The Pyre of Mankind? – Srabanti Sen

A Nilgai was strolling outside the GIP mall in Noida… 

A small Indian Civet was seen crossing the road in Kozhikode…

Huge flocks of birds were whirling around the sky in Ahmedabad…

Colourful butterflies hovered over flowers and plants even in cities..

These were few of the images doing rounds in social media during the past few months when human life was practically suspended owing to the infectious invasion of the Novel Corona Virus, Covid 19. The forced lock down of mankind, all their works and external activities had resulted in the clearest atmosphere in a long time. The snow peaks were visible from Amritsar, the ozone layer was mended and we were being happy, self-contented, patting our own backs, although the only contribution of ours, behind it, was we stayed in our homes, doing nothing. Some said, Mother Nature takes care of herself in her own way. That means it clears us of our responsibilities? How convenient! Some also said the intensity of the Pandemic had been Mother Nature’s punishment to mankind for all the greed, arrogance, complacence, ignorance and deliberate wounding of the environment and her creatures. However, if those some ones had thought that human beings would learn from all the past mistakes, it was the worst ever judgement of human character.

The Super 41!

In the midst of all the Corona scares and lockdowns, a low-key announcement was made. That, India would venture into the field of commercial coal mining by opening up 41 mines for auction to private sectors, aiming at Rs 33000 crores of capital investments in next 5 years. Presently, even though India has world’s 4th largest coal reserve and is the second largest producer of coal, the country is also the second largest importer of the mineral. With this divestment, India is expecting to be one of the top exporters of coal in the world. Anyone reading till here will wonder, what can be the objection in this? Given the situation it could be one of the prime economic boosters for India. But would it be the same if it is said that it would be at the cost of lives – of human, of animals, of nature – then?

Bird found lying dead near Dibru Saikhowa National Park

Of the 41 coal blocks, 11 are located in Madhya Pradesh, 9 each in Chattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and 3 in Maharashtra. Majority of the blocks are located in dense forests, in areas of rich biodiversity. 49% of these coal blocks are in areas once demarcated by Ministry of Environment as ‘No-go Zones’ for coal mining as a primary attempt to protect the forest land, its inhabitants and the wildlife therein. 

It is already being termed as ‘Triple Disaster’ by environmentalists and conservationists, which would call for high environmental costs, extensive deforestation and displacements of local inhabitants adversely affecting their health and occupation. 

In the identified coal block areas of Jharkhand live a huge population of local tribes or Adivasis, along dense forest tracks. Not only they will lose their land, livelihood and even homes at many places, but also with them, their unique art, culture and tradition that gives India its true colour will be extinct. 

In Maharashtra, the mine sites are located near the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. 

In Chattisgarh, Hasdeo Arand forest homes one of the ancient tribes of India, the Gond, along with a rich and varied abundance of wildlife, flora, fauna and aquatic lives in the Hasdeo and Mand River. In fact, to reduce the human-elephant conflict in the region and protect the Elephants, the State Government had planned the Lemru Elephant Reserve spread over 1995 sq km across four forest divisions. Mining in this location would abandon the Elephant Reserve Project, destroy the forest, endanger the human and elephant lives – all simultaneously. 

Fossil Fuel & Paris Agreement

The matter is not only with the mining sites and the areas it will destroy but has even more far flung and deeper effects. The mining will add up to the extraction of Fossil Fuel which implies increasing of products with Carbon content in the world. Fossil Fuel comprises of Coal, Crude oil and Natural gas which has very high content of carbon that is released in combustion as Carbon dioxide. It has been found that burning of Fossil Fuels in the whole world produces around 35 billion tonnes of Carbon dioxide per year, of which, only a small portion is absorbed by natural process. Hence it results in increase of billions of tonnes of Greenhouse Gases in the air thus contributing to global warming, ocean acidification and shifting in climatic patterns.

In December 2015, the Paris Agreement, shaped in the Paris Climate Conference, aimed in limiting the global warming below 20 C. Special emphasis was given in ‘Fossil Fuel Phase-Out’ which involves gradual reduction of the use of Fossil Fuels to near zero use, replacing it with alternative energy sources in various sectors of industry. However even after all efforts world energy consumption grew @2.9% since 2017, almost double its previous 10 year average of 1.5%. 

In this scenario, extraction of more Fossil Fuels will contradict the drive of reduction of Greenhouse Gas and subsequent Greenhouse effect on the environment to a in extent.

Carcass of a Gangetic Dolphin in Maguri Beel

Maguri Beel and …..

Date: 27 May 2020; Site: Baghjan oil field, Tinsukia, Assam

Incident: A sudden blowout in an oil well of OIL, releasing uncontrolled suffocating gas

Date: 09 June 2020; Site: Baghjan oil field, Tinsukia, Assam

Incident: The oil well caught a big fire

Site location: Baghjan village, shelter for around 4500 human beings, less than a kilometer away from the Dibru Saikhowa National Park, home of rich biodiversity and 500 mt away from the wetland Maguri – Motapung Beel, an important site for aviary and aquatic ecology.

No, decades have passed but we have not learnt from Chernobyl, Bhopal or recent Vizag leaks. Following the gas blowout, almost 2500 villagers had to be evacuated from the village and shifted to various relief camps and re-shifted further after the second incident, even ignoring the fear of being infected by the Corona Virus. The oil and gas residue condensate had spread over a radius of around 5 km. Houses were on fire, livelihoods destroyed and along with it the normal living of an entire community was blown away. The forest, tea gardens and wetlands perhaps had the deepest wound. Some scattered pictures will give an idea regarding the extent. A dead carcass of Dolphin lying in a pool of water; the leaves of trees and plants around dripping oil; death of swarms of fishes and aquatic species due to water contamination; tea gardens spoilt, soil and agricultural land became infertile, domestic animals dying largely… and the grave pictures seem never ending… 

Status till date: Over sixty days have passed now, the oil well is still burning …!

Irony is, there has been peasant uprising, tribal protests against such acts all over the country but not a word from the tech-savvy so-called highly literate urban population who are busy spending the lockdown days in ticktock videos and social media stardom. No big media are running stories or housing deafening debates on the issues either, except some reporting of the incident. 

Are human memories such short lived? We have seen the lungs of the world, the great Amazon rainforest burning from the deadly fire, just a year back. This year too there had been incidents of fire burning out parts of the forest land. If we let these natural sinks, whatever little has been left, to be destroyed or slaughter them ourselves, then we are actually preparing our own big grave. We have gone through Chernobyl, crossed Bhopal gas disaster, still Vizag or Baghjan happens even today. The incidents, which mankind perhaps have taken or still taking as passé, had been the warning for an alarming future ahead. We have pushed Mother Nature to the brink to make her take the most unsparing, implacable verdict towards the race, whom she might have considered once to be her most resourced being, the humans, transpired to be the worst ever mercenaries with the turns of centuries.  Countdown has begun… countdown for the day of human extinction. Only for once, if human beings could be selfish for good! Yes, selfish to be able to see the larger picture for days ahead… to act so that he can live a better, safer tomorrow… to ensure that the tomorrow exists for him to enjoy!

Copyright © Kothabriksha 2020, All Rights Reserved



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