I know it’s too much to expect government policies to be consistent. But environment seems to have an unfair share of inconsistent, ad hoc policies.
Take the Sunderbans case for instance. This is a World Natural Heritage Site, a unique ecosystem. The West Bengal Government has sold 750 acres of land to the Sahara group to develop land that lies on the virgin islands of Lower Long Sand Island, Sagar, Frasergunj, L- Plot, Jharkhali and Kaikhali, for Rs. 20 crore. While there are justified concerns about the fragile ecosystem being destroyed, fishermen losing their livelihood and the land being under valued, the government has violated the very laws that were created by the centre and are binding on all states.
The first relates to sanctuaries. Law requires that within 10 kilometers of a wildlife sanctuary, the area is an ecologically sensitive area, in which commercial activities should not be carried out. The two sanctuaries in question are Lothian and Sajnekhali. The latter lies in the buffer zone itself. The proposed ‘eco-tourism’ project lies within this 10-kilometre zone, clearly violating their own rules.
Also, some parts of the island where the project is being carried out are reserved forests. It is not clear what the fate of these reserved forests will be. There has been no mention of de-reserving these areas. Once the area becomes private property, access to these lands would be controlled by Sahara. Does this override the existing rights of the people? Also, the land has been sold to Sahara. But what about the access to the waters and fishing grounds of the area? Who decides what happens to all those people who have been using the waters and forests for their livelihood till now?
However, the icing on the cake is that the government of West Bengal may actually be committing breach of public trust by selling the land for some private commercial purpose. When Kamal Nath, the then Minister of Environment, sold the land on the banks of the river Beas to Span Motels for commercial and tourist purposes, the ‘Supreme’ Court declared that a breach of public trust had been committed, and cancelled the lease to the land directly on the banks of the river, and imposed exemplary damages. It further ordered that the motel could not utilise/ encroach any part of the river basin for itself and stated that the riverbank and basin was open to public use.
The government is breaking its own laws that it has formulated for conservation purposes. But it’s quite evident that these laws are simply around to twist and stretch as the situation demands. Can we rely on such a state to conserve our environment?
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.