Some of the major causes of environmental degradation are as follows: (1) State Responsibility (2) Class Interests (3) Inefficient Exploitation of Resources (4) Fragile Environment (5) The Villagers Themselves (6) The Iron-Triangle.
There has been a definite degradation of rural resource base including land-use, water, fuel and pollution. Compared to the urban life, the losses of rural society are lesser but the degradation in the village community is directly related to their sources of livelihood. The village people traditionally eked out their living from forest wood and minor forest products. With the degradation of forests, the village sources of subsistence have dried up.
Some of the forms of degradation are directly related to the implementation of development programmes. The construction of dams major or minor has rendered the cultivable soil as a saline soil. These dams cause multiplier effect on the village life. The big farmers are the gainers of canal water irrigation. Irrigation increases the farm growth and ultimately the village society becomes a class society.
The environmental degradation has ruined the village life. Such a deteriorating environmental situation raised some important questions: If the present trend of degradation continues, what is the future of village community? From where will the villagers collect their fuel wood?
How the peasants would get their implements repair and how will they be able to build their house? The questions are several, but the basic thing is that those who are guilty of committing the crime of environmental degradation, even if it is the state, who will hang them?
(1) State Responsibility:
The state in India is a class state. It gives priority to the vested interests of the societal elites, leaders and persons belonging to higher classes. Though the state is armed with legislation to protect the natural environment, at the operational level all legislative measures are thrown asunder.
There is a coalition between the forest officials, political leaders and the mafia. The role of state has become suspicious. The state, in its enthusiasm for development, has not considered seriously about the decay of environment. The schemes initiated for the revival of ecosystem have yielded nothing substantial and huge sums of money are wasted. Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain have argued that it is very easy for the state to create unproductive employment in the name of enhancing the cause of environment.
The authors write:
The same story goes for afforestation. A British economist once pointed out that it is very easy to create unproductive employment just dig a hole and fill it back with earth and keep doing that perpetually. The latest name of that game is afforestation.
“Dig a hole, put in a sapling, fill it with earth; next year the sapling dies and the entire exercise begins again.” Between 1980 and 1989 the government claimed to have planted forests over 11.82 million hectares an area almost equal to Assam and Kerala combined.
Can anybody believe such figures? Indian bureaucracy, today, operates such mega-projects with such mega-targets that it does not even care to taste the veracity of its figures. A lot of these hectares have been planted under the very programmes that L.C. Jain was wondering about.
Whether it is the central government or the state government, the development programmes are launched without taking into consideration the interests of the poor who reside in the villages. It is observed that the state is the prime accuse so far as the environmental degradation is concerned.
(2) Class Interests:
One very serious reason for the degradation of environment is the class interest. The high class people demand much from forest. There are traders who are engaged in the export of the carcasses of wild animals. This affects the population of lions, elephants and other animals.
Much furniture is required for decorating the drawing rooms and shopping complexes. Demands from natural resources are so fantastic that it results in the decay of natural environment. It must be observed that it is the class interest which is largely responsible for the loss of environment. Commenting on the responsibility of elites and rich people in the degradation of environment, Madhav Gadgil observes:
This degradation occurs for two kinds of reasons: first, because we are making increasing demands on the resources of the country; and second, because these demands are being met in a higher undisciplined fashion.
(3) Inefficient Exploitation of Resources:
Whether the elites, government officials or traders, all exploit the natural resources in a very inefficient way. The forests are axed ruthlessly. The mining is very unscientific. As a matter of fact, the exploitation of natural base is highly characterised by indiscipline and inefficiency. The approach to nature, from all points of view, is wasteful. The tragedy is that both the elites and the masses put the blames on each other for the degradation of environment.
(4) Fragile Environment:
When there is exploitation of natural resources, whether forest, flora, fauna or water, we must understand that the environment which we find today is of very fragile nature. Pointing to the fragility of environmental resources Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain comment:
Environmental resources are extremely fragile. A tree has to be cared for, especially if it is a multipurpose tree which not only provides wood but also fruit or fodder. A pond is also a fragile resource because its catchment must be brought under a good land use system otherwise it will silt up very fast. This care cannot be provided by government officials. It can only be provided by the village people themselves.
(5) The Villagers Themselves:
Last but not the least; the villagers are also responsible partly for the degradation of environment. It is alleged that a part of forest is cut down by the villagers themselves. Either they sell it in the market or use it for their own consumption. They also become a party to the forest contractors and put their axe to the trees quite ruthlessly.
It is argued that if the classes are held responsible for the degradation of the forests, the masses of the people are equally responsible. They seldom stand up in the protection of their natural resources. If the class people are hanged for the crime of environmental decay, the masses should also be hanged for the same crime.
(6) The Iron-Triangle:
If we get a glimpse of our rural India, we would find that there are a few pockets in the country which have witnessed a large quantum of environmental degradation. Among these are included the industrial belt in western Maharashtra, the areas around Coimbatore in Tamilnadu, metropolises like Delhi and Chennai, and tracts of green revolution in Punjab and Haryana. The degradation of environment is traced to some forces. These forces have been explained by what is called as the ‘iron-triangle’. This term is used by the Americans.
The iron-triangle is explained by the following categories of people who benefit from the exploitation of the resource base:
(1) Those who, benefit from the subsidies: the industrialists, the urban populations, rich farmers;
(2) Those who decide on who is to be subsidised at whose cost: the politicians; and
(3) Those who administer the subsidies: the bureaucracy.
Thus, according to the iron-triangle, the benefits of environmental degradation are cornered by the industry, urban populations, rich farmers, politicians and bureaucrats.
Madhav Gadgil argues that the subsidies given to the farmers and people of industry generally go in favour of the rich farmers, contractors and others. This kind of explanation given by the American social scientists describes the situation of America. In our country, agriculture is given top priority because it is concerned with the food production.
The farmers are provided subsidies or concessions on the consumption of electricity, diesel and fertilisers including the insecticides. For all these agricultural inputs there are liberal provisions of credit and subsidies.
All these benefits are availed of by the big farmers and the absentee landlords. In the context of our country, besides subsidies, there are a large number of other forces also which are responsible for the environmental decay. The iron-triangle thus explains a part of the situation and not the whole.