The focus of my topic is a developing country, India. It is experiencing expanding levels of urbanization, commercialization as well as industrialization. Agriculture is relegated to the back yard as more and more agricultural lands are being encroached for non-agricultural activities, resulting in marginalization and deprivation of communities dependent on agriculture. The recent case in point is development of special economic zones (SEZs) in India from mostly agricultural lands for undertaking commercial activities by various corporate houses. The process of change encompasses every sphere of the human life process, biological habitation and beyond. Change is there and going to happen and is, as per my earlier stand, "the unchanging law of nature", which I reiterate here. But the fall out of this process is, is it going to maintain the natural balance or move towards more imbalances? However, from sheer observation we can well say that the environmental justice system is being seriously compromised with the gradual relegation of the agricultural farming system and practices to the lower rung of our priority level. The relegation is not a sudden process, but is rather a continuous process of down slides vis-à-vis others.
In this background the Environmental Justice System (EJS) is talked about. Environmental Justice is about natural balance in the habitats. More specifically about the environment where we live, learn, work, play and pray. It is about equal distribution to all of environmental risks, hazards, investments and benefits at any level, along with access to environmental information, participation in decision-making, and natural resources.
We need to ponder the basic outline, how it happens and the main effects of farming down slides on other sectors and processes. The force behind this change process is the trend for commercialization in India. The main criterion of the commercialization process is the hard monetary value of any activity, services, process or product in the market. The more monetarily valued, as obtained in the market, is given higher credence, while others getting less market value are relegated in terms of priority. Without requiring hard data support, we can well observe that agricultural farm areas and products are seriously dented, nay, encroached, for other non-agricultural activity. Recent data from the Economic Survey 2007-2008, Ministry of Finance, Govt of India, showed a dismal picture of agricultural production and productivity. The rate of growth of foodgrains production, however, decelerated to 1.2% during 1990-2007, lower than the annual rate of growth of population, averaging 1.9%. The per capita availability of cereals and pulses, therefore, witnessed a decline during this period. The consumption of cereals declined from a peak of 468 grams per capita per day in 1990-91 to 412 grams per capita per day in 2005-06, indicating a decline of 13% during this period. The consumption of pulses declined from 42 grams per capita per day (72 grams in 1956-57) to 33 grams per capita per day during the same period. The area covered under foodgrain also declined from 129 mln hectares in the year 1981-82 to 124 mln hectares in 2006-07. However, the population growth also decreased correspondingly from 2.1% in 1981-91 to 1.9% in 1991-2001.
The consequent effect is a chain of happenings: population migration for better monetary income, declining farm produce and price rise, increase in level of pollution, concentration of population and high density level of structures in areas that help in commercial activities of non-agricultural produces, increase in transportation network, pressure on farm products, water supply and energy resources to meet the demand of commercial undertakings. The entire chain required for commercial activities has seriously eroded the environmental justice system in the present epoch as never before. As can be observed, there is a continuous level of population growth in most urbanized metropolitan cities of India: Mumbai (Bombay) 30%, Delhi 57%, Kolkata (Calcutta) 21%, Ahemedabad 37%, Bangalore 39%, Chenai (Madras) 20%, Hyderabad 29%, Pune 51% and Surat 84% during the period 1991 to 2001, as per Census of India 2001. The consumer price index also maintains its own growth momentum from 4.2% change in 2004-05 to 6.7% in 2007-2008.
The issue is how we are going to redress, on the one side, inequitable distributions of environmental burdens, i.e. pollution of air, water and soil; unchecked urbanization and industrialization; societal norms; crimes; etc., and on the other, efficient access to environmental goods, i.e. clean air & water; decent living with food, shelter, health care, education and income earning sources; recreation, transportation; etc., in a variety of situations. The question is how we are managing the environmental justice system (EJS), where everybody gets an equal share of and access to environmental risks, hazards, investments and benefits, including marginalized communities, minorities, women and indigenous people.
The concern that arises here is about prioritization in the EJS. The concern is about unchecked commercialization that is pushing agricultural farming and farm practices to an increasingly low priority level in developing countries, especially in India. As stated above, the main criterion of the commercialization process is the hard monetary value of any activity, services, process or product in the market. The more monetarily valued, as obtained in the market, is given higher credence, while others getting less market value are relegated in terms of priority. In this prioritization process EJS gets affected as it involves pushing a large number of population, more in the category of marginalized communities, indigenous people, minorities and women, to a state of deprivation, disabling the enabling mechanisms to get access to a decent living with food, shelter, health care, education and income earning sources. Further, the deprivation process becomes more acute as agricultural areas are gradually being encroached by the expanding urbanization and industrial process. The grim consequence is constricting the access route to environmental justice.
The consequent effect, as I stated earlier, is a chain of happenings: further marginalization of indigenous people and minorities, displacement from habitation, forced population migration for better monetary income, declining farm produce & price rise, an increase in levels of pollution of air & water, concentration of population & high density level of structures in areas that help in commercial activities of non-agricultural produces, increase in transportation network, pressure on farm products, water supply and energy resources to meet the demand of commercial undertakings.
The issue that stands at the uppermost is what type of architecture we are making for EJS along with the prioritization level.
The first and most is recognizing the right of the disadvantaged communities, including tribal, indigenous people, minorities and women, to live in their habitat. Required legislation to that effect is essential to guarantee their rights. Habitat is everything for them, where they live, learn, work, play and pray. Their way of life, education, knowledge, skills and living is in relation to their habitat and environment. They have been there for generations. Their voluntary movement beyond their habitat may be for better education, living, etc., and that should not be equated with forced movement or displacement. Forced habitat displacement should not be allowed at any cost. The development of SEZs in India is a case in point. Most of the SEZs are being developed by acquiring agricultural land for undertaking non-agricultural activities on a commercial scale. This involves forcible land acquisition and compensation (?) of the rightful owners. Habitat displacement leads to a chain of reactions including normlessness, erosion of values, loss of livelihood and traditional skill-based income generation activities, etc.. For generations a scale of priorities, learning and activities cycle is organically developed in relation to the habitat and environment. Now when habitat is displaced everything is displaced.
This involves identification of priorities and determining a suitable architecture for EJS, which includes equal distribution to all of environmental risks, hazards, investments and benefits at any level, along with access to environmental information, participation in decision-making, and natural resources.