India 'boom' an environmental disaster, author says
Thu Jun 9, 2005 03:56 AM ET
By Simon Denyer
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's economic boom is causing unsustainable
environmental damage and is blinding people to the misery of hundreds
of millions of poor, prize-winning author and activist Arundhati Roy
"Even if you know what is going on, you can't help thinking India
is this cool place now, Bollywood is 'in' and all of us have mobile
phones," Roy told Reuters in an interview.
"But it is almost as if the light is shining so brightly that you
do not notice the darkness," she said. "There is no
understanding whatsoever of what price is being paid by the rivers and
mountains and irrigation and ground water, there is no questioning of
that because we are on a roll."
"India shining" was the campaign motto of the Bharatiya
Janata Party which lost last year's election, unable to capitalize on
the fast-growing economy and failing to convince the rural poor that
economic reforms were benefitting them.
Roy won the 1997 Booker prize for her first novel "The God of
Small Things." Since then, she has become a leading environmental
activist and opponent of big dams, which have displaced millions.
She said India's environment faced a major crisis, caused by
industrial pollution, by big dams, and in particular by unsustainable
use of ground water to irrigate thirsty cash crops such as soyabeans,
peanuts and sugarcane.
"When the only logic is the market, when there is no respect for
ecosystems, for the amount of water available... then we are in for a
lot of trouble," she said. "You have to have a system where
people have access to some amount of water to grow whatever is
sustainable for them to survive." Falling water tables in states
such as Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have forced millions of farmers
to the brink of ruin. Buried under unpayable loans, thousands have
Roy said the poor were being sold a dream of consumerism which was
impossible to deliver economically or environmentally.
"The idea of turning one billion people into consumers is
terrifying," she said.
"Are you going to starve to death dreaming of a mobile phone or
you going to have control of the resources that are available to you
and have been for generations, but have been taken away so that
someone else can have a mobile phone?"
Since the BJP was replaced by a coalition led by the center-left
Congress party, Roy said she felt less targetted for speaking out, and
some of the "vulgar and vicious" facets of BJP-rule had
"But in terms of what is happening on the ground economically, I
don't think anything has changed at all."
Choosing between parties was increasingly like choosing between brands
of washing powder made by the same manufacturer, she said.
"It was so clear that the mandate for the Indian elections given
by millions of people who came out to vote ... was one against the
so-called neo-con liberal reforms," she said.
"But the minute that mandate was given to Congress, it is almost
like the cameras shifted from the electoral field in India to outside
the stock market, where stocks were plummeting, including the media's
own stocks. And people were forced to come out and say they were not
Recent court decisions in favor of dams and slum clearances had
tipped the playing field further against the poor. "It is so easy
for people who are on this side of the line to climb the ladder. The
middle class has expanded and is having a good time, but for people
who are on the other side it is becoming impossible to survive,"
Roy said. "There are no jobs, there is just nowhere to go, no way
out of it at all."