Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Floods are no more rare events

Kashmir, Kedarnath, Kaziranga, Chennai, Kerala, Kodagu…. these are the places which witnessed how much damage can floods cause in the recent past. In each place, reports said it had not happened like that in the past few decades. Yeah, not in the same place but in half a decade it happened in many places all over India. South East monsoons which first hit Kerala’s coastal line, begin there journey from there and the clouds take the routes where the pressure drop is high and pour the rains there. if no where else, as a last stop, they reach the Himalaya’s and empty out themselves fully.

What seemed to be a rare event, is no more a rare one if you observe the regularity of it happening in one or the places of India. Of course, global warming is for real. It is making the seasonal patterns abrupt and taking the sea water levels high too. As a result, we are experiencing extremes of weather – too hot and sunny during summer and water pouring from the heaven during the winter.

If we look at how we respond, we are not doing any great job with weather forecasts. And when things break loose, our citizens just cry for help. Why did they built their houses on the riverbeds and encroached lakes in the first place? What happened to the rain drains? Where did they disappear? Why did we build such low bridges across the river streams? What kind of town planning did our Corporations made? It is a collective failure in anticipating risks and managing them.

If no one takes responsibility and pass through this again as a one-off situation, nature will continue to give us lessons every year. It is time to take long term corrective actions and learn the ways of the nature. History shows those who did not adopt to nature’s ways like those of Mayan civilization (and our own Harappa too) did not survive the master strokes of the nature. Hundreds of years of civilization disappeared in a matter of few days when they were faced with floods, earthquakes and other natural calamities. We Indians are surviving for 5,000 years but it does not mean we will survive in future too. Last week’s chaos and deaths in Kerala showed how ill prepared we are for the nature’s ways.

Mother nature is kind and nurturing. But she will wash away all those getting on her way too.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Business Vs Environment (Protests at Sterlite Tuticorin)

There were protests at Sterlite copper factory in Tuticorin, which took a violent turn and caused few deaths in the past month. State Govt. ordered closure of the factory. It drew my attention and I started looking into the details. Protesters claim health hazards rising in the surrounding communities where the factory operates in. The copper factory blames that on other power plants operating in the town and says its own factory is safe for community.

Most (if not all) mining and ore extraction companies cause environmental damage at varying levels, many a times they are irreversible. Few companies do take ownership and employ sustainable measures to keep the harm to a minimum and they also take initiative to develop the communities living nearby as a token of offsetting the loss caused to them. Keeping that in mind, a copper smelting factory at Tuticorin had zero discharge (no waste bi-products), so factory’s claims of being safe cannot be ignored. But the society’s suffering is real, so instead of targeting only this factory, a wider survey needs to be undertaken and all those causing environmental damage should be made to take necessary corrective actions.

That was one side of the story. Another side, this was one of the India’s biggest copper producing units. With its closure, India must import copper now, so the costs are going up substantially and all the value-chain using copper as input are suffering business losses and many jobs are at a risk. If 2,000 jobs are about to be lost in the copper smelting unit, at least 10x more jobs will disappear in the subsequent chain industries, if the the situation continues.

As a trade-off, I feel both the copper factory and protesters need to take a back-step from their stance and come to terms. Protesters should not only target this company but make all the polluting companies responsible and at the same, the industry needs to adhere to safety norms and spend more than they are doing now on developing the communities living nearby. Govt. need to strike a balance between jobs and the environment, rather than taking a side. That is easier said than done. If the protests were politically motivated targeting only the Sterlite, then it is a sorry state for the environment. Once those political leaders get their pay-off, copper factory will come back to life but the environmental damage caused by other factories will continue to remain an issue and an opportunity to fix it is lost.