The trimester is coming to its end and a lot of writing, submissions are happening. Sleepless nights and ill health always seem to go hand in hand for me in these times.
As a part of a project, I am exploring environmental degradation and how it’s connected to poverty both as causation and also as an effect. While trying to understand this loopy relationship, on a friend’s suggestion, I looked at the Amrit Mahal Kaval of Chellakere ( 50,000 Hectares). This and similar such large patches of land were given to pastoralist by Mysore Maharaja some 400 years ago.
In 2012, a substantial part of this land (10,000 hectares) of it was allocated to three government establishments -DRDO, BARC, IISc for drone testing, enrichment of uranium and other scientific research respectively. And this was all done by the District Collector secretively without informing the involved Panchayats. And when the villagers got to fathom what was happening, it was quite late, constructions, building of compound walls had already begun. The villagers protested on two grounds – secretive transaction of land (that was given to them by the King 400 years ago) without their consent and second is the biodegradation of the grassland.
I am in complete agreement with their argument against secretive transaction without their consent. But in a documentary about the lives of these villages and how these nuclear/ government establishments will affect their livelihood – there were points made about how practices that are practices over generations will be lost, both culturally and biodiversity wise. My questions regarding this narrative is twofold- what is 400 years of culture compared to 5000 years of culture we as a nation have gathered? Second being, where is the EIA that shows the negative impact on biodiversity by these establishments? And any sort of development activity will have a altering impact on environment. The civilizational transitions are not going to pause just because we cannot clearly articulate negative changes that it will bring along. An average human being today – let’s say a lower middle class person today enjoy the level of comfort that none of the kings enjoys 200 years ago. All of it is, courtesy environmental exploitation/ degradation/ utilization.
The fight on the Chellakere is legit if it were about non-involvement of the communities and their consent. May be had the communities been involved early on, the establishments could have had a way that was agreeable to both parties and the factories running. But the question that bothers me, especially regarding environmental degradation is that of – what is degradation and how is it different from use? Will grazing of cattle and pastoral activities not cause degradation- by loss in biodiversity and addition of GHGs? Is a nuclear enrichment plant the only way in which this area will get polluted?
The civil society that is helping these communities in staging a protest seem to actually be putting words in their mouth and articulate it for them. The civil society also is the one who is painting the picture for them. This is not an accusation, but an observation. As Leo Saldana ( in one of his talks to us in NLSIU) put it succinctly, the ones who have their stake in such matters are hardly lettered and in-articulate. In a state where even the articulate are victimized, what the in-articulate to do. In that case, the imagination and understanding of these people given this condition will never emerge to their own minds, let alone to the larger society.
The other possible pictures in my opinion is not vision-able for these villagers. Or is it that the state has betrayed so many of the vulnerable communities (by not keeping its promises) that the state has lost the credibility for anyone to believe what they paint?