By Mayank Jain:
“The new government doesn’t believe in environment versus development,” the newly appointed Minister for Environment with additional charge of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar clarified during a recent interview. Though the statement is music to our ears, the way ahead might not be that easy for him to keep the two worlds of development and environmental conservation in harmony.
It is World Environment Day today and the theme is ‘Raise your voice, not sea levels’, which promotes environment friendly measures in our day to day life instead of tokenism on this very day to curtail the perils of global warming thatÂ comes along with dangerously rising sea levels.
Amid so much upheaval, India finds itself in a critical position since the country is among the most populated and polluted ones. The challenge for every government has been to conserve forests and water bodies and give a second lease of life to already extinct species of tigers, birds and other wildlife which are fast disappearing due to reckless human actions while others indulge in hunting and roam freely, due to their power positions.
The previous government, UPA II had a tough time managing business and civil society expectations when it comes to clearance of projects. As much as 99% of projects that applied got clearances after 2004-2005 while 94% of the projects got clearance for cutting forests. It will be a tightrope walk for the Environment Ministry here to ensure that development does not get stalled.
The statistics only take horrifying turns when you dig deeper on pollution and quality of air and water in the country. Almost 80% of the urban waste in India is dumped in the river Ganges, and the current government has promoted the cause of a clean Ganges too much to not act on it. The priority should be to provide clean rivers and subsequently clean water will follow in the country. Around 1000 children die in India due to diseases caused by polluted water every year.
The air pollution in the country is on the rise too. 50% of 290 Indian cities monitored were found to have critical levels of air pollution. Similarly, 76 of 150 major rivers in India are polluted which leaves only a few places in the country that are habitable with a safe environment.
The reckless licensing to industries need to be checked and focus of the environment ministry shouldn’t be to launch ambitious projects that fill news feeds on internet and pages on newspapers, but to improve on the existing ones which have gone horribly wrong, already. A good place to improve things for Javadekar will be to take cue from Jairam Ramesh’s footsteps and deal with environment issues with the focus on environment more than the industry.
India ranks close to the bottom on a World Bank survey on environment quality in the countries of the world. We are able to manage only 155th position among 178 countries which signifies a burning need to give environment the attention it deserves.
To know more about this story and what I think, follow me on Twitter at @mayank1029