In France, The Sky Is Falling — Still

Bleak Paris
Bleak Paris
Moira Molly Chambers


PARIS â€" Nothing ruins the cheese course more than the smell of burning tires.

Yes, it seems, the hour of camembert and brimstone is at hand. Angry mobs are burning Michelins at the picket lines. Congestion at the gas pump. Travel chaos as metro and rail lines strike. Power outages and the River Seine flooding its banks.

This should have been a golden moment for France, hosting the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. Normally, a month’s worth of games in major cities around the country would have been a good little moneymaker, not to mention moral-booster. But hooligans have left a wake of destruction, injuries, and arrests. Sirens wail, helicopters whir, horns blow, as the roaring masses march on. And we ask ourselves: Is it the protesters, the soccer fans, the hooligans or the jihadists this time? Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries begins to play in our heads and we wonder whether the police will ever be able to go home and get some sleep.

Because, yes, the cops in France have been working triple-overtime since ... Wait, when did it start? It was before the Nov. 13 attacks. Or was it Charlie Hebdo in January 2015? You can actually trace it back to Mohammed Merah â€" the type of delinquent-turned-terrorist that has become so utterly banal these days â€" who slaughtered grade-school children, among others. That was back in spring 2012.

Rain and worse

But the sky keeps falling, literally. The rainiest month on record and mid-June flooding in Paris just seems like a natural extension of the new, muddy normal. Time to move the paintings at the Louvre up to the attic. Ship the migrants back to Turkey. Bulldoze the "Jungle" again at the Channel crossing city of Calais. Chase more migrants out of their various Parisian squats. Stop up new immigration routes from Libya, Albania and every other opening pore along the sweltering borders.

It might seem surprising that the protesters carry on when there is so much distraction. Presumably there will be two more uprisings before the end of the month. Against what might be considered human decency or at least for a self-serving concern for the public good, the unions still did not cancel last week’s protest after yet another terrorist incident, when a couple â€" both employees of the police â€" were stabbed to death at their home in front of their three-year-old child. This occurred the evening before the protest, and the angry anti-government mob kept at it, even attacking Hôpital Necker, perhaps the most well respected, pediatric hospital in France where coincidentally, the newly orphaned toddler of the just-murdered, police couple was being treated.

So, when did the days of Bordeaux wine and Gauloises end? Can they ever come back? It’s not just the many players in the important tourism sector that hope so. It’s not just the cops and the millions of first, second and third generations of moderate Muslims who have lived in relative peace for so long in neighborhoods next to Jews, who have probably been the most nervous for the longest. It’s everybody now. This is what happens when all systems are stressed. The French coffers have run dry: Double-digit unemployment will do that, particularly in a country that relies so heavily on its tax base. An important catalyst for this economic decrepitude was the enactment of the 35-hour workweek in 2000, passed in a haze of leftist optimism. But it is just one of many factors that have made foreign investors run for the borders.

The French Left’s stigma against big, bad business has ended up meaning no business. Small and mid-size companies often choose not to grow because a new employee represents crippling welfare and administrative costs. The most inefficient employee gets tenure. Doctors hand out medical leave so that employees can easily have a month’s worth of time-off in addition to the five weeks they already have. There is no flexibility to labor laws to help businesses cope with market changes.

Reform would be a key in the economy’s ignition. That would free up revenue to tackle the pressing issue of homegrown terrorism in a more meaningful way than just hoping a police state will do the trick. Whether the European Union breaks up or not, a viable France would be a godsend to an ailing and increasingly extremist-prone continent.

It is a relatively simple idea, but it seems not to have been communicated to the general public in an effective way. Nicknamed "Flanby" after a flaccid, industrial pudding, French President François Hollande may currently be viewed as the least effective European leader since Nero.

A grand total of 7% of the population would like to see him run again for president in 2017. But if he were to push through real reform, Monsieur Hollande might shed his Flanby nickname. And perhaps, the sky would stop falling on France.

This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, which includes pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any other language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris that we call home. Send ideas and suggestions to

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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