A balance between environment and development has to be struck, the secretary of Bengal’s environment department said at The Bengal Club 11th Annual Panel Discussion in association with The Telegraph on Friday evening.
Six panellists discussed whether ‘preserving our environment is an exotic but not an essential exercise’ as part of the programme.
Vivek Kumar, who heads the environment department, cited the example of a rail project that connects Sevoke in Siliguri with Rangpo in Sikkim. He said there was no rail line in Sikkim and this would serve both strategic needs and benefit people. “We gave permission to the project, at the same time we also ensured there was compensatory afforestation. I think it is possible to strike a balance between development and environment,” said Kumar.
The panel also included social activist Medha Patkar; author and environmental historian Mahesh Rangarajan; green activist Subhas Datta, communications professional Mudar Patherya and journalist Jayanta Basu.
Patkar, a key figure in the Narmada Bachao Andolan, repeatedly stressed on equity. She said projects failed because the planning process was undemocratic.
Patkar said 60 per cent of Mumbai’s population lived in the slums but they had the least access to natural resources. Environment did not only mean saving the ozone layer but also saving natural resources, she added.
Patkar raised the Deocha-Pachami coal block exploration in Birbhum district. “Mamata Banerjee has to follow what she has said. She said that nothing will be imposed on the adivasis.”
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had said in a recent meeting with tribals that the state government would not go ahead with the project if they did not want it.
The discussion touched on several aspects of saving the environment.
At the very outset the moderator — cardiac surgeon Kunal Sarkar — provoked the panellists by asking whether the worry around environment and climate was a serious concern or mass hysteria.
Basu replied emphatically that all concerns were deeply rooted in science. “Report after report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have highlighted the concern of climate change. The latest report of the IPCC has said that if we do not begin to act by 2025, things will go beyond control....”
Rangarajan, too, said there was solid science behind the concerns raised by climate activists. He went to add the human aspect of it. “The planet will survive even after the consequences of climate change, but the question is what happens to the well being of human lives.”
Patherya and Datta both spoke about bringing in changes in individuals’ lives as a personal contribution in protecting the environment. Patherya said he was trying to reduce the number of clothes in his wardrobe. “We have to reduce our own carbon footprint,” he said.
Datta questioned extravagance. “I have seen that some people have air-conditioners in their washrooms too. Such extravagance has to be stopped,” he said.
Ambarish Dasgupta, president of The Bengal Club, introduced the discussion and Kunal Sen, the vice-president, gave the vote of thanks.