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‘Bure Din’ For Environment In India: How The Government Is Tampering With Environmental Regulations

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By Kanika Katyal:

A hurried, thoughtless and preposterous decision from the Modi government has once again put all the promises of progress to doubt. While there have been no signs of “acche din” for humans, politics has now penetrated into the sacred arena of the environment. The flora and fauna of a country are a mark of its rich heritage. Tampering with regulations will not only adversely affect the environment but also lead to larger repercussions for us.

wildlife1

The Narendra Modi government has approved the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), which, according to experts, has flouted the norms laid down in the Wildlife Protection Act.

The Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Act 2002 clearly states in its Section 5(A) that it must have five persons representing non-governmental organizations to be nominated by the Centre and ten individuals to be nominated by the central government from among eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists.

But, the new board only has two individual members and there is no representation from the NGOs. The Centre has inducted three members on the board–H S Singh, a retired forest officer of Gujarat cadre, Raman Sukumar, an elephant expert from Bangalore and in the name of non-government institutions, it has got a Gujarat government body called Gujarat Ecological Education and Research(GEER) Foundation.

Powers Of The Standing Committee

  • Appraise projects requiring forest lands within or around wildlife areas.
  • Review decisions and guidelines of the environment ministry impacting wildlife zones.
  • Review implementation of National Wildlife Policy and Wildlife Protection Act.

If the right to a clean environment is a human right, then the protection of the natural resources is as much our duty. So, what makes this issue a matter of urgent and supreme concern for us?

1. The Greed Breed : Misplaced Motives

A senior environment ministry official recently announced the environment ministry’s ‘100 day plan’ which will focus on:

a) Faster green clearances to mega infrastructure projects.

b) Reducing green clearances pendency.

Decisions such as these clearly reflect the ideological framework. For the current committee, building broad roads, constructing dams and digging more coal are more vital for the country’s progress. While in fact, the existing forests need to be conserved and cultivated proportionately. Show me a newly constructed highway which has a lining of full grown trees? The exploitative nature of man here achieves threshold.

Sustainable development is the need of the hour. While developmental projects are important, they should not be carried out at the cost of the environment and wildlife.

2. The Crooked Code

Word to the wise, doesn’t the decision smell of intense lobbying and bureaucracy?

The Gujarat chief minister, currently Anandiben Patel, is the head of the board of governors of the GEER. Compromising the eligibility criteria is a clear indication of intentions of govt to expedite the clearance of projects from NBWL. Without the experts, will this board solve the purpose? The move appears arbitrary. Playing with rules is not acceptable, especially in the case of environment.

3. Alibi Check

A former member of the standing committee of NBWL, who didn’t want to be named, said that earlier there were transparency and checks and balances while clearing any development projects in and around the forest areas, “But, this move will surely jeopardize the process of protecting forests in the country,” he said.

The presence of retired officials in the committee suggests that it was deliberately constituted so that the officials remain pliable to official orders. The decision is an autocratic rule on the part of the government.

4. Herculean Feat

With about 200 projects pending for clearance from the Board, having government or quasi-government officials on board would be able to make life easier for the government as compared to very vocal or eminent conservationists on board. The efficiency of the quorum is definitely under question.

Some of the major cases pending before the board

– Coal blocks in and around central Indian tiger reserves such as Pench and Tadoba.

– Hydroelectric projects in Northeast India.

– Highway and road projects through several wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

– Iron ore mining in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in elephant areas.

– Diversion of forest land from the Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary for construction of a new railway line between Agartala and Sabroom (Tripura).

5. Say No to Discussion !

A wildlife expert who had served on the standing committee said: “The non-officials on the Board are critical to carry out a good and impartial review of projects that come indiscriminately from states and often do not go through any scrutiny at the Centre either. It is unfortunate if the government wants to push decisions through a pliable Wildlife Board.”

Disagreements between the government and the non-government wildlife experts in the past has led to either alteration in projects on some occasions and also put several others on hold.

The ‘Flamingo City’ case serves as a prime example.

Asia’s largest flamingo breeding ground, the famed ‘Flamingo City’ in Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary in the western Indian state of Gujarat, was in imminent danger from a proposed massive road construction project. While the project proponent claimed that the road was meant to facilitate mobility for the Border Security Force (BSF), it was clear the project was nothing but a cover for promoting and expanding tourism in the region.

flamingos

In September 2011, a 3-member expert team from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), assessed the potential ecological impacts of the project.

Their recommendation was the rejection of the road proposal. To quote from their site visit report, “the team was of the considered opinion that if the proposed road is allowed to be constructed, it would in all probability result in the abandonment of this breeding site and thus India would lose the only breeding site of flamingos, which in turn could spell doom to the population of these birds in the Indian Subcontinent.”

The result of the strong opposition expressed by the expert team, comprising of non-government officials as well forced the MOEF Committee to reject the project. The project was rejected on grounds that it was having a serious impact on the wildlife of the fragile Kutch region, particularly the nesting site of flamingos.

6. So much for Decentralization?

Decentralization, or power transfer, occurs when specific stakeholder groups, rather than government officials, are given the right to collect revenues and decide how they will be spent. Such autonomy is the key to the strength of the joint forest management areas in India. This decentralization of power has had promising results in terms of both forest protection and local people’s willingness to participate in communal forest management and develop their management capacities.

In a country like India with its diversified regions and their heterogeneous demands, the concept of participation is essential for development projects. Even today, mainstream development projects often fail to meet their objectives and a lack of participation is the reason. Too many projects are designed and implemented by the government without consultation or cooperation with the people whose lives they affected. This is where the role of the non-government leaders becomes decisive.

The NGO’s help bridge the gap between the government objectives and the local expectations. They combine the technological know-how and expertise required at the administrative level with the demands of the local situation. The environment experts describe and discuss the common characteristics of health system functioning in the given socio-economic, socio-cultural, political, environmental protection and social services to protection of environment.

The action of the NBWL hence emerges as not only hurried and thoughtless but also preposterous. A dearth of qualified professionals would not only put the management capacities into doubt but also raises serious questions about the government’s responsiveness towards our natural heritage. The committee shouldn’t work towards churning out another set of arm-chair pundits.

Instead, the fundamental objective of such an institution, in charge of the flora and fauna of the country is to act as catalyst in bringing about local and national initiative and community participation in overall improvement in quality of life.

You must be to comment.
  1. Gaurav

    generally when writers write an article they state the objective of the article, followed by observations, supporting arguments, statistics followed by an inference.

    some writers on the other hand continue to follow the opposite. some writers first make an inference and then follow it up with assumptions, half baked information and partisan and prejudiced viewpoints while deliberately leaving out any concreteinformation or positive steps taken with the objective to confuse people.

    let us look at the above article: the writer starts by making an inference in the 1st paragraph:::

    “A hurried, thoughtless and preposterous decision from the Modi government has once again put all the promises of progress to doubt. While there have been no signs of “acche din” for humans, politics has now penetrated into the sacred arena of the environment. Tampering with regulations will not only adversely affect the environment but also lead to larger repercussions for us.”

    let us look at the second paragraph::
    “The Narendra Modi government has approved the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), which, according to experts, has flouted the norms laid down in the Wildlife Protection Act.”

    Questions for the writer ::: who are the experts?? what were their recommendations??

    in the 3rd para :: writer states that :::
    “The Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Act 2002 clearly states in its Section 5(A) that it must have five persons representing non-governmental organizations to be nominated by the Centre and ten individuals to be nominated by the central government from among eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists.”

    did the government amend the law?? was the amendment done as per the consitution??? if yes, then why the hue and cry??

    moving on the writer says — A senior environment ministry official recently announced the environment ministry’s ‘100 day plan’ which will focus on:
    a) Faster green clearances to mega infrastructure projects.
    b) Reducing green clearances pendency.

    writer is saying that simply because the government is laying a plan of action that means it is doing something wrong.

    the writer is trying to capture the modi government in a moral cleft for no reason or justification. more on this later

    1. Kanika Katyal

      Thank you for the feedback. Let me try to answer/pacify you, step by step.

      1. The structure of the article could be better, I agree. I will do better in my next one.

      2. As for the experts, I have quoted experts who have previously worked with the NBWL, who are a part of the standing committe and also cited from the site visit reports of the Flamingo City case. Since I share the opinion, it might not have been so apparent to.

      3. The Act was ammended in 2002, and if I say that this action of the government right here, is a violation of the act, it obviously implies that this move is not constitutionally verified. Why would I say anything otherwise ?

      4. The plan of action, seems problematic to me for reasons I have already stated. They are a product of my judgement and cognizance. I could be more assertive, you think ? Okay. Will keep that in mind.
      I have assessed the decision from various angles and have stated my arguments. There will lways be differing viewpoints and I welcome them.

      The news item in question has featured in a prominent daily and I sought to add to the debate through my article. I have nothing personal against the government. But as an intelligent citizen I analyse with the best of my ability.

      Every article is a combination of facts and the writer’s perspective. There is nothing, as far my knowledge goes, ‘simply’ stated.

  2. Gaurav

    there are serious flaws in your article as well as your counter arguments, an elected government is well within its right to amend laws after the due constitutional process is followed, if you or any other concerned citizen does not consider that to be legitimate than all other concerned citizens who love their nation have the right to draw the inference as per their own judgement. articles are supposed to present a healthy balanced view not showcase your personal prejudices. the nationalist element will not be cowed down because of some pseudo liberal element who continues to propagate a specific point of view. and yes, every nationalist is unabashedly pro development and is least bit bothered in spurious arguments being forwarded.

  3. Gaurav

    in point number 6 the writer says ::::

    Decentralization, or power transfer, occurs when specific stakeholder groups, rather than government officials, are given the right to collect revenues and decide how they will be spent.

    so the writer thinks that specific un elected private groups should supersede an elected government. this reeks of anarchy and confirms that the writer is a left wing radical / rogue element. this point has been duly noted by the nationalist element. such anarchy cannot be allowed to be spread. your anti national and anti development sentiment is duly noted. youth like you have been brainwashed to challenge authority and feel sated by challenging elected representatives and constitutional processes , you are fooling no one.

    this is a prime example of misplaced youth that has supports anarchy / rogue elements. the reason is quite clear. community initiative is meant to supplicant the government at the local body level but when the writer says that –“”specific stakeholders rather than government officials””– the writer has bared her anti national thought process.

    1. Kanika Katyal

      Let me Put it Down for you.
      ” The Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Act 2002 clearly states in its Section 5(A) that it must have five persons representing non-governmental organizations to be nominated by the Centre and ten individuals to be nominated by the central government from among eminent conservationists, ecologists and environmentalists.

      But, the new board only has two individual members and there is no representation from the NGOs. ” This is what it problematic to me and is the central argument.
      Tampering with Regulations’ goes the title. The government has violated a constitutional act. This is the issue. The act screams of absolutism and leaves no room for a discussion.

      The Please do not confuse participation with anarchy. You should have a look at Joint Forest Management Projects . This is one link – http://www.manage.gov.in/publications/ed/Untitled-1.pdf . Historically, the Chipko Movement also serves as a fine example.

    2. Gaurav

      Constitutional Elected representatives can modify the act, an individual can put a gun to the head of law makers, it is for the government to take a call. no matter what you say or do, you cannot force the hand of elected representatives, it is the job of the Modi government to alter the anti national setup which was constructed by the italians to thwart the development of this nation. by baring your fangs at the nation and the economy and the society you have shown your blood lust , however I can assure you that playing the moral brownie game on behalf the italians after they manage to set in motion illogical laws is not going to hamper development. we all know the fate of how many projects hung in balance due to the italians. the nefarious design of self proclaimed gods of justice like you will not stop legitimate needs to be compromised upon, you can cry foul as much as you like but the difference is clear, you and your ilk want all development to stop and the nationalists want ways to be found to restore environment without compromising our way of life, need of growth, legitimate aspirations of the people and the nation and consequently national integrity and I do not expect you to understand the gameplan of anti national forces which want indian economy to continue to teeter so that indians are easy targets for the hegemonic designs of our enemies.

  4. Gaurav

    and may I point out that when you life lines from other articles from websites like conservationindia.org blindly you only prove your intellectual bankruptcy. think about it

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