Op-Ed: The Development Versus Environment Debate

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: If newspaper reports are to be believed Odisha government had diverted more than 14,475 hectares of forest land for mining purposes in the last one decade. The mineral-rich Keonjhar and Sunergarh districts accounted for the bulk of this land.

Though compensatory afforestation is taken up through Campa fund it can never actually make up for the loss of high quality forest cover. The state government this time has received the highest allocation of Rs.5933.96 crore under Campa but there will always be a question mark over its proper utilisation and the basic issue of whether compensatory afforestation activities can actually help restore the lost greenery will remain.

The issue brings back the debate about development and environment protection back into focus. There is no denying the fact that mining activities are crucial to industrial development without which the state cannot move forward. But mining has to be regulated to ensure least possible loss to forest cover and environment in general.

Unregulated mining, which often takes place with the connivance of forest and mining department officials, can have disastrous consequences not only for the state’s green wealth but also for the health of the people residing around the mines. In the past we have seen several instances of not only unregulated mining but also illegal mining.

In districts like Keonjhar even people from neighbouring Jharkhand have been found digging minerals without permission. They not only looted the precious mineral wealth of the state but also caused irreparable damage to the environment.

In a number of mining areas lush green forests have been converted into scrubland. No amount of compensatory afforestation can restore their original greenery. Besides loss of forest cover has other consequences like soil erosion which makes the affected areas prone to flash floods.

This is quite visible in parts of undivided Koraput district which was once among the greenest districts of the state. But the destruction practice of Podu, as the slash and burn cultivation is referred to in the local parlance, took its toll on the greenery. Today the situation is such that the once verdant hills are looking bare with hardly any vegetation left on their slopes.

With loss of greenery loosening the soil water comes cascading down the hills during the rainy season causing flash floods in the nearby areas. The tribal residents of the area are slowly getting used to it but weaning them away from Podu remains a big challenge for the government.

The failure of the government is evident here. Alien and averse to modern farming practices the tribal residents of this belt have been engaging in Podu because it does not require any skills. However, this kind of slash and burn farming does irreparable loss to the land on which it is practised. The land becomes infertile and lies fallow for a long time before it can be put to use again. The tribals, however, move to another piece of land on the hill slopes to raise their crops using this crude method of cultivation.

It is the responsibility of the government to teach these tribals healthy farming practices. This is the only way to save our green wealth. Similarly mining must be regulated and the concerned laws must be enforced strictly to ensure that our forests are saved from being degraded forever.

(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.)