To prove Modi’s claims on India’s conservation efforts true, environment ministry needs to correct its conduct

By Rishabh Shrivastava

As the BJP government faces a serious backlash from civil society and opposition on draft environment impact assessment notification 2020, PM Modi announced a slew of green decisions that his government will implement in the coming times. On the occasion of 74th Independence Day, Narendra Modi shared several plans that the government is working on to create an environment-friendly India.

One of the key decisions that Modi announced from the ramparts of the red fort was a special campaign for ensuring clean air in 100 cities of India. He was referring to central’s National Clean Air Program (NCAP) which was launched in 2019 to arrest the problem of air pollution in India’s flourishing urban hubs. The program has set a target to reduce PM 2.5 and PM 10 by 20% to 30% by the year 2024. NCAP contains 102 cities in the list.

However, at present, the policy is faring very poorly. Out of 102 cities, 90% of the cities do not even have a financial budget for implementing clean air plans. NCAP mandates cities to formulate and implement the clean air plans.

The second key decision that Modi highlighted in his speech was the transformation of Ladakh into a carbon-neutral zone. Inspiration for this came from the mountain state of Sikkim which was recently declared as the first completely organic state in India. Sikkim became the first state in India to officially announce the adoption of organic farming in the year 2003 to ensure long term sustenance of soil fertility, protection of environment and ecology, healthy living and decreasing the risk of health ailments.

Now on the same lines, the Modi government has planned to install a mega 7.5 gigawatts (GW) solar project in Ladakh including a 900-km strategic transmission link to transport surplus power to other parts of the country. The solar project is planned to be set up in blocks of 2.5GW each, and will supply power to the residents of Leh and Kargil districts, besides defence establishments, during harsh winters, while transmitting surplus power to the rest of India.

Earlier, the center has also included Kargil and Leh under the National Smart Cities Mission. However, the experts from Ladakh worry that increased urbanization and industrial activities may not be very productive for the region. At the same time, it could deteriorate the already fragile ecological conditions.

Project Lion and Project Dolphin, two mega conservation missions that PM Modi announced on 15 August. After the success of Project Tiger, the government is encouraged to implement Project Lion for protecting Asiatic Lions and Project Dolphin for Gangetic Dolphins which were discovered in 1801.

On Project Lion, the government is yet to implement a Supreme Court order passed in 2013. The order talked about the translocation of lions from Gujarat to other parts of India. However, the government has not acted on the order so far. The order was passed by SC to protect the species from extinction in case of any epidemic. Project Lion will work on two fronts. First, it will work on protecting and addressing the challenges for the natural habitats of Lion. Second, it will address the major problem of human-wildlife conflict.

Gangetic Dolphins, which are only found in freshwater, have been placed in the ‘endangered’ category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). As per the latest assessments by some states, Assam reported 962 dolphins, UP reported 1275. Dolphins were declared national aquatic animal in 2009.

The National Ganga Council which is headed by PM is responsible for ensuring the sustainability and preservation of the Ganga ecosystem in the country. The council comprises of Chief Ministers from UP, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Jharkhand, nine Union Ministers and officials from Niti Aayog. The council has met only once since its inception in 2016. The council has been entrusted with the task to equip each and every Ganga household with sewer connection. The main objective of the council is to ensure “protection, prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution in River Ganga and its rejuvenation to its natural and pristine condition and to ensure continuous adequate flow of water”.

Despite the announcement of these measures, India’s fight against environmental destruction looks compromised and lacks accountability. The reason for it remains the callous approach of environment ministry towards environmental protection.

Modi’s cabinet colleague and India’s environment minister, Prakash Javdekar’s outreach with Draft EIA 2020 has not gone well with conservationists and green activists of the country.  In fact, states like Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh have raised their objections to the draft notification. Ministry has received 17 lakh comments from experts and activists on the draft. Similarly, several states have also raised their objections on the recent coal mining auctions proposed by the center. The move might destroy several hectares of green and reserve forests in India, along with causing hardships to India’s tribal population.

Environment ministry’s track record on granting environment clearances further dilutes the stance of the BJP government on protecting mother Earth. Civil society has been extremely vocal on the style and manner in which the ministry has fast-tracked the process of granting environmental clearances to industrial entities. This has also taken the National Green Tribunal by surprise. NGT in its recent order has observed that ministry has failed to monitor and implement the provisions of environmental clearance. NGT has directed the ministry to observe the universal principles of precautionary approach and sustainable development while discharging its constitutional duties of safeguarding the earth and its natural resources.

No matter how loud PM Modi roars about the measures he announced on 15 August, each and every word of his will be tested against the actions of the environment ministry and his government in the coming times.

(Author is Lead – Public Policy and Communications at SDC Foundation. He tweets at @Writer_Rishabh)

The Article was first published by SDC Foundation.

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