Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Lecture by Prof. Gadgil

Yesterday, NMML organised an interesting public lecture by Prof. Madhav Gadgil, an eminent ecologist.

This was something I did not want to miss -- thanks to an oped article by Ramachandra Guha a few days ago. Written in the aftermath of the disastrous flash floods that hit Uttaranchal, the article ("When Experience Trumps Expertise", Hindu, 11 July'13) says that many of the man-made disasters in India can be traced back to a point where our politicians and bureaucrats ignored the advise of eminent scientists on important issues.

Two examples were given to illustrate this: The state governments at Uttarakhand never bothered to consult a world class geologist -- K.S. Valdiya -- based within the state capital, Dehradun, before permitting construction in unstable areas. The second example starred Prof. Madhav Gadgil. In this case, the central government requested the expert to prepare a plan for protecting the Western Ghats region, and then studiously ignored it.

Why do governments act in this way?

During the course of this two-hour interactive session at NMML, Prof. Gadgil, put the responsibility of this state of affairs, squarely on the apathy of India's educated middle class. We have made all the right laws but lack the will to have them implemented. There is no point is claiming that our institutions have the teeth when the jaws of government machinery refuses to budge.

Apathy of our officials was illustrated with numerous examples:

  • In the Athirapilly Hydro Electric Project, the Kerala government has all but conceded that not enough water to generate electricity, and that the project violates Forest Rights Act 2006, by displacing indigenous tribals from the lower catchment area. Instead of debating and refuting criticism, the state officals just say, “There is too much pressure from the contractors!”
  • In Goa, an area given out for mining has a river running through it. When locals who regularly use this rivulet approached the authorities, they pointed to a copy of their map and said, "In our map there are no blue lines in that area, so the rivulet does not exist!". Nobody had bothered to check ground realities.
  • Lote, Ratnagiri, Maharashtra: A common effluent treatment plant constructed for a cluster of factories is not functional. So the factories have "solved" the prroblem of effluent discharge by digging wells within their premises and just pumping it underground! As a result Vasishti river (sp?) and Dhabol creek have been poisoned.

The solution to this apathy, according to Prof. Gadgil, will come only when the middle class wakes up to demand change from the politicians they elect. If the Germans can clean up their rivers and valleys through the Green party Movement, why can't we?



"Science = Organised skepticism"
* Unreasonable Doubt --
- in the 1960s by the American sociologist of science Robert Merton. He described science as organised scepticism. Most working scientists would probably be happy with this definition—indeed, most would agree with the Nobel prizewinning physicist Andre Geim’s remark that you can’t be a scientist without being a sceptic. This is how scientific ideas are tested, and disproving a hypothesis can be as significant and prestigious an achievement as proving one.

Kalhana's "Rajatarangini" (12th century Kashmir)
- Excerpts --
. Mark Aurel Stein - expert on Kalhana's work, archeologist, explorer, professor -- ttp://

* The Western Ghats -  Gadgil Report --
* (BL 17Apr13): Panel for ban on mining in 37 % of Western Ghats --
- Identifying 37 per cent — or about 60,000 square km — of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive, a high-level panel has recommended that “destructive” activities such as mining, thermal power, major construction, and some hydel power projects should not be allowed there.
*  (BL 21Dec12): Gadgil report: Kerala Assembly seeks wider consultation with States --
- the report ... demarcated a grid of 81 sq km as ecologically sensitive area


* KSEB 'prays' for clearances --PPT--

- Report submitted in March-April 2012

* Response of Ministry of Minies - Action Taken Report --


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