15 May 2015

So you want to investigate environmental crimes?

Wilpattu is not the only place where there is illegal felling of trees, encroachment etc.  Pic courtesy www.srilankanstyle.com 
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has called for Environmental Crimes Investigation Division.  The proposal comes in the wake of allegations of wide scale deforestation in and around the Wilpattu National Park. 

The JVP, while referring to the above has named Minister Rishard Bathiudeen, the Secretary of the Environment Ministry, Chairman of the Forest Conservation Department, the Mannar Divisional Seretary, Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman and Secretary as responsible.  The purpose of such a Division, according to the JVP, is to investigate this as well as other ‘environmental crimes’ that took place during the previous regime.  The call, moreover, follows the setting up of a similar unit to investigate ‘Financial Crimes’.

The sentiment is of course laudable.  This country has seen all manner of destruction which could technically come under ‘environmental crimes’.  Any move to investigate wrongdoing has to be supported.  The suggestion is obviously a product of the perception that the law is not being enforced, for whatever reason.

In certain instances the law may be inadequate; the answer to such a problem is to update the legal framework or plug the holes if any.  Enforcement is a different issue.   What the JVP is implying is that even the existing rules are not being upheld.   Now that’s a serious matter.  It means, simply put, that the Police is not doing its job for whatever reason.  If that’s the case, the setting up of special units such as the one proposed will not deliver the goods.  It will only add to the tax payer’s burden. 

The solution then is to first find out why the Police are so impotent.  Is it that key officers are corrupt and in the pay of wrongdoers?  Is it that political heavyweights stop them from doing their job?  If so, what can be done? 

These are the questions that the Government has to consider.  President Maithripala Sirisena has said that he will use his executive powers to stop deforestation.  That’s essentially a cop-out response.  What the executive powers should be applied to, if at all, is to get the systems right.  The rest can be expected to follow.  If not we will have a ridiculous situation where deforestation happens until it is found it and until there’s enough public outrage to wake up the president so he could use powers vested in his office.  This kind of ‘method’ doesn’t forbid tree felling or encroachment.  It only arrests the process after much damage is already done. 

In principle, moreover, setting up such ‘divisions’ for criminal subjects can set a bad precedent.  You will have such divisions for every order of crime imaginable.  The entire police force would eventually be segregated into these units.  Does not make sense! 

Then there is the question of limiting investigation to the acts of omission and commission pertaining to the previous regime alone.  Does the JVP believe that the present regime is blameless or is so pure that it will do no wrong? 

Finally, there seems to be something that the well-intentioned advocates seem to have missed.  Environmental destruction is not just a product of capitalism and the dominant mode of development, it is a necessity.  Think of capitalism.  It is associated with a paradigm of development that privileges profit and growth.  There is expressed concern for the environment.  Notions of sustainability are referred to.  But all this, only in relation to the appropriation of such terms and the payment of lip service.   

If the JVP thinks that some cops chasing robbers will set things right then they are being more simplistic than their simplistic readings of Marx and Marxists imply. 

The answer does not lie in special teams.  It lies in enlightened assessment and proper management systems, both framed by a different kind of politics that seeks to change paradigms that encourage rather than forbid deforestation and other ‘crimes’, environmental and otherwise.  


Anonymous said...

There are so many 'ands' in this sentence that I can't make much sense of it: Think of capitalism and this paradigm of development that privileges profit and growth and you just cannot see concern for the environment and notions of sustainability outside of appropriation of such terms and lip service paid to them.