’ livelihoods based on biodiversity, as core values. This means a central focus on sustainable livelihoods based on responsible use of forests, rivers, marine and coastal areas, grasslands, farms, and other ecosystems. 
    iii.      Genuine decentralization of political, financial, and economic governance to gram sabhas and urban ward or area sabhas, empowering communities and citizens to participate in decision-making processes based on the best available knowledge.
    iv.      Strict compliance of legislations such as FRA and PESA which provide some safeguards for the rights of vulnerable communities and require free prior informed consent of gram sabhas or other relevant community institutions.

7. India can move to very different paradigms of human well-being, centred on cultural diversity, educational, health, livelihood and social security, and environmental sustainability as core values. Thousands of initiatives of this kind already exist in India, a tiny portion of which were displayed at the People’s Biodiversity Festival held parallel to the COP in Hyderabad.

8. Nothing short of the above will ensure that India adheres to both its own Constitutional commitment to enhance the well-being of all its citizens and protect its environment, as also its commitments under international agreements such as the CBD and the  Millennium Development Goals. 

Statement issued by:
Bombay Natural History Society
Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha
Deccan Development Society
Greenpeace India
National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements
National Fishworkers Forum
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People
All India Forum of Forest Movements 
Delhi Forum
Indian Biodiversity Forum
International Collective in Support of Fishworkers Trust
Plachimada Solidarity Committee
Programme for Social Action
Awaaz Foundation
Franciscans International
Green Circle Sikkim
Natural Health Promoting Association
Climate Leaders India Network
Indian Youth Biodiversity Network
Campaign for Conservation and Community Control over Biodiversity

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