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HVK Archives: Develompment as Disaster - Cynical Carrerism of Green Brigades

Develompment as Disaster - Cynical Carrerism of Green Brigades - The Times of India

Shastri Ramachandran ()
24 December 1996

Title : Development as Disaster cynical careerism of green brigades
Author : Shastri Ramachandran
Publication : The Times of India
Date : December 24, 1996

The world has always been a theatre for conflicts spawned by contending
visions of how human living is to be ordered. It is a tribute to the human
spirit that people and communities have consistently prevailed in making
their own choices suited to their condition and genius unmoved by the
dictates of those who would direct their 'development'. The abiding moral of
this recurrent assertion in its myriad forms has obviously been lost on those
who deem 'development' to be a particular model as much as on those who have
set themselves the task of saving the earth by opposing 'development'.

The 'Earthsavers'

The Earth and earthlings managed well enough before the self-appointed
earthsavers emerged with prescriptions of packaged 'eco-friendly' products,
processes and practices for the greening of people's lives. People have been
eco-friendly long before intrusive 'green brigades' made a career of
debunking development to peddle environmental protection. To mitigate the
hazardous consequences of development is entirely different from projecting
development itself as the path to planned disaster.

The refusal to see this distinction may actually result in a grotesque
distortion of the development process that is even more destructive of the
environmental agenda. It will only serve to doubly victimise people already
alienated from their ecological habitat by also depriving them the rights of
development. The victims have no more choice than Buridan's ass. Confronted
by two stacks of hay, one of which may be poisoned, the hungry donkey is
destined to perish, either out of indecision or by opting for the

Such a predicament is wholly unnecessary and would not have arisen but for
the messianic zeal of the 'eco-terrorists' who promise that progress is
possible without paying a price. If toxic effluents provide the argument for
the shifting or closure of industries, aqua culture farms are targeted for
degrading the environment and power projects are, of course, strictly out.
Dams, new railway lines, roads and infrastructural projects are opposed tooth
and nail by the green brigade. The clearance of any major project invariably
triggers paroxysms of protest by busybodies who ring alarm bells and rig
roadblocks, including legal obstacles, to prevent and delay the venture.

Just as every environmental concern, as for example the movement to resist
the disastrous consequences of the Narmada project, cannot be damned as being
disruptive, similarly every industrial venture cannot be demolished for being
dangerous to the environment.

Ms Medha Patkar is truly an authentic symbol of a valiant struggle remarkable
for challenging an inhuman mega project which treats people as disposable
obstacles in the march of 'progress'. What is questionable, however, is the
'industry' that has been built on her efforts by self-proclaimed
eco-activists who couldn't care less. Whole brigades of careerist operators
have seized upon Ms Patkar's struggle to sell themselves. These parasites
infest every conference, NGO caucus, seminar and hearing of the United States
Senate and Congressional committee and session of UN agencies from New York
and Geneva to Marrakesh and Mexico City.

They are skilled professionals who can ask all the right questions and pick
holes in any project that could transform life in a developing country. These
bands are courted and applauded by their masters from the advanced industrial
countries. These eco-terrorists are a well-armed lot. Their armoury is not
just facts and figures, but fax networks and funds running to millions of
dollars. They have established themselves through technological tools
produced by the very development model they so passionately denounce with
enchanting theories of new cosmologies. They are accomplished globetrotters
wholly at ease with every modern gizmo, be it cellular phones, E-mail or
Internet, available round-the-clock to travel at an instant's notice.

Duplicitous Brigade

They deride the "concrete jungle" but can usurp the most comfortable
structures for their convenience even while canvassing the virtues of a
pastoral life. They are uncompromising critics of vehicular pollution but
have a fleet of air-conditioned cars. Settled in the most posh areas of the
city and endowed with all the means for weekend picnics, they want to keep
people away from settling in the neighbourhood of nearby lakes and bird
sanctuaries. Being comfortably settled they want the rest of the environment
to be museumised without power, transport and pollutants that come along with
people. They have no qualms about their own consumption patterns being prime

Without the least effort they can unleash unimaginable mischief by simple
recourse to public interest litigation. India desperately needs power, and
yet power projects are fashionable targets for eco-activists. The Cogentrix
and Enron projects are being delayed by those who do not have to bear any of
the immense social and economic costs of their action.

Unwitting Pawns

It is amazing that while India finds it hard to attract adequate investment
for industrial ventures, and particularly because of the eco-dampeners, the
funds to sustain and promote the activism of the green brigades is growing.
The disparity between the funds available for development and money at the
disposal of those who are fouling up the climate for investment and growth
raises serious suspicion about eco-terrorists being motivated by a hidden

However, it would be a gross exaggeration to view every eco-activist as a
saboteur. What is more likely is that many green brigades are unwitting pawns
in the machinations of those who want to keep India backward. Even more
sinister is the possibility of Indian and foreign business using eco-activism
to sabotage ventures of rivals and competitors.

To carry the debate on the type of development suited to Indian conditions to
the point of disrupting every industrial enterprise would be suicidal. There
should be a specific stage identified in every project after which
objections, if found unsustainable, entail deterrent penalties. "Public
interest" cannot be made a cost-free camouflage to choke progress. The
principle of making the polluter pay should be extended to the wrecker too.

Environmental activism which is inspired by an alternative vision needs to be
urgently rescued from degenerating into an agenda for eco-terrorism.

The ecology needs to be saved from fashionable jet-setters. They have
interpreted "think globally, act locally" to mean thinking about their own
interests abroad while doing the damage at home. Carrying canned organic food
as first class airline baggage for overseas seminars while raving that
electricity in India will not light up people's lives is typical of this
duplicitous class.

Green politics in the advanced industrial societies is a post-development
phenomenon. To punish a people who are yet to taste the fruits of development
by prescribing the 'simple life' enforced by poverty and underdevelopment as
a Utopian recipe is a monstrous injustice.

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