Early into its second term, the record of the environment ministry under the Modi Government came under scrutiny in the Rajya Sabha y'day, in a debate between opposition MP Jairam Ramesh and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar
Caught between its promises of development, and the need to protect the environment, it has been no secret that the environment ministry would always have a tough task. That was the reminder the environment Minister Mr Prakash Javadekar was delivered yesterday, in a stinging rebuke from Jairam Ramesh, Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.
Mr Ramesh, a former environment minister himself told the Environment Minister that his “job is not to clear projects, it is to protect environment”.
The message comes at a time when the widely held view is that the environment ministry, in its zeal to be seen as a development friendly ministry, has regularly gone out of its way to’simplify’ rules for environmental approvals, or frame rules to benefit industry, even as industry has frequently let down everyone by its patchy adherence to those very rules.
“My basic question is- how can you be serious on climate change if you are going to be liberalising all your environmental policies, you are weakening Forest Conservation Act, neglecting the Forest Rights Act, you are liberalising [the] Coastal Regulation Zone…” said Mr Ramesh
“Job of Environment Minister is not to clear projects. Job of an Environment Minister is to protect the environment,” Mr. Ramesh said, adding that to deal with climate change, some hard decisions would need to be taken that could clash with the ease of doing business. Unfortunately, this might simply remind people of the other extreme the environment ministry had gone to during UPA rule, especially in the period between 2022-2014, when it was headed by a colleague of Mr Ramesh. As Mr Javadekar regularly likes to remind people, the ministry was known as the ‘roadblock or tax’ ministry at that time. With the unsaid insinuation that most of the collections were not even going to the government.
In his reply, Mr. Javadekar listed the steps taken on climate change. He said 33 States and Union Territories had prepared their climate action plan. “India will also work towards creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030,” he added.
The Minister said the “emission intensity of GDP” had decreased by 21% in 2014, when compared with 2005 levels, thereby “already achieving our voluntary pre-2020 goal of reducing emission intensity by 20-25% from 2005 levels by 2020”.
With big pledges on a major shift to renewables, Electric vehicles, and even ban on single use plastics coming up for key deadlines in the coming 2-3 years, the multiple agencies involved make it clear that the environment ministry will have many scapegoats to blame if misses happen.
What is probably not acceptable is the absolutely weak will that has been shown when it comes to local but relevant issues like tree culling, monitoring the quality of the Environment Impact Assessment Reports being used for approvals, or adequate local representation in key decision making.
Water conservation and pollution, forests, sand mining, air pollution and many more are issues that have been lobbed between too many government agencies with very little positive news to show, and the environment minister does need to wonder if he doesn’t want his legacy to bear at least something in these life and death matters too.