Environment and ecology have become major concerns today because their degradation has enormously increased the misery and drudgery in peoples’ lives. Environmental destruction affects everybody adversely in the long run, but the impact on the poor is the greatest and immediate. For the great mass of people in India, environmental degradation has come to imply greater suffering and a deepening of the vicious cycle of hunger, poverty and malnutrition. It has come to mean that the little control of resources that poor people had, is slipping out of their hands, threatening their very survival.
DEVELOPMENT AND THE POOR
Development and the Poor : Much of this pauperisation of people has happened in the name of development, and modern science and technology - the very processes and tools that have been advertised as bringing economic succour and increasing quality of human life.
Thus the immediate goal of most environmental struggle in India is to protect the environment, and to ensure that people’s means of sustenance and survival are not destroyed. Environment being Exploited, being allowed to influence the course of development in their neighbourhoods.
Issues about deforestation/afforestation, siting of dams and growth of river valley projects, installation of nuclear missle stations as in baliapal in Orissa, pollution of rivers, trawling by big companies in seas and many others have therefore to be seen in the light of how they are making poor people poorer. Environmental issues are therefore intensely Indian issues, not borrowed from the West as viewed in political and other circles, but a result of misplaced priorities in planning and development.
Development and developmental processes and theories have therefore to be critically questioned in understanding the roots of our environmental crisis.
Every developmental process feeds on some natural resources directly or indirectly. These natural resources, be it water, land, or minerals, are appropriated by some of the more powerful groups in society. These powerful groups - in India, they are predominantly composed of the ruling political elite, the bureaucracy and the business class - form a nexus to ensure that the profits emanating from the transformation of these natural resources are distributed largely among their own kind, or at best among an international coalition of such powerful groups.
For the vast majority of rural poor in India, this appropriation of resources by a small powerful minority has meant increased hardship for even routine survival. Most rural familities in India rely on biomass for almost all aspects of their subsistence. The vanishing forests have meant that rural women have to search harder for fuel for their chulahs (cookstoves). In fact, many a rural woman is known to walk 8 to 10 kms everyday to get fuel wood for cooking, sometimes getting up as early as 2 a.m. in the morning. With decreasing forests, water becomes a problem too.
Either there is too much silting of ponds or there is little retention of monsoon water. Wells start drying up, rivers and streams which used to have water all the year, have water only for a few months of the year. Again it is the rural woman who has to travel far to get a few pots of water. Environmental destruction has also meant less building material, like thatch and bamboo and leaves. Renovation and repairs of thatch huts now take place with less frequency. Useful medicinal herbs have beciome rarer than before . (See Appendix 1 for endangered plants of actual or potential use in traditional medicine). As commonly available resources become scarce, what was available free before, like cropwastes, have a price and become further inaccessible to those who little or no land, or those who survive by grazing cattle and sheep only.
The injustice of this situation becomes all the more glaring when forests are cut by private contractors in collusion with politicians and petty bureacrats, when forests are cleared for massive industrial, military projects, For the same natural resources, big industry pays a specially subsidized low price whereas hundreds of people whose livelihood depends on these natural resources are made to pay a very high price for what they were previously getting at a reasonable price or at no price. In Karnataka, bamboo was made available to paper mills at Rs.15/- a tonne, whereas to hundreds of basket weavers and small users, bamboo was sold at Rs.1200/- per tonne. Bean makers in U.P. find their raw materials bhabhar grass - now is practically unavailable because of the U.P. Forest Development Corporation’s decision to favour paper mills.
Three major dams (Panam, Kadana and Bhadar) are situated in Santrampur Taluka of Panchamahals district, Gujarat (average annual rainfall, 35 inches), but almost all the water goes to the politically more influential Kaira district. Result : even the small landowners have to work in drought relief if monsoons fail.
When dams are sited, little care is taken to rehabilitate displaced people adequately. Narmada, Koel-Karo, Bodhghat, Bhopalpatnam, Inchampalli and others are some of the proposed dam sites where there are active people’s movements fighting for the survival of people displaced (or to be displaced).
The list is endless. Our technological choices are mostly made without the lives of the poor in the picture. Therefore the choice of use of these resources is also made without poor people in focus. People are alienated from their land, water biomass and as in the case of certain industries - even their right to free air and good health. The resource needs of our industrial choices are unlimited, whereas our resources are limited. Area after area is denuded and despoiled. New areas are sought to satisfy this resource hunger. In advance, we are laying claims to our mineral rights in the oceans as well as in the Antarctic. There is even a U.N. Committee for mineral exploitation rights on the moon!
Nearer home, paper mills in Karnataka having done with bamboo forests in Karnataka, are now getting their bamboos from the North-East where the last major forests are still to be seen - and not for long.
Japanese and Wester timber industries having made Thailand a net importer of wood from a stage of net exporter, are turning now to Brazil - where in the Amazon basin, the world’s thickest forests are situated. where reforestation does take place, as in India and in the denuded tropical rain forests of Phillipines, Malaysia and Indonesia, mostly commercially profitable trees which are not suitable to the long term health of the soil species like eucalyptus are planted, or as in the case of Singhbhum area of Bihar, team is planted instead of the traditional sal.
MYTH OF NEUTRAL TECHNOLOGY
Myth of neutral Technology : Due to the fact that much of a developing country’s economy (India’s as well) is tied with an international market economy, a victim of North-South economic transactions, very little can be done by most under-developed countries to chart an independent economic path, especially when the poor countries need to buy armaments from the developed countries to fight imagined and real wars amongst each other. Inflow of armaments as well as high technology inflow also means several members of the local elite benefit by way of commissions, cutbacks, etc. In fact, it is against the immediate interest of this coterie if their countries become self-reliant technologywise, in any sector of their economy. Bangladesh for instance spends 30 crore taka every year on milk powder imports. Indenting agents who live off their commission would do their best to kill any self-reliance promoting dairy development scheme that can also provide employment and sustenance of hundreds of poor people. This happens in India too with every import substitution effort.
"No instrument, no skill, no crop introduced into a society from the outside is ‘neutral’. No so-called technical solution for any problem remains technical longer than about five minutes. Any innovation is going to have far-reaching consequences on peoples’ lives..."
Usually having lost access to their biomass, land and/or water, most rural poor migrate to cities where they eke out a precarious existence in slums or as pavement dwellers, frequently shunted from place to place at the whim of politicians and demolition squads. A significant section of the poor in urban areas are thus ecological migrants, not just economic migrants.
Third World countries in the process of seeking foreign exchange through cash based exports become victims of debt trap and worse their countries are theatres for ecological degradation. This comes in several guises. Multilateral development banks like World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc. often tie their aid to a third world country with an export obligation. The easiest way to generate cash generating exports is to grow food, fodder and meat for the people and animals of the developed world. Even before the banks stepped in, agribusiness firms of the West were enticting the local elite of Third World countries to cash cropping. (Agribusiness is defined as ‘a combination of the producing operations of a farm, the manufacture and distribution of farm equipment and supplies, and the processing, storage and distribution of farm commodities). "Agribusiness", as Susan George points out, "is basically antagonistic to national control over local food production and marketing; thus governments that welcome it should do so in the full knowledge that what is raised will be largely exported to paying customers, with only a small residue left out for the local middle class...
"About fifty-five percent of the entire phillipine farming acreage is used for export crops - sugar, coconuts, bananas, rubber, pineapple, coffee and cocoa - much of it directly controlled by foreign interests in cooperation with a tiny local elite. Meanwhile, according to FAO figures, the average Filipino is eating just 100 calories more a day than the average inhabitant of Bangladesh 1,940 versus 1,840 calories). Because the whole agribusiness system is based on profitability, it is not surprising that, ‘in Colombia, a hectare devoted to the raising of carnations brings a million pesos a year, while wheat or corn brings only 12,500 pesos. As a result, Colobia like most other poor countries in Latin America, must use scarce foreign exchange to import basic foodstuffs’. Rich sources of protein like fishmeal, which could perfectly well be used for human food, are processed and exported by agribusiness like General Foods, Ralston Purina, Quaker Oats, or Swift & Armour to feed America’s 35 million dogs and its 30 million cats. The Pet Food Institute the trade association of dog and cat food manufacturers, estimated the 1974 US grocery bill for pet food at $2.1 billion. Any rich mongrel or pampered puss is a better customer for agribusiness than a poor human being. Little has changed since William hazlitt replied to parson malthus in 1807, and stated that the dogs and horses of the rich ‘eat up the food of the children of the poor.’
"More and more land in the UDCs is devoted to greater and greater quantities of luxury food products that fewer and fewer people, proportionally, can afford. Africa is now supplying not only its traditional palm, peanut and copra oils to Europe, but fruits, vegetables and even beef. The beef mostly comes from the Sahel nations! mexico and South America are purveyors of luxury foods like strawberries and asparagus to the US, while South Asia takes care of the affluent Japanese market. An increasing amount of the grain produced in the UDCs is now being promptly sent to feedmills, from whence it goes to fattering poultry and animals whose meat most local consumers cannot afford. For example, Costa Rica has increased its beef exports to north America by 92 per cent in recent years. This has been Accompanied by a 26 per cent decline in local meat consumption. See the Box on the next page.
The centre For Science and Environment (CSE) Report of 1984-85 points out the havoc caused to Third World Lands because of the food needs of the Western world.
"No statistics on this are available, but if someone did collect them, we will definitely find that despite the worldwide process of decolonisation, there is today many times more land being used in the developing world to meet the food and other biomass needs of the Western countries than in 1940s, before the process of decolonisation began. More than a quarter of all Central American forests have been destroyed since 1960 for cattle ranching." "85 per cent to 95 per cent of the beef products as a result has gone to the US while domestic consumption of beef in Central America has fallen and pet foods and cheap hamburgers because Central American beef is half the price of the grass-fed beef produced in the US. The price of the Central American beef does not represent its correct ecological cost. Cattle ranching has proved to be the worst form of land use for the fragile soils on which these tropical moist forests existed. Within five to seven years, their productivity has dropped dramatically and cattle ranchers have had to move on.
"The Sahelian, drought of 1968-74 which grabbed world headlines and claimed the lives of approximately 100,000 nomadic people was caused by the French colonial policy to drive these countries into peanut farming to secure its own source of vegetable oils. Through heavy taxation policies the French colonial authorities forced the West African peasants to grow groundnuts at the expense of subsistence crops. Groundnut cultivation rapidly depleted the soil. It soon spread to traditionally fallow and forest zones and encroached on land previously used for grazing, upsetting the delicate balance between the farmers and the nomadic herders. The expansion of groundnuts was encouraged by artificially high prices but when US soya production began to hit the European market and vegetable oil prices began to fall, the newly independent West African countries had no alternative but to increase area increased by leaps and bounds under the pressure of government policies, the nomads were slowly pushed further and further north into the desert, something for which they were not prepared, their traditional relationships with the settled farmers having been totally disturbed. When the long period of drought set in and thousands of animals and human beings began to die, the nomads and their evergrazing was blamed. Nobody blamed the French or the Sahelian elite which worked hand in glove with the French."
One serious damage agribusinesses have caused to many third world countries is that these poor countries have had to import even food and vegetables and with it a lot of processed food and consumerist culture that goes with it, a culture which values packaged and canned articles irrespectaive of their nutritional content, and which values processed food more than naturally available foods.
Any rapid growth of exports which involves intensive use of natural resources has often led to a debt trap and ecological degradation - especially agricultural exports that encourages cash crops more than traditional crops that form the core of a staple diet of a people.
EXPORT OF POLLUTION
Export of Pollution : Agribusiness related to environmental degradation is one form of export of ecological disaster from the developed world to third world. A relatively less recognized form of export is pollution export. Strict pollution laws in indutrialised countries makes it cheaper and easier for them to transfer their environmentally hazardous operations to developing countries. This pollution exporting country and local elite providing the capital base. Examples of Japanese pollution export have been cited by Ui Jun of Tokyo University.
One celebrated case coming out of Japan was that generated by the Thai Asahi Caustic Soda Company, which started operations in 1966 in a suburb of Bangkok. Mercury pollution of the local environment was discovered in 1972, and it is said that the news of this pollution was one of the main causes of the student revolution in 1973.
In the Phillipines, the Kawasaki Steel Corporation of Japan, installed an iron ore sintering plant in Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao, being forced out of a high density industrial area in the Chiba suburbs of Tokyo because of the excessive amounts of air pollutants that would have been produced by a similar facility in Japan. In Korea, the Ulsan Chemical Company was established by the japan Chemical Company was established by the Japan Chemical Company for the production of hexavalent chromium after this same company caused serious soil pollution from a waste landfill in the lowland area of Tokyo. In Malaysia, several japanese manufacturing facilities caused heavy water pollution of the Prai Industrial Estate area neta Penang. In Indonesia, the Sumaran Diamond Chemical company, a subsidiary company of the Mitsubishi Trading Group, seriously polluted water in surrounding areas. These cases are just the tip of a pollution export iceberg that has come into being in each of these developing countries. In all cases the first reaction of the industry involved was to deny that any damage had been done, to underestimate it, or when the problem became very serious, to repress the local citizens’ movement by calling on the power of local rulers. This reaction orientation mimics similar behaviour in the past by Japanese companies who were found to be seriously polluting their homeland".
"One of the most serious problems for developing countries relative to pollution export, is the commensurate export of hazardous working conditions and employment situations as the international division of labour continues apace. This problem was noted first in pollution export discussions relative to the hexavalent chromium production facility in Korea, but discussions at the time did not reach significant levels because of possible infringement on production technology secrets. Actual factory working conditions are not easy to document, especially where workers are not allowed to organize or where the unions are company managed; this being the case in many of the developing countries of Asia. Here again certain accounts have leaked out through thick company walls indicating only the tip of the iceberg, as with the deaths from occupational diseases among local workers employed by the Phillipine Sinter Corporation (Kawasaki Steel) and the transfer of lung cancer causing asbestos processing from japan to Taiwan. In Hong Kong during January of 1983, hundreds of female workers were poisoned by an organo-chlorine solvent used in the production of electronic components, this news indicating that this kind of problem exists also in so-called high technology fiels. solutions to these problems will not be derived out of the activities of trade unions, because in most developing countries receiving Japanese industrial capital inputs, independent trade union activities are outlawed; this being one of the original reasons for japanese industrial participation in developing countries. There is also a move to organise company dependent unions in developing countries, through the support of private sector Japanese trade unionism, which is, whtin japan, firmly under the control of capital. Observing the experiences of Japan, there is little hope that japanese-style trade unionism will ever contribute to improved working environments and conditions for laboring people in other countries. Here again, at least for the time being, the only way to improve the situation is through an exchange of information between non-governmental organizations in developed and developing countries."
Ui Jun also comments on the export of inappropriate pollution control technology by Japan, which are usually capital intensive, and have come to be recognised as very expensive and ineffective within Japan.
Development when seen thus in the light of the ecological imbalance, environmental exploitation and the predatory behaviour of a ruling triumvirate of politician, bureaucrat and the industrialist, enlarges the canvas of debate of what kind of economic growth we want, and wheat kind of quality of life would be appropriate to all of us. The adverse environmental impact of many of our well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) decisions like dams, the green revolution, the thoughtless exploitation of mineral resources in the orissa - Madhya Pradesh belt - force us to look three to four steps ahead of the results of our resource intensive development projects, enlarge our criteria of economic efficiency and cost benefits, and question the wisdom of market economy logic and associated technology choices and challenge the very system of centralised planning and decision making and the pattern of industrialisation.
Technology decisions and choice of development process are intricately related to the balance in our ecosystems in-as-much as in our immediate environments. we need therefore an holistic perception of how an industry or an innovation in one part of the country or the world can have adverse impact in some other part of the country or world. Our understanding of development itself will have to be modified to geneate and maintain ecological harmony, an ecology which places long term survival and self-reliance of people above all.