Selling our forests to corporations is not Vikas

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Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister, MOEF

On the 21st of February 2019, one of the last contiguous stretch of green cover in India, Hasdeo Arand, was cleared to be chopped off in the name of “Vikas”. Inside the state of Chhattisgarh lies Hasdeo Arand, India’s most pristine and dense forest area spanning over 1,70,000 hectares including the elephant corridor that runs through it. The biodiversity-rich area about the size of 800 football fields will be cleared for mining, which was declared a no-go zone in 2009.

Parsa is one of the 30 coal blocks within Hasdeo Arand and is owned by the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd (RVUNL). The fate of Parsa will have far-reaching and dire consequences for forest cover conservation in India. Opencast mining involves digging for coal after removing all the vegetation and soil from the area and Rajasthan Collieries Limited, a unit of Adani Enterprises Limited were cleared to start mining in Parsa, this would effectively turn Hasdeo Arand into a barren, degraded stretch of land.

This is not the first time that the environment has played second fiddle to Adani’s greed. A mere 4 days later the Modi led government declared an Adani power project, the first standalone power project in India to get the status and benefits of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). This saves the company over 4 billion rupees in taxes and duties annually.

On February 16, 2016, the commerce ministry amended the guidelines to explicitly state: “No single stand-alone power plant will be permitted to be set up in an SEZ in which there would be no other units.” This effectively meant a standalone power project could not be considered an SEZ but since Gautam Adani whose net worth is 60,000 crore rupees can’t afford to pay these taxes like the rest of us, his dear friend Modi made a special exemption just for him.

This is not the first time that Gautam Adani has reaped such benefits. A 200 crore fine which was imposed for damaging the environment and breaking the laws was waived by the Modi led government and officials came to the sudden realization that the company had in fact done no wrong.

As citizens of India, we should be alarmed by these continuous acts of thought out negligence which are leading to the destruction of our forests and the depletion of the environment. When nearly 50% of India is currently facing drought. Groundwater is depleting at an alarming rate and 2019 is already breaking extreme weather records. With India ranking 120th among 122 countries in the water quality index. 1 in every 8 deaths in India is attributed to air pollution. 14 of the 15 most polluted cities are in India. I urge you to sign this petition to save our forests and to not sit back and watch as our country gets more polluted just so that a few billionaires can make more pocket change.