In a significantly confusing development, I came across a tweet recently that highlighted how environmentalists were supporting the struggles of the Indian farmer. I was confused, for various reasons — as staunch environmentalists have repeatedly asked for laws to prevent the degradation of environment by a section of paddy-growing farmers in Northern parts of India.
Curiously, it is this set of farmers that have made the most noise around the new laws — and thus, for environmentalists to extend support to these farmers would mean them disregarding their quest for seeking an increased policy priority for environmental preservation.
That there is degradation of soil by these farmers is well recognised due to our extensive use of fertilizers, use of cheap electricity to pump out groundwater and later burning of stubble during winters. Each of these received significant attention by environmentalists in recent years as they cautioned the government to take action before it gets too late.
Do the new laws do anything directly to address the issue of environmental degradation? Not really, but they could have crop diversification as a second-order effect at some point in future. But, to support the farmers protests means supporting status-quo, which would mean taking a departure from the environmental considerations that have guided environmental activism over the last couple of years.
Alas, the approach adopted by many who are opposing these laws is puzzling. The sense that I get after every interaction with someone is that they are not interested in facts, since they have already made up their mind. But facts do matter, and it is important that we look at them, especially given that the Prime Minister has focussed extensively on developing renewable energy infrastructure in the country.
Right from when the Prime Minister was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he has recognised that environmental constraints or rather resource constraints would be too severe to ensure long-term energy security for the country.
Thus, he began with what was then India’s most ambitious solar-project by placing solar-cells on top of a canal to generate electricity. Since becoming Prime Minister, he has given a significant push to the renewable energy sector while also establishing an international solar alliance.
There has been a push to expand our green corridor, undertake ecosystem-sensitive development projects and preserve biodiversity for future generations. These developments indicate a revealed preference of the Government of India which is committed to embarking on policies that view environmental sustainability as an integral part of our growth objective.
To expand on this point further, most countries want to sustain a high rate of growth — that is, continue to grow at a particular rate. Environmental sustainability means growing while ensuring that there is an adequate resource base left for future generations and future growth.
In popular discourse, natural capital or resource constraint is often ignored while talking about growth. However, the push for clean energy along with several other interventions such as the nudge towards electric vehicles are all indicating a deliberate attempt by the government at containing our carbon-footprint.
The high taxes on fuel are also a consequence of this approach (along with the considerations of garnering a higher tax revenues).
Therefore, on one hand, the government is doing exceedingly well in terms of recognizing the challenge it faces on the climate change front as it takes steps to contain environmental resource depletion through various measures. On the other, we have excessive use of fertilizers and depletion of groundwater.
One would expect climate justice activists would accuse the government of not doing enough — but definitely not support those who are contributing to environmental degradation. Alas, that is not the case and the converse is true — which makes one wonder whether anything can happen in 2021?
Just two months into the year — and the unthinkable happens; who knows what more we may get to witness over the coming months.
But this can be stated with certainty, that the farm protests had nothing to do with the recently enacted farm laws and if recent events are an indication, the farm protests may have nothing to do with farming either, given how many have made it an issue about climate justice and what not.
One wonders, what is the objective behind these protests, or is it simply yet another occasion of a protest without a cause in the hope of a revolution without a reason?
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