BY NANDKUMAR KAMAT
IN the age of global warming and climate change, for sustainable ecological security and water security of Goa, the biological integrity of the Western ghats is central and critical.There is general consensus on conservation of precious ecosystems, communities, habitats and species of the Western ghats. Unprecedented habitat fragmentation has compromised ecosystem services of the Western ghats. The trade-off between ecological and conservation compulsions and developmental demands would prove to be a tight rope walk. There are powerful new role-players. The natural resources rich Western ghats of India is the new strategic playground for global economic and political interests, especially the members of NATO. They have a special interest in Goa as a former Portuguese colony. Who would forget Portugal’s anti-India record as a NATO member country and its’ hobnobbing with regional military groupings like CENTO, CEATO and its’ security axis with Pakistan? Events in future would expose the complex parameters of the new NATO game.
Precious biological wealth, hydro resources, mineral wealth, especially aluminium, iron, manganese, rare earth deposits, cultural wealth and traditional/tribal knowledge in the Western ghats are the new attractants for MNCs from NATO member states. They encourage their governments to pump in money in Western ghats states to create a social playground favourable to their future corporate plans and selectively target their potential detractors. To supplement and complement these plans, evangelical forces like Canada’s United Council of Churches also have their NGO collaborators in India who liberally sponsor anti-mining activism in states like Goa in a non-Christian mining belt. Outwardly all these sponsorships and well-oiled networks seem legitimate but this is nothing but compromise of India’s sovereignty and a dangerous game to alienate more and more people from the Indian state.
In the absence of a well-coordinated overreaching global economic and political intelligence gathering mechanism and machinery at the central level, India has kept its policy-making apparatuses porous and prone to effectively orchestrated influences and subtle modulations by covert strategic foreign interests. India has never shied away from emulating best practices or policies from foreign countries –‘suo moto’. But the game being played in Western ghat states is different.
Foreign interests, funding and agendas have now come to dictate India’s policies. It is a one-way flow of capital, training, indoctrination and capacitance. Despite a record kitty of foreign exchange, India cannot dream of financing first nations in Canada who have been denied their human rights or empower Canadian NGOs agitating against polluting mines in Labrador and Newfoundland. Canadians may be shedding some crocodile tears on woes of tribals in Kodagu/Nilgiris region, but India cannot take errant Canada to the task for not endorsing UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people, 2007.
Canada is a member of NATO whose geopolitical sphere of influence extends beyond the northern Atlantic to encompass other global geoeconomic interests. Being the world’s third largest iron ore exporter, Canadian mining companies possibly view Goa as a competitor in exports of ore to China and a lucrative future investment destination when social opinion locally would be engineered to welcome ‘ecosensitive’ and ‘people-friendly’ foreign investment with a slice of cake to local stakeholders. But to make that happen, Canadians with their Indian collaborators would have to first expose all the weaknesses of Indian system, show, preach and publicise that they have people and eco-friendly mining and natural resources management policies. That explains why Canadian crown funded corporations like International Development Research Centre have been generously funding mining research in Goa since 1996 or sponsoring NGOs and activists in Western ghat states.
Do we have competent homebred strategy analysts to scrutinise what Maureen O’Neil, president, IDRC (Canada) said? In her address on the topic, ‘Globalisation-Is Canada Ready?’ in February 2001 she made this interesting comment. “In Latin America and the Caribbean, foreign investment in mining promises new wealth and economic growth. Canadian mining companies are major players. But it can also threaten new abuses of human rights, or place indigenous cultures at risk, or assault fragile environments. In a very new project known as the Mining Policy Research initiative, IDRC is helping communities in the region to define their own concerns and then, armed with new knowledge, to negotiate on more equal terms with prospective investors. To cite a second case: our research project that supports research on micro-impacts of macroeconomic and adjustment policies was launched first in the Philippines to monitor and predict how national economic policies actually affect poor people in their own communities. Lessons learned are already being shared with researchers and applied in more than a dozen other countries of the South–knowledge that directly ameliorates inequalities with better governance and that is being applied by policy-makers.” A simple reading of this statement proves the direction in which the Canadian-funded game is likely to proceed.
How people with divided loyalties, blindly subservient to foreign funding are expected to have a fully indigenous agenda? The declaration of 2 new wildlife sanctuaries–Mhadei and Netraulim actually came in handy to a major advocate of the idea, an environmental activist who suddenly migrated and was rewarded with a residency in Canada. Why this ecowarrior did not prefer to stay back and fight all these struggles? The NGOs have failed to reconcile the genuine economic and livelihood interests of local people and the legitimate environmental and conservation interests of the biota in these two new sanctuaries. The state government is reluctant to enforce the mandated biodiversity management committees at VP level under Biodiversity Act, 2002. While the foreign agenda is to focus on mineral and biological wealth in the Western ghats and arm the ‘local communities to negotiate on more equal terms with prospective investors” the elected local authorities are not informed participants of the process to have any say on ‘ecosensitive’ areas. The definition of “ecosensitive areas” differs from country to country.
Goa’s TCP has used another definition. In an answer to starred assembly question in monsoon session this year, the CM of Goa declared 2970 sqkms of Goa as ‘ecosensitive’ in the RP 2021 maps. That actually leaves only 724 sq kms area for any kind of land use planning. With a very weak state apparatus to protect even notified ‘ecosensitive’ areas, it is anybody’s guess as to who would be the benefactors of geoeconomic resource politics of Western ghats.