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Counter-View: Red Card on Green Front #Modi@2

The NDA’s report card on the environment is abysmal, writes Darryl D’Monte.

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Today marks two years since Modi came to power. Though his government has been active in international talks on climate change, including COP21 last December, their track record with environmental issues is somewhat lacking, senior environment journalist Darryl D’Monte writes.

This article was originally published for Modi’s first year as Prime Minister.

The NDA’s report card on the environment is abysmal. Partly this stems from Narendra Modi’s own obscurantism on science.

He asked: “Climate change? Is this terminology correct? The reality is this that in our family, some people are old ... They say this time the weather is colder. And, people’s ability to bear cold becomes less…We should also ask is this climate change or have we changed.”

Former union environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, himself a votary of globalisation, stated:

This government believes in triumphalism of growth. This government believes the triumphalism of technology... I frankly do not see a bright future for environmental issues in this government.
Jairam Ramesh, Former Environment Minister

He saw green warriors facing a losing battle.

Neglecting Rural Areas

The NDA’s report card on the environment is abysmal, writes Darryl D’Monte.
A farmer spreads fertilizer in a paddy field at Traouri village, located in Haryana. (Photo: Reuters)

Indeed, the government’s overwhelming emphasis on building infrastructure may run roughshod over the environment. The Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, the brainchild of the UPA, is being pushed through with renewed vigour.

The catch with this 1,500-km-long rail corridor, costing $90 billion, is that 150-200 km of rural land on either side of this dedicated freight corridor will be thrown open for industries and real estate –one of the biggest urbanisation drives in the world.

The government’s attempts to legislate an environment-unfriendly land acquisition bill fits in with its thrust on industrialisation and demonstrates its neglect of rural areas.

One of the key clauses in the UPA’s original land acquisition bill, calling for villagers’ consent for any major project, is being done away with. The NDA’s brazen changes have given the somnolent opposition a handle against the government.

Overriding Environmental Concern

The NDA’s report card on the environment is abysmal, writes Darryl D’Monte.
Dead fish float on the waters of Nageen Lake in Srinagar. (Photo: Reuters) 

The single yardstick for assessing the Modi regime’s green track record is the appointment of the T S R Subramanian committee, which re-examined the six most important environmental laws. Its remit was to “bring them in line with current requirements and objectives”.

These include the water, air pollution and forest laws, as well as the environment protection act of 1986, enacted after the Bhopal gas tragedy. The committee was given only two months to revise these vital laws, extended by another month.

It systematically dilutes various provisions of these acts and diminishes the stature and powers of regulatory bodies. While there is certainly a case for streamlining the procedure for granting green clearances, the creation of a National Environment Management Agency (NEMA) won’t necessarily do that.

The NDA’s genuflection towards infrastructure, overriding environmental concerns, is evident from the committee’s proposal to fast-track clearances under the forest rights act for “linear” projects, which includes roads, power lines and rail corridors, as well as for mining.

Laws Need Tightening Not Relaxing

The NDA’s report card on the environment is abysmal, writes Darryl D’Monte.
A labourer stacks firewood for use in a brick kiln as smoke billows from a chimney on the outskirts of Jammu. (Photo: Reuters) 

One has only to witness the ongoing controversies over the allocation of coal mining blocks, such as in the Mahan forests of Madhya Pradesh, to realise that laws need to be tightened, rather than relaxed.

In the prevailing distrust of major corporates in getting such projects sanctioned, the committee’s proposal to grant them “utmost good faith” in accepting their observance of green procedures at face value is risible.

Instead, there is an urgent need, given the rampant degradation of the environment, to give statutory bodies even greater powers and to man them with qualified persons. The National Wildlife Board has only one expert.

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar has been complicit in the dilution of green laws, stating time and again that the government would streamline the permission-granting process.

(The writer is a senior Mumbai-based journalist whose specialty is the environment)

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