`India lacks political will to save environment'
By Ashok Easwaran
OAK PARK (Illinois): Two prominent Indian environmental activists, speaking
at a seminar here, have severely criticised the lack of political will in
India to protect its environment and rich biodiversity.
"We have about 200 laws dealing with the environment -- they merely serve a
decorative purpose," Magsaysay award winning lawyer M.C. Mehta said,
speaking to an audience of environmental activists, academics and laymen
Mehta had been invited along with ecologist Vandana Shiva to speak at a
seminar on `How to balance economic development with ecological
sustainability,' organised by the India Development Service, a non-profit
organisation which supports small-scale grassroot development projects.
"The ministries are too slow and in the name of development there is a soft
approach. There is no political consensus on the issue. All parties say the
environment should be protected, but they do not act."
"When a petition about environmental pollution surrounding the Taj Mahal
came up in court, it was found that the Delhi government did not even have a
list of industries," Mehta said.
"The Euro 1 and Euro 2 standards are being implemented on orders of the
Supreme Court, but companies like automobile manufacturer Maruti implement
these standards for their export market, but not for domestically sold
cars," Mehta alleged.
Vandana Shiva said, "Diversity of species and the livelihood it supports is
under threat because of free trade and World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
At the heart of free trade is the deregulation of environment protection."
"One area that is under very direct threat is agriculture. Every country has
recognised that a national policy is needed for food security. All that has
been changed by the US multinational Cargill. One of the things that the
World Bank has started to demand is the privatising of water. A lake has
been privatised for Coca-Cola in India and the company is preventing
tribals -- whose lake it is -- from using it."
"We will soon have laws targetting species diversity. Neem can be patented,
so can Basmati. Already the Basmati brand has moved from farms in India and
Pakistan to a farm in Texas. So, we have cases against Neem patenting in the
European patent office. I don't think it is fair for India to spend a
$100,000 to defend what is ours."
Criticising patents on seeds, Shiva said they lead companies to prevent
farmers from saving their seeds. "It has happened in the US," Shiva said,
"and when saving seeds becomes a crime, environmental protection becomes a
The "de-coupling of cost of production and price by the WTO will only
benefit the big agriculture companies," Shiva said. "There is a 12 per cent
decline in food production in rural India every year. You cannot have the
production of food turned into a negative economy. The system will make
750,00 Indian farmers disappear," she said.
"Genetic engineering has its own brand of pollution and is a recipe for
super pests," Shiva said. "Blindness to these hazards is deliberate. We have
to get rid of this false idea of substantial equivalence -- that a
genetically altered product is equal to its natural counterpart." She
accused genetic engineering companies of "subverting democracy," adding,
"you cannot have political will when governments are no more sovereign."
"It is only advertising value that genetically engineering produces more
food - there is no empirical evidence for it," Shiva said. (IANS)
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