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Let them eat pollution!


The utilitarian approach to economics has widely distorted the way a nation’s welfare is looked at , narrowing down the concept of development with merely rising GDP , per capita income, industrialization or increasing personal incomes at the cost of ripping the earth’s supposed-to-be equally treated poor people of their basic rights to live. I experienced this reality recently with my own eyes when I visited a village a few miles away from the University of Hyderabad as a part of my field survey in Environmental Economics. The village is located amidst a hub of pharmaceutical and drug industries which keeps polluting the environment – a basic precondition to lead a healthy and clean life; as recently illustrated by our Hon’ble PM in his “Sawacch Bharat Abhiyan”.

During our visit through these places my group mates started covering their mouths to save themselves from getting “polluted” as they have never seen this misery ever in their life!! I was at the same time struck by what I was seeing in reality… yes the ugly face of “Ecological Imperialism” – the pillage of resources of some countries by others and the transformation of the whole ecosystems upon which the whole nation depends, the dumping of ecological wastes, the exploitation of ecologically vulnerable societies to promote imperialist control. The US-led attacks on Iraq in the guise of “War against Terror” in order to capture the oil reserves is a stark example of such kind of imperialism. On interviewing people who work in the same industries as they don’t have any choice left, my heart reflected upon something which I would like to posit by quoting Barry Commoner,

“…. Translated into environmental terms the harm is small if the people at hazard are poor-an approach that can be used to justify locating heavily polluting operations in poor neighborhoods….”

The empirical studies also testify to this phenomenon. Most of the industrial projects are set up near tribal and scheduled caste communities and all the toxic wastes are dumped near their localities. In relentless greed for expansion and proliferation, the capitalist system remains geared upon only building conditions conducive to its capital accumulation, blatantly disregarding the welfare of the majority and the ecological fate of the globe. Such an obnoxiously diabolical exploitative attitude is a consequence of the differences in valuations pertaining to earth, natural resources, class structure and environment in particular. There is a well-formulated policy of shifting the polluting industries to the Third World countries on the pretext that their pollution levels are insufficiently low and overall development can be increased. To know how and to what extent the capitalist ghouls can deceive the entire world with their “intellectual” tricks to get their own things done, follow the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summers_memo.

In relentless greed for expansion and proliferation, the capitalist system remains geared upon only building conditions conducive to its capital accumulation, blatantly disregarding the welfare of the majority and the ecological fate of the globe.

The severity of health risks associated with heavy metals which are found in waters in proximity to such operations can be gauged by a few citations: Lead causes convulsions, anemia, kidney diseases, cancer and birth defects ( this has been recorded by me in my report in that kids are now born with some deformations and there is an increasing occasion of hair loss in youngsters), nickel causes gastrointestinal and central nervous system damage, not to mention of course how the industrial projects when imposed on tribal areas destroy the social structure. They are disposed of their land and ultimately become unemployed or the mining processes lead to decay of landscape and loss of soil’s nutrients and the like.

Environmental Injustice: What amounts to injustice, in addition to severe destitution and misery is that the poor unskilled people get entangled into as a consequence of rapid industrialization drive by the bourgeoisie class. It is the stark reality that these people are deliberately made bereft of access to clean air and water. The economically disadvantaged and politically disorganized poor have also not enough resources at their disposal either in terms of legal assistance to file the cases of forced usurpation of their land against such “babus” or amount of money required to fight such cases. I have reported one such case in my field survey in which an interviewee’s father was dragged into counterfeit legal charges on account of resistance against the company’s agenda to further expand its area of operations.

The utilitarian in first place deny the issue of environmental injustice on certain grounds as I shortly explain, and when they agree to such instances they argue that “the benefits of avoiding such injustices are less than the costs of correcting them”.

Excuses for environmental injustice: they argue that 1) on balance the victims of environmental injustice may benefit from living near noxious facilities in that they may suffer worse from higher unemployment and housing costs if they were to migrate to urban. 2) We even compensate them. 3) The mere correlation of hazardous sites and presence of poor people does not mean injustice or racism.

The first two arguments make no sense as what the poor wants is not these poisonous sites to be located around them which endanger their existence. As for compensation, in the very first place it is not given at all, neither the poor prefer to take it. If at all given, the amount is not enough to make up the loss they incur by losing their land, their health and wealth. The third argument is also very strange as establishing these hazardous sites only on the spots where poor resides can never be a mere coincidence.

“And do no mischief on the Earth after it has been set in order: that will be best for you, if ye have Faith”  (Al-Quran)