With A Promise Of Quick Growth, Is The New Government Leading Us To An Ecological Suicide?

Posted on October 5, 2014 in Environment

By Debamita Samajdar:

Apparently, elephants are not a part of the environment. That is the ridiculous set up by the new government in their haste to make true their “big bang” initiative called ‘make in India’, which now can be easily translated to ‘make money in India’. How else could one explain the Government’s decision to dilute, rather than address the existing loopholes of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006!

environment clearance

What was needed was to include the railway sector, which apart from being responsible for opening up forests, fragmentation of habitat and rise in poaching, is the single most factor responsible for the daily deaths (read slaughter) of elephants in our country. But what the nation got instead was further exemption of infrastructural projects from environmental clearance. This, despite the recent nudge to the government when the Supreme Court rejected a plea by the NCA (Narmada Control Authority) against the fact that the permission given by NDA, within 20 days of coming to power, to the NCA to raise the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam by 17 meters, was brought to naught by the Jabalpur High Court. 2,50,000 more people would have been displaced as a result of this increase in the height of this dam. People are supposedly just a number for this government, as was the case with all previous ones.

Green activists suspect further disempowerment of institutions of environmental clearance as the new government goes full ahead with its plan to remove all perceived bottlenecks that hinder “growth”, i.e. to annihilate all green “hurdles”.

The changes made by the government make it mandatory only for- residential buildings, hostels, hotels, hospitals, office blocks, IT parks and software development units- with built-up area more than or equalling to 20,000sq.m but less than 1,50,000sq.m,to be assessed for their impact on the environment. This is in contrast to the original notification under the Environmental Protection Act of 1986 which made it mandatory for all categories of buildings and construction projects to be given a clearance by the EIA authorities of the respective states.

“We have plugged the loopholes in the system and tried to correct them in the interest of the environment. We are doing what the UPA government did not do”, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar was quoted as saying. He also holds the preposterous idea that fragmentation of habitat leads to afforestation of double the area.

Thus linking the environmental impact of buildings with the legal status of projects, the government opens up the possibility of a new plethora of ecological disasters; case in point is the severe destruction of the ecological integrity of the Yamuna due to building of several bridges (because embankments, barrages and bridges also keep enjoying exemption from environmental clearances much like the railway sector).

In order to achieve the ‘single window clearance’ as promised in the election manifesto, faster environmental clearance and speeding up of auctions has been put into action to ensure the revival of the steel factory; as the Environment Minister also assured the Coal Ministry that his ministry would never become a roadblock for them.

All these moves seem very consistent with the government’s 100% FDI announcement. To ease norms for FDI in the construction sector, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion has already floated a cabinet note for further consultation. A plan to cut requirements for 50,00sq.m to 20,000sq.m for built up area for FDI and of bringing down capital conditions from $10 million to only $5 million is also on the line.

That their policy is bringing desired results is seen in the fact that JSW Energy gained 2% to trade at 75.75 in the opening hours after it informed that one of its joint ventures-Barmer Lignite Mining Company has received clearance from the MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change)

In this blitzkrieg on the environment, the government runs the chance of losing hold on citizens belonging to the middle-class and the youth. There was also a passive attack on NGO’s of the country because of a leaked IB report stating that the activities of these organizations are responsible for the slow growth rate of the GDP by 2 to 3%. This move was frowned upon by all sections of society as was evident from the storm that it raised across various online platforms. The fact that Greenpeace(one of the most prominent name caught up in these allegations) was under attack here, was not taken lightly by the youth, as this institution has long come to be the environment conscience keeper of the urban middle class. The timing of this leak was definitely a planned attempt to reflect attention of the critics to be able to push through with these policy measures.

An ecological suicide is not far ahead as the new government continues with the long history of appropriation and centralized control of laws and natural resources with regressive actions such as slashing more than 50% of the allocation of MoEFCC for 2014-2015, clearing of 240 projects in 3 months, and reconstituting the National Board of Wildlife while not adhering to the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Amendment Act-2002, among others.

The morning shows the day. Everyone could see the road ahead when Mr. Arun Jaitley in his first budget speech did not utter the words-‘sustainable development’, ‘forests’, ‘wildlife’, ‘ecology’, ‘biodiversity’ whereas the words ‘investment’ and ‘growth’ were uttered 34 and 31 times respectively.

The Indian border runs across various ecological hotspots and with Rajnath Singh’s announcement of exemption for projects falling within 100 kilometres of the international border, Line of Actual Control and Line of Control, the fragile jungle regions are bound to face further mindless destruction.

Only the anti-GM campaigners can be momentarily relieved since the government seems to be treading carefully on that path following agitations by various organizations which enjoy close connections with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The only silver lining is the inevitable resistance that civil society is going to form against such policies and the various agitations that will take place like the current one at Mahan in Madhya Pradesh. India should brace itself for yet another social revolution like the ones that spring forth worldwide these days if these megalomaniac ways of the current government is to be stopped effectively and for the nation to successfully establish an ecologically sustainable growth led development; this is our one and only hope and our most fearsome weapon.