The way to environmental degradationThe decision to extract sand, stones and soil for export to reduce the deficit is unwise.
The budget for the upcoming fiscal year has invited nationwide criticism for its provision allowing the extraction of valuable natural resources in the Chure belt. The rationale behind the announcement, as claimed by the government, is to export sand, stones and soil to India with a view to reduce the trade deficit that Nepal has with the southern neighbour. This justification hardly satisfies any Nepali as everyone knows that it will negatively contribute to the degradation of the environment in the entire Chure region with immediate effect on the whole of Tarai belt. The policy is bound to create a revolt from environment experts, the media, different political parties (except, perhaps, for the ruling party), academicians, development experts, intellectuals and the general public.
The extraction of any materials from the Chure region is prohibited by the government. A lot of natural resources are removed and sold illegally in the domestic and international markets. Due to political instability and ill intentions of the government, it has not been successful in controlling such activities. It will create a serious impact downstream by causing desertification of the plains. According to the constitution, these things are under the jurisdiction of the local level. Political analysts are of the opinion that it is a political strategy designed to please one's party workers and create a source of income for the election. Undesired elements are highly protected and massive exploitation of natural resources is continuing at the cost of the nation at large.
The opposition party has charged the incumbent government with being involved in rampant policy-level corruption by taking such a counterproductive step. The government completely ignored the directives of the parliamentary committee to protect the ecological balance of the region. Relentless mining of sand, boulders, pebbles and stones from the rivers and hills of this region for export to India in massive quantities results in natural disasters like floods and landslides. Deforestation in the Chure hills has been a permanent source of income for local traffickers and downstream inhabitants. They are illegally selling timber and boulders. The present policy of the federal government will make the region's environmental degradation and ecological imbalance go from bad to worse. With a few exceptions, all oppose the plan and strongly claim that this is an obscene and regressive move against the national interest.
Saving a weak government at the cost of environmental devastation needs to be condemned by all. The mafia in the Chure area is strong and it can easily influence the government. They have terrorised environmental activists on a regular basis. The murder of environmental martyr Dilip Mahato by the crusher mafia can be cited as a representative example in this regard.
According to the Ministry of Environment, the essence of the government announcement is entirely a policy decision. The government says it is determined to protect and promote this significant and fragile region. The government further claims that the policy itself is essential for progress and prosperity, pointing out that the contribution of mining in Nepal's gross domestic product is extremely low, that is, less than 1 percent while it is 26 percent in China, 20 percent in Australia and 4 percent in India. The budget statement is just a policy approach to explore suitable mines without compromising on ecologically balanced activities that are based on environmental impact assessment reports. Utmost priority will be given to the protection, promotion and ecological balance of the fragile area, the ministry says.
But environmental activists are not convinced by the government statement, and claim the Environment Ministry statement is completely worthless. The government has taken such a counterproductive decision immediately after the dissolution of the House of Representative. The intention of such a decision is bad because it fulfils the interest of undesirable elements. The Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalist said in a statement that this policy would ruin the Chure region which has already suffered much in the past decades. Politicians and the government are deeply involved in immediate financial gain. They lack long-term impact analysis including the negative impacts, which could lead to a situation of ecological imbalance. Powerful industrialists and contractors have been successful in influencing the government and its machinery so easily. The outcome of this policy is deforestation and water sources will gradually dry up.
The claim of the government is unbelievable in the sense that no environmental impact assessment provision is mentioned in the budget statement. Legally speaking, the Ministry of Finance cannot amend the provision in the budget because it was issued through the ordinance route which is as good as the acts of the nation. If the government is really prepared and determined, another ordinance is essential to correct it. Further exploitation of the natural resources will ruin the ecological balance amid the continuing political instability and wrong policy of the government. Activists, experts, freelancers and independent environmentalists would like to advise the government for an immediate withdrawal of such a counterproductive and highly opposed announcement as soon as possible.
The present caretaker government is weak and fragile. Its future will be decided by the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court. The people are suffering greatly from the pandemic. Why in such a situation is the government attracted to announcing such a problematic and highly debatable policy? Such steps should be taken by a full-fledged government following feedback from independent experts. Parliament is the proper place to take a decision on such a significant matter. It is not sure whether Parliament will be reinstated, so this policy needs to be suspended as of this moment. A new Parliament will be the proper body to decide such important matters.