V.R. Krishna Iyer

Once the Pathrakadavu project is taken up, Silent Valley and the natural forests around it will be in danger whatever the Government may promise.

MATERIAL ADVANCEMENT in the modern world depends largely on the multiple uses of electricity. Nuclear power was considered a great source. But after the Soviet disaster, and the near-catastrophe in the United States avoided only by a lucky last-minute discovery of a fault in the Three Mile Island plant, many progressive countries gave up reliance on atomic power generation, considering the latent risk.

The menace of the atom notwithstanding, India has been tempted to use this technology ignoring the dangers involved. Hydroelectric power is cheaper and safer. So, where water resources are available, without compromising ecological and environmental safety, hydel power plants have become popular. Thermal alternatives have been sought where coal and like facilities are available. Even wind power and tidal energy have been developed despite the cost factor and the operational difficulties involved.

Where water resources such as rivers and huge waterfalls from mountain regions are nature's gifts, the state has naturally run after such options. But this appeal is fraught with serious disadvantages and disregards ecological and environmental factors. Myopic approaches by semi-literate administrations are sometimes unmindful of the values of ecology and environment. As a result, hydel plants with large dams and big canals inflict irreparable damage to the long-term interest of the people. Earth sciences are important in this context. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi realised this, and the Constitution was amended to stress nature's vulnerability and the necessity to be in compliance of ecological and environmental factors.

Dr. M.G.K. Menon, a great scientist and adviser to the Central Government, insisted on examining projects from such a point of view. That is how the scientists of Kerala fought successfully to preserve the integrity of the Silent Valley, which would have become the victim of a hydel project. Its unique forest wealth would have been robbed. The beneficiaries would have been wealthy commercial interests, which are a growing mafia menace unconcerned with the treasures of nature.

Article 48-A and Part IVA of the Constitution grant environment supremacy over development. Lesser considerations of augmenting electricity and industry may attract small minds in power, influenced by tycoons and money-making pursuits. Big business is not to decide national governance. Statesmen with a vision, who look for long-term benefits over generations, will never surrender to the syndrome of promoting commerce and industry for the prosperity of the creamy layer. Industrialise or perish, the capitalist giants would agree. If ecological and environmental criteria are forsaken, `industrialise and perish' will be nature's retort.

The agrarian poor, with little land, have no voice as against the powerful urban factory-owners and merchants with political influence. Green fields, rich forests which are the sanctuary of rare bird species, jungles with wild animals, and rivers which die dry if polluted or deprived of sandbeds all these will disappear. So will the peasants who are the backbone of food self-sufficiency. They will be replaced by ugly concrete skyscrapers of business magnates who spread lethal chemicals in air, water and soil. These will punish millions of villagers with diseases, while letting a few billionaires roll in wealth and luxury with "Westoxicated" technological terrorism. To whom does India or Kerala belong? What is patriotism and development?

A U.N. conference defined development as a process that must be designed, even at the humblest level, to ensure the advancement of man through his own endeavours. The multiplication of material wealth has to be dethroned as the purpose of development.

The purpose of development "should be not to develop things, but to develop man," said the Cocoyoc Declaration of 1974. "Development must be aimed at the spiritual, moral and material advancement of the whole human being, both as a member of society and from the point of view of individual fulfilment."

Similarly, ecology means the study of the interaction of living organisms with their physical, biological, and chemical environment. Since the 1960s, the ecological movement has argued that people must live within the limitations of the earth's finite supply of resources, and that humanity is dependent on its environment.

Constitutional provisions

The Constitution, on a sensitive provision in Article 48A, states: "The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country." This is a fundamental obligation of the state since its violation has fatal implications.

Article 51A(g) creates a fundamental duty in every individual to obey the mandates of environment and ecology. It follows that no project that damns environment should be permitted. Article 14 (social economic equality), 21 (right to life), 48A and 51A(g) read together is a constitutional code of functional imperatives.

The Silent Valley, which was vulnerable to deforestation on the basis of certain project proposals, was salvaged by the immunity that the Central Government gave it. No project can be executed if it imperils forests, rivers and wildlife. Big dams are a threat to arboreal abundance. Cutting trees on a large scale is evil; it spoils the soil and affects rainfall. The issue of power generation schemes required for hi-tech projects fall under the ban since they may adversely affect natural resources, agricultural progress and people's survival.

This problem has now come up sharply in Kerala, where the Pathrakadavu project is being ambiguously advocated by the Minister for Power and opposed by an activist section that considers it to be deleterious ecologically. Any such scheme will inevitably involve substantial injury to the forest wealth of Palakkad and may defy the command of the constitutional code spelt out above. We should have constitutional sensitivity to ecology. Pathrakadavu is adjacent to what has been preserved for so long as a rare asset of nature. The Chief Minister had, as Leader of the Opposition, opposed this scheme proposed by the then United Democratic Front Government. He is now inclined to take the same negative view.

His resistance must prevail. There is no doubt that when a dam is constructed and ancillary works are undertaken the Silent Valley may have to suffer a new menace. Indeed, treasures such as the Silent Valley and the adjacent forests cannot be sacrificed for the sake of a power project.

Kerala has unexploited water sources, hills and valleys that can generate wind power, and a long coastline which, if explored prudently, may provide lasting sources of electrical energy. Once the Pathrakadavu project is taken up by contractors or even the Public Works Department, Silent Valley and the excellent natural forests will be in peril whatever the Government may promise. The Central Government, with its inclination for privatisation, cannot be trusted with its opinion where public policy of preservation of forests is at stake. Rajaji, while he was Chief Minister of Madras, described the PWD as public enemy number one.

Today governments are controlled to a considerable extent by powerful private corporations. Under no circumstances, therefore, should Pathrakadavu or other such dubious schemes that are constitutionally culpable be undertaken. Never be a traitor to the future, or be hostile to the ecological command of the Constitution.