The environmental policies of the NDA government which came into power in 2014 has always had the intention to balance development and sustainability. However, the question is whether these are more inclined towards development or towards sustainability.
I find it hard to believe that the two are in absolute equilibrium, and we understand that very well by looking into some of the recently proposed changes in the country’s environmental regulations. Let us have a look at a few proposals for simplifying environmental regulations, made by the last NDA government:
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is a result of the protracted struggle of the marginal and tribal communities of our country to assert their rights over the forestland on which they were traditionally dependent. There is a proposal to refrain tribal communities from giving their opinions in Gram Sabhas on any developmental projects in the forest area. This will be a huge setback to the efforts for ensuring sustainable development through decentralization of power and creating correlation between forests and forest dwellers. This will eventually bring back the old, colonial, bureaucratic control over forest and environment.
Organizational and strategic restructuring of National Board of Wildlife, which is the direct impact of national river linking projects getting clearances. The Ken-Betwa link project is among the first of the government’s big-ticket Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) projects. When the actual work for the project begins, it will inundate a large area of the dense forest, a wonderful tiger habitat. Trees on 6,017 Ha of forest land will need to be cut. Environmentalists point out that as many as 5,578 Ha of it fall in the core and buffer zones of the Panna National Park and the Tiger Reserve. The Ken River also has the famous Ken Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary.
The clock is also ticking for Jharkhand’s Palamu Tiger Reserve (PTR) as the Union Environment Ministry’s Forest Experts Panel has given an “in-principle” approval for diversion of over 1,000 Ha of its core forest area to complete the North Koel dam project first started in the 1970s. The project envisages a dam (Mandal Dam) on North Koel river near Kutku village of Latehar district in Jharkhand. It requires diversion of 1,007.29 Ha of land and would also lead to felling of 344,644 trees. Approving uranium mining inside Amrabarh Tiger Reserve, and commercial pisciculture inside Satpura and Pench tiger reserves are some other instances that may lead to de-notification of these tiger reserves in near future.
Keeping Coal mining projects beyond the requirements of public hearing or approving irrigation projects without Environmental Clearances can help big multinational corporations or Indian corporate houses.
There is also a proposal to remove restrictions on establishing industry in critically polluted areas, which is actually in contradiction with the statement made in COP 21.
In addition, there have been endless efforts to make environmental and forest protection related regulations less stringent and to reduce the jurisdiction of the National Green Tribunal. Therefore, the priority to “Development” was very clear, as the country was promised “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (Collective Efforts, Inclusive Growth) in 2014.
Now, based on the previous track record of promise versus reality, if you think, “slogans hollow, promises betrayed”, then you are a traitor, an anti-national. Do not forget, our Prime Minister is an environmental “Champion”, the UN has announced that!
All of us have experienced the environmental policies of the BJP not too long ago, therefore, we cannot expect radical changes during NDA II. BJP also didn’t want to promise mountains in their manifesto as far as the environment is concerned. In its four-point agenda, the only clear mention of environment was a promise of 35% reduction in air pollution, in the next five years, across 102 cities in the country.
Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees fundamental right to life. Right to environment, free of danger of disease and infection is inherent in it. Right to a healthy environment is an important attribute of the right to live with human dignity.
Therefore, as a citizen of India, my five-point environmental demands from the current government are:
- Habitat loss is the key concern for our National Animal – the Bengal Tiger, therefore all potential tiger corridors should be brought under the jurisdiction of Project Tiger;
- The government should ensure that there are always 15 Independent Individual Experts and five Independent Expert Organizations, to comply with constitution and structure of NBWL;
- The government should increase national forest cover by 25% from the current status and in relation to that, give utmost importance to classical wildlife habitat restoration;
- Public Hearing and consultation with all Village and District level committees, as part of Environmental Impact Assessments and Forest Clearances, should be made mandatory; and
- The INR 54,000 crores lying in the ad hoc CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Management Fund and Planning Authority) for more than two decades should be utilized with immediate effect to boost Green Initiative missions.
Figures crossed for next five years!
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.