Bittu Sahgal
June 16, 2014

Going by our Intelligence Bureau (IB) and some of the voices in the government, anyone asking for the protection of the country’s forests, its rivers or its coasts is anti-national and destroying the country’s economy.

I have spent the better part of my life working to save India’s natural wealth from the assault of development (largely in vain it often seems). I told successive governments that the hundreds of big dams planned in the Himalayas are not only ecologically destructive, but also make little economic sense, given that climate change is going to drastically affect the water flow.

I have fought against highways and tourism projects inside protected areas, asking that these few remnants of wildlife be left alone. And I have campaigned for the protection of the few tigers we have left today from the onslaught of development in their remaining habitats. I guess, according to the IB, that makes me part of the anti-national brigade. So be it.

We are in good company. Baba Amte, Padma Shri and Magsaysay award winner, would be anti-national too — he vociferously fought for the rights of Madia Gond tribals threatened by the Bhopalpatnam and Inchampalli dams planned for the Indravati River. Sunderlal Bahuguna, Padma Vibhushan awardee, who has been opposing the clear felling of the forests and the construction of dams in the Himalayas for decades, is another one of those anti-nationals.

What the IB and its masters in government fail to realise is that there can be no economy without an intact ecology. If you want to set up a factory, you need a viable water source. If that water source is polluted, you need to invest money on filtration systems. If the air is too polluted, productivity is lost as workers take more sick days. If our catchment areas are degraded or destroyed, floods and mudslides, followed by drought, are inevitable, dragging down the economy.

A sound environment is a must for a sound economy. You don’t have to take it from one of us ‘environmentalists’ — the World Bank, which ironically has probably done more than any other agency to destroy India’s environment, recently said that environmental degradation costs India 5.7% of GDP. The same report also said that strategies to reduce environmental degradation would cost less than 0.04% of the average annual GDP growth rate.

The IB report’s comments on Greenpeace are enlightening. The forest protection campaign in Mahan, Madhya Pradesh is cited. Yet what is Greenpeace and other groups asking for here. That the laws of the land governing our forests be followed. Those laws just happen to stop companies from mining coal in the area. I have had my share of disagreements with Greenpeace over the years, but anyone who denies the contribution it has made on environmental issues over the last decade has not done his homework. From its contributions to the Justice for Bhopal campaign to its stellar work on e-waste and cutting the carbon footprint of the telecom industry, Greenpeace has notched up important wins — wins that benefit the country at large.

Greenpeace India and other similar NGOs are simply asking that we protect our natural resources, that we avoid repeating the development mistakes others have made, that we compete in the global clean energy race that is underway, while stepping away from the dirty energy sources of the past. If that is anti-national, then I am proud to say that I too am anti-national.

Bittu Sahgal is editor, Sanctuary Asia. The views expressed by the author are persona

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