The law is an ass’ came from the 17th century play ‘Revenge for Honour’ by English dramatist George Chapman: “Ere he shall lose an eye for such a trifle... For doing deeds of nature! I’m ashamed. The law is such an ass.” In India, for powerful political and criminal interests, “the law is an as-you-like-it” and Nature is the victim of deeds of greed. The Supreme Court has ordered the demolition of an exclusive housing colony in the protected Aravalli Hills range in Haryana; the resident list reads like a retired who’s wwho of Delhi—politicians, judges, top civil servants, professionals and army officers.
They are naturally distraught, some having sunk their life savings into building homes which now face the merciless justice of bulldozers.Their bad. Nothing about corruption, financial or moral, shocks anyone anymore. The Haryana government would have been aware of the August 18, 1992 notification banning construction in the area. Yet, it allowed the builders in. The blame does not rest with the sarkar alone. It also rests with us, the educated creamy layer, for allowing our conscience to be unquestioningly mollified by the veneer of official sanction.
Aren’t we aware that the Aravalis are protected and are being exploited by the land mafia and local netas? Don’t we realise while buying into housing colonies on lost riverbeds, degraded lakesides and tracts of cleared forest land that it is factors like groundwater depletion, illegal mining and check dams that are responsible for the degradation in the first place? As we build our dreams on the earth’s own graveyard, we tell ourselves, “it’s just one house”. Just as a colony starts with one house, so does the first tombstone make a cemetery. It’s happening in the Western Ghats, the Himalayan foothills, bucolic hillsides, parts of game sanctuaries, mangroves—whose fragile ecosystems maintain life on this part of the planet.
Ecological transgressions are largely responsible for the floods that devastated Kerala. When it comes to survival, omission is as bad as commission. Climate change is an unwelcome sibling of development but ignorance is no excuse. Owning a piece of land is the common man’s assurance of safety and for the rich, comfort and profit.
Approved by the government or not, if every citizen refuses to buy plots in ecologically sensitive areas, it will make politicians and developers think twice about raping the earth. And by encroaching on monument land, we are violating our own heritage. Political arithmetic assures squatters beforehand that their homes will be protected, or even regularised sooner or later.
Every human being is born with an inner voice with an ethical vocabulary. When it says no, listen. Or else, after you it’s the deluge. Don’t blame the law that allows you to transgress and then demolishes your dreams.