Op-Ed: Striking A Balance Between Development and Environment

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Tribal inhabitants of Laxmipur block in Koraput district have launched an agitation against the mining of bauxite from the Kodingamali hill in the area. Organised under the banner of Kodingamali Suraksha Manch (KSM) they blocked the road leading to the mines the other day and submitted a memorandum to the district administration listing out their grievances that include high levels of pollution and a threat to livelihood sources as mining has allegedly destroyed minor forest produce (MFP) in the area.

Protests   against  mining and industries is nothing new. Over the years the state has seen many such agitations, in some cases the protesters succeeding in their mission. One of the most recent examples is the success of the popular movement in Jagatsinghpur district against the proposed steel plant of South Korean behemoth, POSCO.

The company, which had signed a memorandum of understanding with Odisha government, faced resistance right from the beginning. While there were protests at the project site with villagers from three panchayats setting their face against the company war cries were also heard in the Khandadhar area of Sundergarh district where the government had recommended iron ore mining lease in favour of POSCO though it never materialised. The Khandadhar movement, which had overt support of former union minister and Sundergarh MP, Jual Oram, was aimed at safeguarding the ecology of the beautiful Khandadhar hills known for one of the most enchanting waterfalls in the state.

There are many such instances of clash between industry and environment in the state. The issue over the years has acquired the wider dimension of a development versus environment debate with issues of survival thrown in. The debate has intensified in recent times with projects big and small not only causing damage to forests and land but also displacing people, specially tribal people, in different parts of the state.

Displacement has raised issues of compensation and res-settlement which continue to be contentious. In the case of POSCO’s project itself these issues spawned strife pitting two groups in the project area against each other. No compensation is ever seen as fair enough by the affected people and the politicians who invariably get involved in such matters for their own selfish ends.

People in the POSCO project area in Jagatsinghpur had demanded higher compensation than proposed even for the government land they had encroached for raising betel vines and pisciculture. They appeared disinclined to accept what the government and the company claimed was the best possible compensation package.

The development versus environment debate could, thus, go on forever. The best thing to do is to try and strike a balance between the two as both happen to be equally important for our survival. But this is easier said than done. It has often been suggested that there should be an attempt either to locate projects in an area where they cause least possible displacement and damage to environment or to design them in a manner so that they achieve these two objectives. Till date there are very few examples of such perfect projects. One hopes the future throws up an answer.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)