By K Raveendran
A unique feature of all environmental reports is that they are never received by the governments, for which these are essentially meant, in the same earnestness with which those reports are prepared. There is a complete disconnect between the two sides.
But the very context of the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report makes it different. The report has coincided with unprecedented devastation in many parts of the country, particularly states like Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Assam, Odissa and the North East, ravaged by floods.
In fact, the report points out that points out that climate change is exacerbating land degradation processes through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, dry spells, wind, sea-level rise, wave action, and other problems that will put a question mark on our survival.
In fact, India has been identified as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to global warming and is set to face the brunt of climate change devastation in the days to come. All that the reports of IPCC and other agencies predicted are becoming a reality in the country: intense heat waves, floods and droughts and water stress, further exposing an already vulnerable population.
An earlier report in the same series had said India is already losing about 1.5 per cent of its GDP every year due to climate change-related risks. Agriculture sector has witnessed 4-9 per cent dip in yield every year as a result of the current 1 degree C rise in global temperature. Allowing temperature to rise beyond 1.5°C would render India uninhabitable and even poorer, it said.
The report saw higher risks from heavy precipitation events, including flooding and severe tropical cyclones over the Indian Ocean near the Arabian Sea, increased heat wave conditions and coastal flooding. Large parts of the country suffered intense heat waves in this year’s summer, with the problem extending to places like Kolkata. The report also spoke about the increased vulnerability of communities around the Ganga-Brahmaputra and Mahanadi delta.
The impact of all this could be felt in a dip in crop production and decreased nutritional quality of rice and wheat. The rising temperatures, according to the report, could creating severe negative impact on livestock due to changes in feed quality, spread of diseases, and lack of availability of water resources, coupled by increased risk of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue.
It was most ominous that the release of the latest report coincided with a recurrence of the devastating floods and landslides in Kerala, a state whose successive governments have given scant respect for the adverse impact of the prodigal ways of its communities. Kerala has, in fact, been one state where the interests of land mafias and encroachment and construction lobbies have been made subservient to everything else with the help of governments that go out of their way to please these vested interests, which have got themselves deeply entrenched in the political power structure.
These lobbies take positions that are diametrically opposite to the causes of ecological protection and include even powerful sections of the Church, whose constituents have a vital stake in the continued degradation of land and its resources. In fact, the stand of the Church had come into direct conflict with corrective measures recommended by important reports such as the one by the Gadgil Committee, which proposed a total ban on commercial activities in the fragile eco-system of Western Ghats, bearing the brunt of the devastation in the heavy landslides and flash floods during this as well as last year’s deluge.
The Pinarayi Vijayan government has been particularly insensitive to the demands of environmental protection as it introduced several relaxation in the norms so as to help the building lobby. These include dilution of the law dealing with conversion of paddy fields for building residences and other commercial purposes, relaxation of the norms for the issue of quarrying licences, which is the biggest threat to the fragile ecosystem, and succumbing to the pressure of lobbies.
The erstwhile UDF government of Oommen Chandy cannot escape blame as it allowed the powerful plantation lobby to use 5 percent area of their estates for the development of tourism, which meant large-scale felling of trees and build-up of commercial facilities. Most of the landslides in this year’s flood have occurred in and around these areas, which points to the disregard of the authorities towards the need for environmental protection.
Former chief minister V S Achuthanandan, who is the chairman of the Administrative Reforms Committee, an outfit formed to accommodate the veteran communist when Pinarayi was chosen to lead the new government, has come out openly against some of the policies of the government, saying that ignoring the recommendations of experts such as the Gadgil Committee is to blame for the increasing frequency of natural disasters in the state.
Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who headed the Gadgil Committee, has himself attributed the devastation to the failure of the state government to implement the safeguards recommended for the area.
The recommendations had become such a sensitive political issue that the UDF government had set up committee after committee to modify the report until the one committee could come up with a set of suggestions that would be acceptable to the pressure groups.
And the results of all these are there for everyone to see. (IPA Service)