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