Ranjona Banerji: Does the media care about the environment?

01 Jul,2022

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

The fall of the MVA Government in Maharashtra and the anointment of Eknath Shinde as chief minister has many consequences for Indian democracy.

 

And it also has one for the environment. Yawn, yawn, go most readers and most journalists.

 

Climate change. Environmental damage. Wildlife protection. All these words. Against progress, development, human growth.

 

Here’s a headline in Hindustan Times for you:

Top tagline: “First Cabinet decision”

Headline: “Car shed back at Aarey: Fadnavis shows who rules”

To me, the tone sounds like someone at a newsdesk crowing with excitement. The collapse of Mumbai’s main green lung is imminent. Yaaay! It shows who’s boss! Yaay! Fadnavis rules again! Yaay!

Am I being unfair? The copy is more matter of fact than the headline. But it does not – for the first few paragraphs anyway – lay out the loss that Mumbai will suffer from the destruction of forests to build a storage depot for the Mumbai Metro Railway.

Here in Uttarakhand where I live, it’s a daily struggle. Some parts of the media, notably the local edition of The Times of India, have been remarkably supportive of efforts to protect and restore our fast-vanishing green cover.

So far, the environmentalists – and therefore the planet and all its inhabitants – have lost every battle. Trees, forests hacked for roads, river beds built upon, tunnels dug. The courts have been happy to go along with this “master plan” despite the consequences.

The devastating results are around us as well: landslides, flash floods, dam bursts, deadly accidents. And will get worse during the monsoon when heavy rains are forecast.

It has already begun. Heavy rainfall has led to terrible road accidents. Landslide debris fell on a car and a vehicle fell off the road, both leading casualties. Here’s the response from Nitin Gadkari, our Union minister for road transport and highways: the hills should have more roads and more double lane highways.

The basics are lost here: the Himalayas are fragile. They are collapsing under the weight of human activity.

Literally.

The town of Joshimath, which lies between two hydroelectric projects both of which were damaged by the glacier burst of 2021, is sinking. This information is not new. It’s just getting worse.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/uttarakhands-joshimath-will-sink-if-excavation-not-stopped-scientists/articleshow/92532896.cms

The link above is from two days ago.

The link below is from nine years ago.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/joshimath-villages-sinking-due-to-hydel-project-say-locals/article5501714.ece

Almost everything which the locals predicted in 2013 took place. The two projects mentioned were practically destroyed in 2021.

Is this headline news anywhere?

I understand. There is so much happening. Political chicanery in Maharashtra. Continued persecution of religious minorities and Dalits. Unprecedented attacks on fundamental rights of journalists and activists. Communal violence. A further collapsing economy. Rupee falling. Trade deficit widening. External debt growing. And for the mainstream media, the most important of all: how to go gaga with excitement over the Prime Minister’s foreign visits.

Why should a collapsing town in the Himalayas be of any interest?

Especially when an expert committee of scientists feel that the factors behind the collapse of Joshimath include the Char Dham Yatra road, the Tapovan-Vishnugad hydro power plant and rapid urbanisation?

All these, after all, are treasured projects of those on high who rule our lives and the future of a pliant media in India.

But I do understand.

Environmental protection is boring.

Politics is exciting.

Forests being destroyed is exciting.

Animals suffering is exciting.

Greenhouse gases are exciting.

Pollution is exciting.

Landslides are exciting.

People dying in accidents because of landslides…

O no! Surely not?

That’s the media for you.

Hashtag what is this nonsense. Shrug emoji.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal.

 

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