A Forest for a Forest’ – it’s time SC enforces environmental Code of Hammurabi

A Forest for a Forest’ – it’s time SC enforces environmental Code of Hammurabi

Apart from ordering the addition of a new re-greening clause in the mining leases issued by the government, the Supreme Court should also appoint a technical expert committee to promote a biodiversity-based model for re-greening. Industry experts and scientists need to study the local flora and indigenous practices to give a detailed report on each state and each type of mine.
The Supreme Court (SC) order to add a new re-greening clause in the mining leases issued by the government to ensure that mining pits are filled up and grass and vegetation in the mining areas are restored before a mining company moves on to another area, should be welcomed by all Indians. But we must look at the details very carefully to ensure that this doesn’t pave the for a biodiversity blunder. Mining for minerals is perhaps as old as civilisations. Some of the earliest recorded mining sites take us back 43,000 years to Africa. They started with stone tools and hands, and a deep understanding of harmony with nature. Mining minerals were necessary for development and life, and yet they worked in balance with the Earth, as a result, we can still access these ancient sites and cordon them off as toxic wastelands.
Compared to our ancestors, we have developed behemoth Earth moving mining machines that could literally eat hills and dig mountains underground in a matter of days. We have progressed technologically but taken many steps back spiritually and ecologically. The SC order is welcomed because it helps India take a step towards ecology and help heal the Earth.
But first things first, as India has many types of mines from Bauxite to coal, and from deep shafts to open-pit mine we need to create a handbook or a model for each mining industry. Different types of processes leave myriad of toxic residues that degrade the land and water resources. The topsoil (which is essential for plants) is the first victim as it is eroded or removed due to mining. More earth-conscious countries require mining companies to store the topsoil at another location and dump it onto the site once the mineral ore has been extracted. But that is for later discussion. Usually, re-greening requires greater efforts due to the uneven topography left after the mining is complete. Other challenges come in the form of low or no organic matter in the soil and soil nutrient deficiencies (absence of N, P, etc) plant growth. The remaining soil also loses almost all capacity to retain water or nutrients. The soils are also contaminated with heavy metals and may have very high pH levels which again kill micro-organisms and makes soil unfit for plant growth. For coal mines, there is an additional problem of salinity and sodicity which are an obstacle in the re-greening process. Keeping these issues in mind a blanket order on re-greening can go either way, it can either revive the native flora and fauna or create a new problem of invasive species, new weeds and barren lands. Hence the SC should also appoint a technical expert committee to promote a biodiversity-based model for re-greening. Industry experts and scientists need to study the local flora and indigenous practices to give a detailed report on each state and each type of mine. This committee should also have representation from the local settlers or indigenous tribes of the area. Their perspective will come in handy to rejuvenate the land.
The SC with the help of a committee needs to disallow the use of non-native species and invasive varieties as part of the re-greening. As the restoration process can be done using different methods, there is a need to establish very clear ecological and biodiversity targets for mining companies which should include over 50 percent revival of native biodiversity through forests/plantations.
The proposed model can also ensure that additionally 10 percent land is reserved to grow native endangered species of trees. Local shrubs and grasses can play a vital role in the primary phase of the restoration. Broadleaf trees should be planted as they will add more organic matter to the soils. Overall plantation-based restoration efforts will positively affect the soil and micro-climate of the area. The mining companies should ascribe to ancient Hammurabi Code, give back a ‘forest for a forest’ to the local communities then only shall justice be served. They can choose depending on their area from a variety of forest-based restoration or more popular methods such as the Miyawaki Method to attain these goals.
Plantations need to done in an agroecological way so that no toxins are added to the land. The plantation should be conscious of the needs of animals and birds so food and medicinal trees should be extensively used to make this area a refuge for all beings and possibly offer a livelihood for local communities. Mixed grasses and legumes cultivation in the first phase will yield great results to build the foundation of this forest. Re-greening through grasses such as Kush and other local varieties must be adopted as part of this drive.
As part of the order, companies ought to have a biodiversity manager/ conservationist attached to the project and a third party endorsed the plan of re-greening. The penalty clauses for failure to meet targets should also be strict. But also keeping the company’s interest in mind, they should be allowed to partially fund the re-greening as part of their CSR activity.
Degradation of land is a major issue not only for India but more for communities that live around these areas. They suffer from loss of habitat and livelihood, the SC order is very progressive as this can be the first step to rebuild their environment and possibly give them means to sustain themselves from the forests again. Once these areas are restored perhaps people can once again depend on forests. We need to keep the phrase ‘Vasudeva Kutumbhakam’ in mind. We have a responsibility towards animals, trees and our mother Earth. We have to shed the mindset of exploitation and earnestly try to heal the wounds we have caused her. Human beings, in the end, are mere infants fed on the milk (resources) given to us by the planet. Many have tried to control her and conquer her, and she like a magnanimous mother allowed them to do so. But let’s not test her patience.
(Article by Indra Shekhar Singh, Program Director – Policy and Outreach for the National Seed Association of India. Views are of his own.) https://www.etvbharat.com/english/national/bharat/bharat-news/a-forest-for-a-forest-its-time-sc-enforces-environmental-code-of-hammurabi/na20200120205230592
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
https://www.etvbharat.com/english/national/bharat/bharat-news/a-forest-for-a-forest-its-time-sc-enforces-environmental-code-of-hammurabi/na20200120205230592
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