In August last year, we had drawn attention to a piece by Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta on the remarkable edit page piece he had penned on what he claimed was the ‘absence of drought’, in the Green Revolution region and provided his ‘explanation’ of why it had been possible. It had been possible, Gupta had opined, because all the great things had been accomplished in decades when the most retrograde environmental and jholawala movements in the history of mankind had not yet arrived on the scene. And with no evidence whatsoever and with nothing but his blind ideological faith, Gupta had even misled his readers that ‘underground aquifers were being constantly recharged’. This when just a few days ago, NASA satellite pictures had shown the extent of groundwater depletion in this region.
In the meantime, the desertification of Punjab – the land of bountiful rivers – has now reached crisis proportions. The very same Indian Express carried a piece yesterday by Sukhdeep Kaur, entitled ‘That Sinking Feeling‘, which details the extent of the crisis. The first alarm, according to the story, was sounded in July 2007 – full two years before Gupta wrote his piece – by the Union Water Resources Ministry, asking the state government to urgently intervene. It also refers to the NASA data to underline the frightening extent of the crisis. The report – every word and every syllable of it – is a crying refutation of Gupta’s rabidly ideological claims. Not only is the recharge through rainwater harvesting woefully insufficient, the situation has reached such a pass that the Central Groundwater Board has recommended a blanket ban on tube wells.
Ridiculous though it may sound, some of the diagnostics by the government put the overuse of water to the ‘free power regime’ – as though the water is being overused because there is availability of free power!! As if it is not the frightful changes in cropping pattern – with water-thirsty crops replacing the more drought resistant ones, traditionally used by farmers in these regions – that is at the root of this crisis.
The substantive questions involved here of course call for a separate discussion. For the moment, it is worth underlining that what Gupta calls ‘the most retrograde environmental and jholawala movements’ have precisely been warning of this disaster for decades now.
As we said in our last post, everyone including Gupta is entitled to his/her opinion, however stupid it is. The question before us really is that these are opinion-makers who willfully mislead their readers and the public at large, despite the availability of huge evidence to the contrary. Most often this is done in the service of moribund ideological beliefs but often enough in the service of specific corporate interests which have destroyed every common resource in large parts of the country and are greedily eying those that remain. Not a word of apology, we know, will be forthcoming from the likes of Gupta but it is time we need to fix the liability for willfully misleading people, especially where the costs are to be borne by them with their lives. Only then will we be able to move towards more accountable public debates.