On EIA and breaking-up a disaster-capitalist’s love-affair
Naomi Klein has been quoted a lot this epidemic- because her book Shock Doctrine is almost proving prophetic in terms of how governments tend to use disasters as opportunities to ram through a corporate wish-list (read mass privatisation, tax and regulation cuts) which would otherwise be protested by the public.
In the ‘extraordinary politics’ of that time- human rights and labour laws are put on a backseat- with nearly 3 million of its informal workers facing dangerous work conditions and job insecurity in the pandemic. and mass privatisation- of coal, railways and other government assets have been put on hyperspeed.
Activists, students and journalists are being arrested and detained all over the country in a frighteningly familiar format of shock-therapy that was seen in Argentina during the dirty wars, in Chile during General Pinochet’s reign, in Indonesia and even in Britain during the Falkland wars. Using a crisis to suspend democratic norms and pass regulations is what the government calls ‘ease of doing business’, USA calls ‘free market economics/Laissez Faire’ and everyone else calls good, old fashioned capitalism.
The laissez faire approach has led our government to push through a whole range of mass privatisation schemes during the lockdown- including parts of Indian Railways and coal mines. On the other hand, the absurd price of healthcare in private hospitals- horrific bills and impossible treatment costs are increasingly showing us the fallacies of having public utility under private hands.
Why privatization of public utility is bad for you
This pandemic is turning even the most anti-socialist country in the world, United States, slightly more socialist- as thousands receive government aid and strive for affordable healthcare, job security and unemployment doles. The real disaster is not the virus (of which there will be many) as much as its entry into a society where corporates have been left to respond to public emergencies. The current scramble for vaccine-orders, PPE and test-kit orders, the frightening private-hospital bills for treatment, the lobbying for contracts illustrates what is not hard to guess- that when you rely on profit-making machines to solve public crises, the solution will more often be profit than cure.
Privatisation has very real consequence on us, we are not far-removed from the actions of big corporates. For instance, by the first week of July, Adani Electricity Mumbai Limited received 48,000 complaints of exorbitant electricity bills- and by exorbitant I mean tripled bill amounts for the month of June for some residents. After wise-spread outrage (first they offered EMI options to the customers), they now claim to have resolved 96% of the complaints.
The Adani group has grown massively since 2014 to now having potential monopoly over public utility infrastructure- it is India’s largest private owned power company, owns the largest private port in India, and has multiple cases of tax evasion and failed environmental regulation on its tabs.
The case of EIA and the ease of doing damage
As of May, 2020 the government had moved in to privatised the mining of coal completely, and the EIA promises no Impact Assessment for ‘strategic’ projects- potentially making private mining- one of the most unsustainable economic ventures, easy game.
The department of Environment existed in India since the 1980s, and by 1992, 32 sectors were subject to Environmental Impact Assessments. In 2018, MoEFCC, for the first time in its history did not have a separate Union Minister. The portfolio is currently held by Prakash Javedkar, who ironically is also the minister for heavy industries and machinery.
In 2016 of the MoEFCC exempted real estate projects up to 1,50,00 square metres of built up area from environmental impact assessment, The National Green Tribunal stated that the construction industry sector emits 22 per cent of India’s total annual carbon dioxide emissions which will impact the country’s commitment to the Paris Protocol to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
In 2020 another draft amendment was proposed to the 2006 notification. The current notification proposes slew of changes- including post-facto allowance for projects that violate the Environment Protection Act, reduces the number of days for public response to a project and in some cases deemed ‘strategic’ by the government, do away with a public hearing and ban public access to information related to it.
In this lockdown, I have been increasingly wondering about the future of social media fueled justice, and now I hold up a case for fighting disaster capitalism the only way we can- ecological literacy and mass vigilance. Both of these ideas are tenets of EIA aswell.
Environmental Impact Assessment is defined as an activity designed to identify the impact on the biogeophysical environment, on man and well-being of legislative proposals, projects, policies, operational procedures and to interpret and communicate information. EIA therefore can be seen as a systematic process of identifying future consequences of a current or proposed actions economic impact. However, in most cases, these assessments are routine red-tape, fudged over with bribes and copy-pasted deals by shoddy third parties for money. The public hearing usually in mining projects are attended by adivasis and disenfranchised locals who struggle against a government that buckles under the clouts of giant corporations like Vedanta, Adani etc.
The only line of defence from these multi corporate negligent, often fatal environmental practices have been indigenous peoples protecting forests and grassroots NGOs, with a few stories of Dantewada or Niyamgiri filtering through to the national media.
In Hasdeo Aranya forest in Chattisgarh, 170,000 hectares of land that is the home of India's indigenous peoples who run the risk of losing their homes, as well as forest cover because of potential coal mines. Adani Group, the largest private coal mining company in India has already built one mine, PEKB in 2013 as an Mining Developer and Operator, after which the HABSS (Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti) was formed and is constantly advocating and resisting the building of subsequent mines, as well as controlling the pollutants and accidents caused by PEKB.
What can we do?
This mobilisation has to be urbanized, our social media activism has to extend beyond our backyards. In a lot of ways, the response to the draft EIA 2020 was unexpected, thousands of people reached out to the ministry-allowing for the date of hearing to August 11 from 30th June in the first place. But we are at a place and time where regular intervention and interest in ecological practices have to be the norm.
The draft legislation is currently up for public consideration until August 11, 2020, with activists running a saveEIA campaign, that requires citizens to send written responses to email@example.com and alot of places offering draft templates and explainers about the notification.
Does Citizen-intervention work?
One of the best examples of citizens sustained intervention is seen in the AIDS treatment activism in the US.
In the 1980s, when the AIDs epidemic was at its peak in the US, there was a sustained activism and movement that began to shift the discourse of AIDS completely- known as ACT UP, it was responsible for the advances in HIV awareness and treatment, which had before that been left to the bureaucrats who had done nothing at all. This kind of activism requires public engagement- in terms of deciphering the layers of bureaucratic and legal languages, the public notifications and private entity declarations. It means vigilance in terms of legislation being passed, and active interest in private companies working in public sectors.
Disease ecology confirms that the more human incursions into forests will bring about new epidemics, privatisation of public infrastructure will put us at the mercy of corporates who’s work ultimately is to generate profit. There is need for larger public engagement in public policies in the first place. We need to actively engage with these, the problem does not end with the concern for the notification- it goes onto each individual hearing, to constant, sustained activism in medical and environmental literacy rather than a one-off interest, and that could possibly be the only way to prevent shock doctrine from being successful.