Citizens protesting against felling of trees are pejoratively called “environmental activists”, “buddhijeevi-andolanjeevi”, and worse, by a certain section of politicians and people. Transcending political ideology, state and central governments, and powerful persons intoxicated with the promise of money flowing out of the current model of development, view all public protests with undisguised hostility.
Bengaluru police demonstrated government-sanctioned hostility when it booked criminal cases under Sections 341, 141, 149, and 283 of IPC, against 70 citizens marching peacefully and silently on the Sankey Road sidewalk without disturbing traffic, during their protest against tree-felling and flyover construction alongside the iconic Sankey tank. [Ref.1]
There is a conflict of interest between contractors and government officials who benefit from the legal and illegal spin-off of large-ticket developmental projects, and citizens who suffer the adverse effects of those projects. It is the duty of governments to resolve these issues without using State violence, a duty rarely if ever performed.
Since the 1970s and greatly intensified in present times, People’s questioning and dissent are frowned upon. More recently, such people are targetted by the State using various means, including charging them under draconian laws or foisting criminal cases against them. The political class, with honourable exceptions, appears to be beyond using the political tools of decent debate and discussion even within legislatures, leave alone in public. It is difficult not to link this erosion of the democratic spirit and democratic practice, with endemic moral, material and political corruption – now in epidemic form – in the corporate market economics driven power politics in yesterday’s and today’s India. [Ref.2]
Citizens have the inalienable right of democratic dissent and peaceful protest, particularly when it concerns government proposals, policies, plans and projects, which may impact their lives. Governments using police force and FIRs to suppress such legitimate activity is wrongful rule-by-law, and the Sankey tank matter is only a recent example.
Apart from citizens’ inalienable right of dissent and peaceful protest being violated by the State, there is a larger, global issue. Citizens have understood the value of trees, and that protection-preservation-conservation of environment is actually in People’s interest. They are aware of the negative effect of felling trees, on galloping global warming and climate change.
However, many elected representatives and public officials, blinded by the possibility of money from large projects, remain gung-ho with “development”, unmindful of its impact on environment and ecology. They not only do not hesitate to remove trees in urban settings – or clear-fell swathes of forests for “development” – but also prepare and aggressively promote projects, which worsen environmental degradation and heighten global ecological risk. Worse, they even enact amendments [Ref.3] to dilute and enfeeble environmental laws [Ref.4] which are meant to protect land, water and air, against the enormous volumes of wastes created by rampant developmental expansion.
Clearly there is need to take a realistic view of the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes, garbage, etc., which we all generate as part of daily life at individual level, and the industry-commerce-trade sector generates from regular economic activity.
Wastes, Garbage, Junk, Rubbish
The four terms abbreviated to ‘WGJR’, are unwanted solid, liquid or gaseous matter, disposed off on land/underground, in water bodies and into the atmosphere. WGJR is unendingly generated by economic activity of households, vehicles on land, sea and air, and industrial-commercial-business establishments.
It is not commonly appreciated that every industrially manufactured product is finally WGJR – plastics, paper, pins, pens, phones, laptops, cars, airplanes, ships, you-name-it. The fuel and materials consumed at various stages of manufacture of every single product, show up as WGJR, and remain unwanted or dangerous for periods ranging from weeks to hundreds of years, and for nuclear radioactive wastes, thousands of years.
To keep their own cities and surroundings clean, some “advanced” countries export their city civic garbage, dead lead-acid batteries, even nuclear wastes, to countries which have lax laws, and corruptible politicians/bureaucrats. Their industrial discharges into the atmosphere over the decades, is the prime reason for global warming.
The “away” place
Unwanted plastic items, medicine foils, food-packaging aluminium, thermocole packing, batteries, etc., are thrown away into a waste bin. The city corporation arranges to take our WGJR away to the city garbage dump. Our “away” is a distant, out-of-sight-and-smell place, although it is within smelling and visual distance of somebody’s residence, like every urban dump site.
In India, larger durable consumer goods are stripped down by junk dealers, but finally reach one or other “away” in whatever form or condition.
Government has decreed that vehicles more than 15-years old will not be permitted to use the roads. This measure may reduce air pollution in the short term. But in any case, the vehicles will one day be “consumed”, that is, become unusable/unrepairable, and will need to be disposed off in some “away” place.
Undeniably, consumption – of whatsoever – leads to pollution in some form in some place, and every industrial product (including recycled WGJR) finally reaches one “away” or another, in solid, liquid or gaseous form, on or under the ground, in the ocean, or the atmosphere of our Planet.
Generators of WGJR
Persons with greater disposable incomes use more industrial products and generate more WGJR. So do the more industrialised and wealthy “advanced” countries, which have much higher consumption. Thus, more wealth results in more consumption, and more WGJR.
Of course, low-income folks also generate WGJR, but much less on per capita basis, because they consume less due to less disposable income.
Urban garbage dumps
Municipal corporations manage WGJR using a combination of scientific, technological and administrative (STA) measures.
WGJR of every metro and city is spread over many hectares of land, affecting public health especially in its close vicinity. The piled WGJR spontaneously ignites, emitting toxic fumes. When the fire is extinguished, WGJR smoulders and continues to emit toxic fumes.
Recently, the National Green Tribunal imposed a Rs.100-crores fine on the Kochi Municipal Corporation as compensation for continued neglect, after Kochi was choked with toxic fumes from burning GJWR on its Brahmapuram waste dump.
The fine amount is paid by the Municipal Corporation out of revenue from citizens taxes and other public money sources. The State Chief Secretary is to use the fine amount for remediation measures, including public health issues caused by toxic fumes.
It is ironic that the people who generated WGJR by their consumption, are themselves affected by the negligent management of their WGJR, and now have to pay a fine from their own public sources, to improve the management by their own public officials, of their ever-increasing WGJR.
A consumer-heavy metro like Mumbai generates 7,000-tons of WGJR daily. With or without a Kochi-like crisis, eventually the waste dump area gets filled, and the Municipality needs to find another multi-hectares “away” land. Even the best STA measures cannot prevent that new “away” land getting overfull at some time, as WGJR grows in mass and volume.
Similarly, the “away” for liquid wastes is lakes and rivers on land, and the oceans, while the atmosphere is the “away” for gaseous wastes. Reality is that the “away” idea for WGJR threatens survival of human societies. The loss of carbon sinks by development-based tree-felling and industrial-scale deforestation, and “dead zones” in oceans due to phytoplankton and zooplankton depletion, is a double whammy.
We are fast approaching the stage – if we haven’t already reached it – when there is no more land available for solid WGJR dumping. The water bodies on land and the oceans are seriously polluted with our solid and liquid WGJR – including radioactive waste from nuclear power plants – and the atmosphere is overloaded by our gaseous emissions.
Unfortunately, our leaders treat WGJR management simplistically. They evidently believe that improved or efficient STA methods are required for handling-disposal, civic hygeine, and improving water and air quality. It escapes their understanding that this is reactive and always inadequate, because of the unending, growing source of WGJR from growing consumption.
We need to think whether we are looking at the wrong end of the problem. It is glaring reality that improving STA methods to deal with consumerism-based WGJR, is not working anywhere in the world. City garbage dumps and land-fills become inadequate, and demand more “away” land, plastics choke huge regions of the ocean, and atmospheric global warming gas levels grow. It is as futile as trying to dry a floor with a mop, without shutting off the tap which is discharging water onto the floor.
Directive for Governments
Every human needs to consume food, water and the various products of society provided by economic activity. Hence, consumption is unavoidable. However, consumerism actively encourages or promotes industrial-scale, large-scale consumption, and generates unending WGJR. This needs to be checked as part of government policy. Along with this, large-scale deforestation for any reason whatsoever must be stopped, because every single tree is a carbon sink (besides storing water, preventing soil erosion, etc.), which will mitigate global warming and climate change.
At the urban level, protection-preservation-conservation of trees is extremely important. Reverting to Bengaluru’s Sankey tank, the peaceful efforts of citizens to protect trees and the environment, and stand up to government’s unjustified hostility or wrath, deserves great appreciation.
It is high time that governments make serious policy shifts regarding “development”, and make plans and projects, for the benefit of people, and not to promote better ease of business with industrial-business corporations. Besides, governments would be well advised to note and understand that Article 48A of the constitutional Directive Principles of State Policy reads: “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”.
Government should not harm or harrass citizens who are doing their fundamental duty under constitutional Article 51A(g), namely “… protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures”.
Lastly, People’s elected representatives and bureaucrats, being citizens themselves, need to understand that they too are duty-bound by Article 51A(g). Rather than unleash police force as on Sankey Road and a large number of places elsewhere, they should show some compassion for fellow citizens.
References hyperlinked in the text
- Naveen Menezes; “FIR against 70 citizens marching in support of Sankey Road trees“; <https://www.deccanherald.com/city/top-bengaluru-stories/fir-against-70-citizens-marching-in-support-of-sankey-road-trees-1205630.html>; Deccan Herald; April 1, 2023.
- S.G.Vombatkere; “Pachattar saal baad – 75-years on … A self-critical view“; <https://countercurrents.org/2022/12/pachattar-saal-baad-75-years-on-a-self-critical-view/>; Countercurrents.org; December 1, 2022.
- Jitendra Choubey; “Centre introduces amendment to forest conservation law; experts say move will destroy forests”; <https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2023/mar/31/centre-introduces-amendment-to-forest-conservation-law-experts-say-move-will-destroy-forests-2561377.html>; The New Indian Express; March 31, 2023.
- Environment Support Group; “Fundamental dilution of Environmental Laws and Jurisprudence of India Proposed”; <https://esgindia.org/new/esg-opinion/fundamental-dilution-of-environmental-laws-and-jurisprudence-of-india-proposed/>; July 8, 2022.
Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere can be contacted at <email@example.com>]