Chennai: Social activist Prafulla Samantara, 65, recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize, popularly called the Green Nobel, for the battle he waged to uphold the land rights of the indigenous Dongria Kondhs in the Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha. Samantara, who was in Chennai recently, spoke about the new Marine and Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) notification and why it will affect the Indian coastline and the fishing community. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Why is there opposition to the new, yet-to-be implemented MCRZ notification? How does it compare with the current Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification?

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre is diluting the CRZ notification. The government doesn’t understand the fact that by changing the laws and norms on a regular basis, they are affecting our coastal biodiversity. The MCRZ will give way for the Union ministry of shipping’s Sagarmala Programme, which will lead to heavy commercialization of the coastline through thermal power plants and new ports, harming fisheries and ultimately affecting the coastal communities living within the CRZ area, which is 500 metres from the sea. This, in turn, will expose the coastal zone to extreme climatic events.

The government said development projects like these will help boost economic growth....

Earlier this year, the government of India had declared and committed at the Paris Conference that development will not be done at the cost of destruction. But all these are steps towards massive damage. Is destroying the livelihoods of millions of people and favouring a few called development?

Also Read: Tamil Nadu fisherfolk concerned over Centre’s coastal policies

What is the issue that is troubling Tamil Nadu in the name of development?

The most crucial issue at the moment for Tamil Nadu is water. Whether the people’s opposition against the extraction of hydrocarbon in Neduvasal or against ONGC’s (Oil and Natural Gas Corp.’s) oil/gas extraction in Kathiramangalam, it is all centered on the need to safeguard water. It is a known fact that Tamil Nadu is water-scarce and the people are facing a crisis.

On the one hand, the state is fighting for its share of water with all the neighbouring states and, on the other, industrialized projects that will contaminate and deplete the water are increasing. When governments fail to understand this contradiction and deprive the common people of their basic rights to water for drinking and irrigation purposes, it will have untoward impact on all fronts—socially, economically and politically.

As someone who has led various people’s movements and has fought for the land rights of the indigenous Dongria Kondhs in the Niyamgiri hills, how do you see the recent rise in people protests in Tamil Nadu?

The small number of Tamil Nadu farmers who protested in New Delhi grabbed the attention of the entire country. Tamil Nadu has been fighting to safeguard the environment, there are active movements for Dalit rights and the fishing community is also agitating for its rights, among many others. The consolidation of all these forces will build a very effective and important people’s movement in Tamil Nadu. The rise of people in the state for their rights will also have a very huge impact at the national level and may aid in the process of alternative politics for alternative development.

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