Industry & Environment | Centre for Science and Environment

Industry & Environment


Stink of India’s steel frame

We were standing in Sarova village, not far from Raipur, the capital of mineral rich Chhattisgarh. All around us we could see some black stuff scattered on the ground. The villagers told us that the sponge iron factory owner was giving this away as a ‘gift’ and would even transport it to their lands. They refused to say if they were being paid to dump this reject on their land. But they did whisper to me that the land on which we were standing, laden with black reject belonged to the brother of the sarpanch.

'SLAPP'ed but will not submit

In the first week of April this year, a group of men came and stood outside the Centre for Science and Environment (cse), New Delhi. They carried placards with offensive slogans directed at me. We understood the ‘protesters’ were ostensibly from an ngo we believed was a front for the pesticide industry. We also understood the picket to be the latest in a dangerous pesticide industry mindgame.

Remembering Kalinganagar - Will cheap and dirty industrialization work?

From the highway the gravestones were visible. Thirteen headstones, rough and blunt, carved with names of each dead tribal. Each stone was placed so that together they formed a semi-circle looking down at us. In front of the 13-stone platform was a fenced area with scattered burnt sticks lying as if for the picking. I realized I was looking at a cremation ground. I also realized in shock that this must have been the place where the tribals killed in police firing were consecrated to fire and that the place has been left intact as a grim reminder.

The China affair: what it means to us

A journalist recently called me to check if I thought that India had the same food-consumer product record as China. He wanted to know if we face the problems that are plaguing Chinese exports of late: tainted pet food, toxic toothpaste, lead-paint in toys, chemicals in textiles.

It got me thinking: of China and of India and more importantly, about the phenomena we call the market.

Bottled water costs us the earth

The botted water industry is global in nature. But it is designed to sell the same product to two completely different markets: one water rich and the other water scarce. The question is whether this industry will have different outcomes in these two worlds. Or will we, for two opposite reasons, agree that their business costs us the earth and that it is not good for us?

What China is doing to Goa

I wrote last fortnight about how mining in Goa for iron ore was ripping its forests and devastating its people. I wrote of the violence and protests I saw in its villages, where miners were pitted against people angry at the loss of their cultivable lands and their water bodies. I had asked then: what are we doing? I ask this again.

Divert, deny, dismiss and damn

What a line of attack! PepsiCo, in its advertisements to deny that it had pesticides in its drinks, said that there were more pesticides in tea, eggs, rice and apples. Coca-Cola, in its defence, has similarly argued that as everything in India is contaminated, its drinks are safe. They say this is being done to target them, because they are big brands and us multinationals. On the other hand, the pesticide industry, in its public response, wants the focus not to be on pesticides but on heavy metals and other contaminants.

Strong colas and weak governments

When we released our study on pesticides in soft drinks, our objective was clear: we needed action on regulations, which had been stymied because of corporate pressure. What we hadn’t anticipated was the response of the cola majors. Three years have lapsed since we published our first report on pesticides in colas. The response then had been immediate and vituperative. “There are no pesticides in our drinks and the Centre for Science and Environment cannot test our products” was the line taken by the cola majors.

No free lunches in India

It seems that the people who matter in this country have a simple enough formula for life and liberty. We should open up the market, create opportunity for the organised industry, mix and stir, and then the work will be done. They will tell you that this will mean taking risks. It is another matter that they will not define who and what is at risk. If you object, you will be told that you are archaic, or worse still a communist, who wants to perpetuate poverty in the country.

Want to be fried?

I first learnt about slapp when we released a study about pesticides in colas. PepsiCo had filed a defamation case against us in the Delhi High Court and our lawyer, fresh out of law school in Bangalore, jumped as he read through the company’s petition saying this was a classic slapp case. We were bemused, knowing nothing about such legal intricacies. slapp, he explained, was an acronym in the us for ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’.

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