Two years of NDA government have meant a mixed bag for environmental governance in India, according to a performance review by the non-profit Centre for Science and Environment, While there was commendable progress on pollution control and waste management, forest governance took on a more industry-centric approach and the Paris Agreement was a missed opportunity.
The government has stepped up action on environmental concerns such as pollution, but retains a myopic view of natural resource management and strengthening of institutions
- No significant departure (from the previous government) in environmental clearances granted. For forest clearances, average rate of forestland diversion has reduced.
- Measures taken to ease clearances, but no improvement in enforcement to protect environment and interests of local communities.
- Significant measures adopted to improve pollution standards and monitoring for industrial sectors. Focus on technology-based mechanisms and self-regulation, but nothing being done to strengthen institutions
- Some important steps taken to deal with urban air pollution, but no comprehensive action plan yet.
- Giving rural populations access to LPG connections a major step towards reducing household air pollution and protecting health, particularly of women.
- Swachh Bharat Mission’s focus remains on building toilets, which is clearly not sufficient to make India clean.
- “Namami Gange” programme for cleaning and rejuvenating Ganga has seen little action on ground, despite huge money outlay and plans.
- Forest governance is witnessing a gradual shift from a people-centric approach to a more industry-centric and technocratic approach.
- The government’s renewed emphasis on climate change offers a mixed bag of hope. But post-Paris, phasing down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) remains a matter to be tested as far as the government’s commitment is concerned in bypassing multinational industry’s interests which is keen to sell hydrofluoroolefins (HFO) – a patented synthetic chemical.
New Delhi, June 14, 2016: With the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government entering its third year in power, the New Delhi-based public research and advocacy think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), has reviewed and analysed the government on measures of environmental governance, particularly as undertaken by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). CSE released the analysis here today.
“The NDA government has taken some important steps towards improving the way we manage our environment and our resources. At the same time, some of the big steps that it has initiated are in the danger of remaining mere half-measures if a course correction is not carried out immediately. The CSE analysis is perhaps the first detailed assessment done in the country which examines the government’s record after two years in terms of environment,” says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.
The key trends, as discovered by CSE
- No significant difference between NDA government and its predecessor (UPA-II) with respect to environmental clearances (EC) granted for key sectors. For forest clearances (FC), the average rate of forestland diversion has reduced when compared to UPA-II. The rejection rate of projects continues to be very low: rejection of projects coming up in wildlife sanctuaries and national parks has reduced under the NDA government.
- The mining and infrastructure sector remains a focus of green clearances. More than 300 projects (new and expansion) combining coal and non-coal mining have been given ECs by the NDA government in its two years in power. Among these are 68 coal mining projects. Similarly for FCs, the highest share of total forestland diversion is for mining projects — of about 47,473 hectares of land diverted (combining in-principle and final approvals), 29 per cent is for mining.
“There is a tendency to ease clearances through incremental changes without making any improvements in the provisions for enforcement,” says Chandra Bhushan. The CSE analysis emphasises that changes made in the green clearances is largely to ease the clearance process and increase transparency. But this is not helping the ecology as many projects have been cleared in ecologically sensitive and critically polluted areas.
Sunita Narain, director general, CSE says: “The undermining of people’s participation in green clearances is also worrisome. The NDA government continues to dilute the public hearing process.”
Pollution control and monitoring
Several positive measures with respect to pollution control and monitoring have been proposed which are commendable, shows CSE’s analysis. For instance, pollution standards have been tightened for many industrial sectors such as coal-based power plants and sugar.
Bhushan adds: “The government is banking on technology-based mechanisms and self-regulation by industries for enforcing the regulatory provisions. A key example is the continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS). If implemented properly, these measures will certainly help control pollution. However, this has not been complimented by efforts to strengthen regulatory institutions. Experience from the world over shows that ‘self-regulation’ and ‘technology-enabled monitoring’ requires strong institutions to deliver results.”
Air pollution and transportation
Significant measures include the implementation of air quality index, leapfrogging to Euro VI emissions standards in 2020 to lower the gap between emissions standards for diesel and petrol cars, and levying an infrastructure cess on all cars on the sliding scale of pollution potential. “However, the government needs to come up with comprehensive action plans to optimally realise their potentials,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, CSE.
“The government’s proactiveness to extend LPG connections among the rural poor and households below the poverty line is another welcome move,” adds Anumita. “The clean fuel option if extended effectively will significantly reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution in rural areas and improve the health of rural women.”
The six waste management Rules notified by the government covering the areas of solid, plastic, electronic, bio-medical, hazardous, and construction and demolition (C&D) waste, are indicative of the importance the NDA places on this issue. The CSE analysis shows that most of the Rules have been significantly improved from their earlier versions; the C&D Rules have been brought in for the first time.
Some key improvements include separation of various kinds of waste at source for better treatment and management and encouraging reuse and recycle. “The opportunity is there, therefore it must be ensured that these Rules are properly implemented to fulfil their potential,” says Narain. “Formal integration of the informal sector remains crucial,” she adds.
However, with regard to the progress of the government’s flagship programme Swachh Bharat Mission, Narain says: “So far, the success of the programme has been around building toilets which will clearly not be enough. There is very little focus on managing the waste from these toilets which, if not handled properly, can contaminate ground and surface water.”
In the area of solid waste management, the plan is to achieve 100 per cent management in a phased manner over the five-year period. So far, only 23 percent of this target has been achieved.
Cleaning the Ganga
“Despite an outlay of Rs 20,000 crore for five years till 2019 for cleaning the Ganga, and several promising plans, on-ground action for cleaning and rejuvenating the river remains far from satisfactory,” says Narain on this crucial intervention of the NDA regime.
The CSE analysis shows that so far, the government has met only three of its 13-point agenda for cleaning the river — these are cleaning the river surface and ghats, creation of a Ganga task force and creation of Ganga grams (model villages) along the main stem of the river. In addition to this, none of the 21 proposals sanctioned since July 2014 for cleaning the river (according to the National Mission for Clean Ganga) have been implemented.
Forests remain a key focus of the reform initiatives of the government. But these initiatives seem restrictive in comprehensively addressing the issue of forest management.
“There is a suggestive trend of shifting from a people-centric to a more industry-centric and technocratic approach,” says Bhushan. For instance, a major effort of the government remains focused on unlocking the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF), the corpus of which currently stands at Rs 42,000 crore. The CAF Bill 2015 was cleared by the Lok Sabha in May 2016. If properly used through robust planning and accountability, this outlay has a tremendous potential to improve the state of forests as well as the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities, says Bhushan. However, the Bill as drafted has several limitations, as per CSE’s analysis. A key concern remains that it does not have any scope for participation of local communities.
Proposed measures for forest conservation and management are also focused on increasing forest cover, without emphasising equally on improving biodiversity and productivity of forests. Neither do these measures ensure forest benefits to local communities. “These approaches will neither be able to ensure overall improvement in quality of our forests, nor their sustainable use by people,” says Bhushan.
On the climate change front, the government’s engagement “offers a mixed scenario”, says Bhushan. The Climate Change Conference (COP 21) held in December 2015 in Paris has largely remained a lost opportunity. “The agreement remained largely one for the big polluters, where no targets have been set for developed countries to cut emissions,” says Bhushan. “On the other hand, India lost the opportunity to exert the ‘right of development’ of the world’s poor.”
And even though India could get the words ‘equity’ and ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ (CBDR) included in the agreement, there is no elaboration on how these terms can be operationalised. Similarly, terms like ‘climate justice,’ ‘sustainable lifestyles,’ and ‘consumption’ also remain merely as feel-good factors, as they are only mentioned in the preamble and not in the operational part of the agreement, say CSE researchers.
In the Montreal Protocol, India has now agreed to negotiate in amending the Protocol to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The success of the amendment will depend mainly on the government’s commitment to bypass the interests of the industry, which wants to benefit by selling an intermediate synthetic chemical called hydrofluoroolefin (HFO).
On the domestic front, there are hopeful signs of climate change adaptation through insurance schemes to safeguard farmers. The government has also increased the ambition of renewable energy – 100 gigawatt (GW) for solar and 75 GW for other renewables by 2022 — that can be helpful in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.