Sustainable Exploitation of People and Natural Resources is a Myth

Priorities at the Ministry for Environment and Forests are in the process of recalibration after the Modi government announced stiff deadlines for clearing files on various development projects. The deadlines apply across the board – from the lowliest babu right up to the minister. Amid this churning and in the run up to World Environment Day on Thursday, Express profiles a few eco warriors in Chennai and gets their take on Modi’s diktat to fastrack clearance for infrastructure projects

Published: 02nd June 2014 10:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd June 2014 10:24 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: I don’t think development can go hand in hand with environmental protection. Our model of development is based on exploitation of people and exploitation of natural resources and there is no such thing as sustainable exploitation of people and natural resources.” These are remarks by Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist and writer in Chennai.

Nityanand-Jayaraman.jpgCommenting on the Narendra Modi government’s intention to fast-track environmental clearance for infrastructure projects, he said, “The new government has already stated what it wants to do. It’s not very different from the old government. For them environmental protection is acceptable as long as it does not challenge development.”

“We are already in a very serious crisis environmentally. The fast-track clearances don’t matter, as they cannot stop people working against them. Even a Supreme Court order cannot be implemented if people decide so,” said Jayaraman, who makes a living by writing and spends the rest of his time fighting for various social causes.

He is associated with campaigns like Chennai Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle, a city-based group that extends solidarity to the struggle, and with the community struggle in Cheyyur against a 4,000-megawatt coal power plant. He assists the community in understanding technical, legal and strategic issues. He is associated with the workers of Ponds Unilever Company in Kodaikanal, a thermometer manufacturing company that is closed now, in their effort to seek compensation, health, rehabilitation and environmental renovation.

He advises an NGO called The Other Media on their Community Environmental Monitoring programme. His main area of interest is working on coastal issues of Chennai and Tamil Nadu. He works for the rights of fisherfolk to habitat and damages likely to happen to the coast due to increasing urbanisation and climate change.

Through an organization called Vettiver Collective he provides free space at Besant Nagar for people to organise or conduct meetings as long as their politics is not hate-based.

“Anyone who tries to do good will be attacked, branded a Naxalite or as one getting foreign funds,” Jayaraman said when asked about the problems he faces as an activist. In his view, working with young people who are individualistic and have a sceptical view of collective action is a big challenge. The other challenge is making activism attractive to young people who tend to see activists as boring persons without a sense of humour.


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