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Green ministry or green signal?
By Pandurang Hegde



During the last eight years of UPA rule, nation's precious natural capital has been exploited at an unprecedented scale on the pretext of ensuring faster economic growth. Now when the GDP growth rate is going downhill, who will compensate the permanent loss to environment for temporary gains?


The UPA govt has been an utter failure in protecting environment

After Maneka Gandhi, Jairam Ramesh was hailed as the real ‘green minister’ holding charge of the Ministry of Environment and Forests at the centre. He was appointed to the ministry during UPA II regime and after successful stint he was promoted to the Rural Development ministry.

As the present UPA government completes the eighth year in office, it is time to evaluate how it has fared in implementing the green policies. Has it been able to protect and conserve the natural capital of the nation?

The appointment of Jairam Ramesh in 2009 did bring in some fresh air into the otherwise morbid Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). He initiated steps that brought in transparency into the working and decision making process in the MoEF. He also tried to involve the affected communities, trying to implement some of the Acts that were instrumental in protection of natural resources like forests and water. The Forest Rights Act was pro active legislation to help the forest dwelling communities. He gave the impression as if he was the saviour of country’s natural resources and the interest of nature’s capital would remain in safe hands.

Ironically, it was Jairam Ramesh who gave the clearances to the biggest destructive projects like POSCO in Orissa, Lavasa in Maharashtra and Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in the coastal district of Ratnagiri, also in Maharashtra. The green signal was given without adhering to the stipulated environmental norms and statues.

The recent orders of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh stated that the MoEF officials behaved like meek lambs being taken to slaughter house while approving the cement project under consideration in violation of all the laws. This reveals the truth behind the “green” minister, who was not only meek, but had to follow the diktats of other ministries and protect the corporate interests, ignoring the interests of environment. The ‘green rhetoric’ did not match with the reality. The only saving grace was the series of public consultations across the country on Genetically Modified (GM) Food crops and the temporary moratorium that he announced.

Ironically, it was Jairam Ramesh who gave the clearances to the biggest destructive projects like POSCO in Orissa, Lavasa in Maharashtra and Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in the coastal district of Ratnagiri, also in Maharashtra. The green signal was given without adhering to the stipulated environmental norms and statues.

The other Green Minister

The appointment of present Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, was done with the sole intention of toning down the heat generated by her predecessor. Even after a year in the office, most people can not recall as to who heads the MoEF. Once the vocal spokesperson of Congress Party, Mrs Natarajan is rarely articulate enough to address the serious problems afflicting the ministry.

But she is doing her job silently, approving those projects, which were rejected by Forest Advisory Committee. Recently she decided to withhold the publication of the report of Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by Madhav Gadgil. When the Right to Information application forced her Ministry to put this in public domain, she took the issue to Delhi High Court, defending her decision to withhold the report that it would adversely affect ‘the scientific and economic interest of the state’!

The Delhi High Court categorically dismissed the case and ordered to put the report in public domain. This episode reveals the secretive nature of the Ministry, lacking transparency at every level.

Ritwick Dutta, a Delhi based Lawyer fighting on environmental issues points out, “Going by the track record of one year, Jayanthi Natrarajan is truly a ‘Green Minister’. She has ensured that a green signal is given to every single ecologically destructive project in the country. As it is evident, she is unlikely to lose her ‘green’ tag in the Ministry.”

The National Green Tribunal has to function without proper infrastructure and the government is scuttling it through meagre financial allocation. Obviously, this indicates the parochial mindset of our rulers who are least interested in delivering the environmental justice to the common people.

The only saving grace of this government is the functioning of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). It is a judicial and technical body expected to deliver environmental justice to those citizens and communities who are adversely affected due to the arbitrary decisions of the MoEF and the overall lack of compliance of the environmental laws. In its functioning for the past eight months, it has delivered record 76 judgments from across the country. It has shown ‘red signal’ to the green clearances granted by MoEF, especially the controversial POSCO project.

Nevertheless, alarmed by these anti government judgments of NGT, the central government is trying to scuttle the functioning of this new institution. The NGT has to function without proper infrastructure and the government is scuttling it through meagre financial allocation. Obviously, this indicates the parochial mindset of our rulers who are least interested in delivering the environmental justice to the common people.

These ground truths of environmental governance prove that the eight years old UPA regime has failed to protect the interests of the communities that depend on forests and natural resources. The natural resources like soil, seed, water and land are for sale. The corporate interests have gained control over natural resources siphoning off the profits form nature’s capital.

The implementation of the Nuclear Liability bill and the passing of the Biotechnology Regulatory Act will be the last nails on the country’s energy and food security. It seems the agenda of the UPA II is to precisely achieve this dubious goal in the remaining tenure.

The precious natural resources of our country are not only depleting, but the rivers are getting more polluted and the soil is being poisoned. The mounting waste form cities and toxic materials are threatening the life support systems. The nation needs some drastic actions to halt this process of degradation.

The Green Ministry and the people who are in charge of the current government have failed to provide succour to the communities as well as to the environment which is under seize.

 
Disclaimer:
The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.
 

Pandurang Hegde  |  appiko@gmail.com

Pandurang Hegde is a farmer, environmentalist and writer based in Sirsi town in Karnataka. He is well known for launching the Appiko movement which played a key role in protecting many forests from the axe in the Western Ghats region.

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 Other Articles by Pandurang Hegde in
Environment Development  > Conservation > National Policies and Programmes

Rio+20: Listen to communities
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

We can not save the Mother Earth by allowing the corporate sector to take the lead in shaping the 'green economy'. The green policies must be based on the voices of communities, indigenous people and people's movements. But the question is whether the world leaders are willing to listen and pay heed to the wisdom of common people?

When the will is weak
Saturday, June 04, 2011

Celebrating the World Environment Day is meaningless if political leadership does not back their words with actions. To save our precious natural resources, we need leaders with broader vision and commitment required to protect the environment. Unfortunately, the current lot lacks the vision and strength necessary to act decisively for the cause of Nature.
 
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The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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