`India lacks political will to save environment'

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at bom4.vsnl.net.in
Sat Apr 1 04:35:17 PST 2000

Saturday 1 April 2000

`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 here. 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 crime." 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) For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service
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