This newspaper, like many others, publishes a special section on World Environment Day because its marketing department is convinced there will be enough companies that wish to have their ads carried in that context. I must confess that I have nothing against this practice (indeed, I only pray that such companies buy more advertising space in Mint). What bothers me— apart from spam SMSes, traffic violators, bad English, and snot pickers—is the fact that 5 June ends up being the only day when many companies think of the environment. On the remaining 364 days (365 in leap years) they are happy to violate it.
The story of the Olive Ridleys is well known. Almost as well known is the story of Ankleshwar in Gujarat. In this chemical belt, anyone who digs a well will likely find effluent from a nearby plant, not water. In a less-publicized former avatar, this writer spent almost six months in this belt, one of India’s most polluted, and was shocked by the sheer number of doctors and pharmacies operating even in small towns in the region; everyone was always falling ill, thanks to the quality of air and water.
What is not so well known is the insidious way in which some of India’s best known companies manage the process of obtaining an environmental clearance for their industrial projects. All projects that involve an investment above a certain level require one, and part of the process requires that an environmental impact assessment be done. This is essentially a study of how the project affects the immediate physical environment and social milieu in which it will operate. With the help of unscrupulous consultants, these companies submit environmental impact assessment reports prepared for other projects, sometimes in other geographies, and have them cleared by pliable babus to whom the filing of a report is far more important than its contents. Mint has reported on this in detail; my favourite example of this is one where a report prepared for a plant in Russia, replete with mentions of the flora and fauna that can be found in the tundra region, was used to secure environmental clearance for a project in sub-tropical India.
What is also not so well known is the callousness and ignorance that most companies display when it come to making their workplaces “green”. In the misguided notion that glass, chrome and fluorescent lighting are indications of a company’s professionalism —don’t ask me how—real estate developers and the companies that are their tenants have spent millions to build monstrous concrete (and glass and chrome) jungles, the most notable of which can be seen in New Delhi’s satellite Gurgaon and Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla area. Most buildings in these areas are huge energy sinks.
Of course, the editor of a newspaper should be the last person to sermonize. Yet, the paper we use is smartly sourced and one of our objectives is to become the country’s first carbon-neutral newspaper.
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