In Northeast India, the debate over officially proposed palm oil cultivation on a major scale has warmed up, with some opposition parties in Assam protesting the state’s decision to go ahead with the scheme. In Manipur, tribal organisations as well as the strong pro-environment protection lobby have warned the Central and state Government authorities not to launch such cultivation projects in a state where cultivable land is scarce. In sections of NE-based media, there have been accounts of how the ruling Central and state Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) leaders allowed major industries — including some known for their close ties with the top BJP leaders — to begin commercial cultivation. The Centre’s logic is simple. The country has to import over 13 million tonnes of palm oil annually, whereas only about 10 million tonnes are being produced domestically. Palm oil is needed not only for food preparations, but also as a basic input for the large fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector in the country. Also, the demand for such oil is likely to double in about five years’ time.
Keeping such emerging trends in view GOI decided to increase domestic production on a major scale as early as possible. Ensuring food security as well as economic growth was the objective. Because of the shortfall in imports, the domestic price of palm oil has shot up by around 30 per cent .Given this situation, GOI has no choice but to go in for larger domestic production of the item. GOI finalised an ambitious Rs 11,040 crore scheme with special emphasis in Northeast and the Andaman Islands for the immediate cultivation of palm oil. Six districts were selected in Assam but other states including Tripura too were selected for the project.
The Supreme Court however, disallowed the move to launch such a project in the Andaman islands, fearing an impact on the local ecosystem. It was highly unusual, if not actually dangerous for GOI to go ahead with a massive palm oil production project, flying in the face of all existing world trends and projections. Apparently, GOI’s top priority was earning higher revenues come what may and never mind the long term existential safety of the people! Interestingly Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, known for his bold implementation methods especially for centrally-sponsored schemes, has dismissed the fears of environmentalists. Such a view has amazed and scared most people including political leaders in Assam. There is no denying that the very biodiversity as well as the general ecosystem of the region would be threatened. There are no signs yet that the ruling BJP leaders are heeding these warnings.