Us and them – the NGT affair

Editor,

The recent NGT mining ban has generated a lot of heat and dust. The side that opposes the NGT ban has a galaxy of stars ranged on its side. Our distinguished self-proclaimed “representatives of indigenous people” speak about the inherent right of tribals to their land and its resources. In my opinion, they have ignored two key points:- The first relates to the conditions of work, the occupational risks and deaths of mine workers. Do the lives of the workers have less significance because they are Nepali or non-tribal or poor tribals? The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes the “inherent dignity of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”. Article 23 of the UDHR states that “everyone has the right to just and favourable conditions of work.”. But I guess the rationale of the eminent talking heads is that the Children of a lesser God are not entitled to these magnificent rights. Surely, different standards must apply to them! We also often hear sermons in our grand Churches in our professed Christian state that proclaim: “Whatsoever you do to the least of My brothers, that you do unto Me.” I speculate that our very reputed church going leaders have a technical description of “brother” that distinguishes Us from Them.

Then there is the larger question of our duty to posterity. Does a section of the population have the right to ravage our forests and poison our streams for gratification of their immediate needs? Our noted self-designated spokesmen invoke the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution as a defense against the NGT ban. To them I would ask: “Does the Sixth Schedule stand up only for the rights of a well heeled and well connected segment of the population to the exclusion of everyone else and to the exclusion of all other rights? Are minerals so important that our forest, soil and water resources need to be permanently sacrificed at its altar? Do the land rights and the resource rights of the tribals have a shelf life of not more than two decades? What about the livelihood rights of people that are continually being displaced by rampant mining? I surmise that our illustrious colleagues have rationally concluded that rights of mine owners are superior to those of the dislocated.

Finally we have the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle – the Meghalaya Government. The Government stand on the issue is an enigma. The Government is meant presumably for the protection of our forests and the conservation of our natural resources. Does political expediency trump the eternal duty of the government to protect individual rights and lives of workers? Isn’t it the duty of the government to conserve natural resources and to protect livelihoods? Again, I assume that the Government, in its infinite wisdom, has concluded that the interests of those with means far outweigh those without means.

Come 5th June, 2014 (World Environment Day) and functions would be held all over the state to mark the “joyous” occasion. Prominent mandarins and learned academics would be waxing eloquent on environmental issues like global warming, climate change and the need for sustainable development. Doubtless, there would be many tree planting ceremonies and photo opportunities with school children as the back drop. And platitudes would rain like showers of blessings on a meek audience. And of course the meek shall inherit the earth but it would undeniably be a legacy of devastation and toxicity.

Yours etc.,

G. M. Bruce

Shillong-3

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