The Un­happy Com­pro­mise

Hav­ing bull­dozed green laws in the name of de­vel­op­ment, the PM makes big prom­ises and a small in­vest­ment in bio­di­ver­sity

Tehelka - - ROT IN THE SYSTEM -

al­lot­ted 279 crore dur­ing 2011-12. So should it take more than 260 crore to se­cure the coun­try’s bio­di­ver­sity from the growth graph un­leashed by the State?

While the “coun­try” gets “richer” and the dis­placed tribal waits for her turn, im­pa­tience with laws that safe­guard the wilder­ness is threat­en­ing to quash the demo­cratic process of de­ci­sion-mak­ing. One pop­u­lar ar­gu­ment is that the dam­age caused by sin­gle-minded de­vel­op­ment can be re­versed once a coun­try is rich enough to af­ford it. This ab­surd claim does not an­swer how one can re­plen­ish non-re­new­able re­sources, such as min­er­als, used up for growth; com­pen­sate for loss of an­cient forests by plant­ing saplings; or re­vive species gone ex­tinct.

Ja­pan, Asia’s most de­vel­oped na­tion, lost more than 50 per­cent of nat­u­ral coasts and around 40 per­cent of tidal flats due to land recla­ma­tion. Though the re­cent em­pha­sis on con­ser­va­tion is help­ing a num­ber of wild species of the archipelago, dozens have been lost for good and few of the hun­dreds of en­dan­gered ones may ever re­cover. In pros­per­ous South Korea, 30 per­cent of mam- mals, 48 per­cent of rep­tiles and 60 per­cent of am­phib­ians were ei­ther ex­tinct or en­dan­gered by 1994.

Flow­ing through 10 coun­tries, the Danube sup­ported Europe’s most bristling ecosys­tem un­til the end of the 19th cen­tury. Then, mas­sive reg­u­la­tion of the river, nu­mer­ous dams, de­for­esta­tion and pol­lu­tion throt­tled the basin wet­lands. The rel­a­tively less de­vel­oped Danube delta has been re­stored in the re­cent decades. The white pel­i­cans sur­vived but even a rein­tro­duc­tion pro­gramme could not re­store the range of the once om­nipresent Danube beavers. The black po­plar trees that lined the wa­ters have van­ished al­to­gether.

De­spite its ad­van­tage of low hu­man pop­u­la­tion den­sity, North Amer­ica and Europe have for­feited much of their bio­di­ver­sity. The US lost two sub-species of wolf, the eastern cougar, the Ari­zona Jaguar and in­nu­mer­able smaller species. More than half of Europe’s land area is a bio­di­ver­sity grave­yard. These in­clude vast agri­cul­tural fields where not even many wild flow­ers bloom.

Bio­di­ver­sity loss is ir­re­versible and it af­fects our food and health se­cu­rity. Money can­not buy it back but timely in­vest­ment may ar­rest its slide. The PM’s pre­scrip­tion of “happy com­pro­mise” rang hol­low com­ing soon af­ter the Na­tional In­vest­ment Board, set up to safe­guard de­vel­op­ment projects worth 1,000 crore or more against green laws. But by in­vest­ing just one-fourth of that bench­mark in bio­di­ver­sity, Man­mo­han Singh has hon­estly sig­nalled where con­ser­va­tion stands in this new or­der.

• Small step The PM com­mit­ted just $50 mil­lion to save In­dia’s bio­di­ver­sity

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