India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar has been constantly in news, and not always for the right reasons. Under fire for diluting environmental protection mechanisms, critics have in the past labelled him ‘minister for environmental clearances’ for favouring industry over the environment. As the Narendra Modi government completes two years, here’s a look at Javadekar’s chequered record.
FULL COVERAGE: Modi government’s environmental record
Q. How do you see your ministry’s work of the past two years?
There are three-four major areas where we have got good success. First is that forest cover of India has increased by 3500 kilometers and mangroves have increased by 100 square kilometers. Now we are unlocking 42000 crore rupees that will have impact of more afforestation. And we are incentivizing tree cover outside forests. We are moving towards our target of increasing forest cover to 33% of country’s land from the current 21%.
Second, we are now better monitoring the pollution. Pollution load from many industries have reduced because we have made the pollution norms more stringent for 20 industries like cement, textile, thermal, paper and pulp and many other industries. We are monitoring it through 24/7 monitoring mechanism. We have mandated all the polluting industries to install 24/7 monitoring census on their chimneys and effluent discharge points. The are generating alerts. That’s a good beginning.
Third major achievement is the ministry which was perceived as a roadblock ministry, we have made it transparent by making the process online. Instead of concentrating the entire power in the ministry, we have decentralized the power at 10 regional centers. So, all the important projects of roads, rails etc are cleared at the regional level itself. So, we have been able to clear 2000 projects which has unlocked 10,00,000 crore of investment. That’s a big thing. The process of environment clearance which used to take 600 days earlier, we have brought down to 190 days. We are going to bring it down to 100 days. With proper appraisal and proper environmental conditions, we can achieve that target by standardization, decentralization and transparency.
Q. You claim there is an increase in the forest cover. But the data of the Forest Survey of India show massive deforestation in natural forests in the past 10-12 years. Increase in plantations outside forests are masking loss of biodiversity-rich natural forests.
See, for last 10 years, one thing happened in this country. Funds meant for afforestation have not been used for afforestation. They were locked up in legal tangle and in the banks. That is what the CAMPA Bill is unlocking and that is why all the parties and all the states supported it in Lok Sabha. I am very sure Rajya Sabha will also pass it Unanimously. And therefore some kind of deforestation that we have seen in forest areas will now get rectified. Our target is to convert degraded forests into moderately dense forests and moderately dense forests into dense forests. And yes, we want to incentivise plantation outside forests. Because our forest land is only 21 per cent. Our target is to bring forest into 33 per cent land. How can we achieve this? Only by incentivizing plantation outside forests.
Watch | Prakash Javadekar on tiger conservation
Q. There is also a scheme of bringing private companies into afforestation. Concerns are raised by environmentalists that consent of tribals will not be taken for such plantations.
No. Never. It is actually the empowerment of tribals. It will improve the habitats of tribals. They will get employment for doing so. This will enrich India. It will help in creating carbon sink. Wherever there is a public hearing required by the law, we are doing it. There is no compromise on tribal welfare and tribal and forest-dwellers’ rights.
Q. You said India should take its time for implementing the Paris Agreement. What do you want to wait for?
We don’t want to wait. We have already signed the agreement. We will be ratifying it in due course. But the Paris agreement starts implementation from 2020. What developed world will do between 2016 and 2020, that is the question we are raising. And we are saying there can’t be an action holiday for five years. Five years should be affectively used and developed world must ratify their second commitment period of Kyoto, and those who are not part of this agreement like US and Japan, Canada, Australia, they must declare their ambitious targets for five years. That is all our demand is.
Q. You have said that almost 90 per cent of the work of approval work for projects is being done by the state.
Yes, in forest issues. But without compromising on any environmental condition. Actually, the environmental conditions have been made more stringent. There is state participation; there are officials and experts, all together. It’s an interstate mechanism we have created for the empowerment of the states.
Q. You saying the environmental conditions have been made more stringent, but the changes in the regulation show they are dilutions of environmental safeguards.
No, that may be your interpretation. I don’t agree with that. We have made pollution norms more stringent for 20 industries. We are building the eco-bridge for the first time in the country for the four-laning of highway near Kanha (Tiger Reserve). For 70 years nobody did that… only lip service to the wildlife. We are providing eco-bridge to the tigers and for the wildlife. The forest will be below and the wildlife will passing from above with a natural habitat. That’s a great achievement. And we are making it more stringent.
Q. You talk about decentralization but at the same time there have been attempts by the ministry to dilute the Gram Sabha’s consent requirements for various projects under FRA.
Q. For the linear projects, it had been done. There has been correspondence between your ministry and the tribal affairs ministry which shows this.
No. No. that is wrong. Let me tell you we are not diluting any forest rights. Modi government is actually committed for the empowerment of tribals.
We aren’t diluting forest rights: Javadekar
Nihar Gokhale, Catch News
In these two years, Javadekar has been busy negotiating the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, and overhauling environmental policies to suit the government’s pro-business image. Javadekar’s ministry has transferred many responsibilities to states, which has drawn both admiration and criticism. Despite insisting that it has become more transparent, two recent orders by the central information commission have rapped the ministry for not sharing important reports with the public. In this conversation with Catch, Javadekar says his government wants to trust states more but defends the decision to keep the reports confidential for a while.
Projects pending for forest area violations may now get a go ahead from Prakash Javadekar’s ministry
Anubhuti Vishnoi, The Economic Times
For Prakash Javadekar’s environment ministry, Jairam Ramesh’s go/no-go policy is a no-go, at least for now. And that means some high-profile/high investment projects, currently held up because of possible forest area violations, may get a go-ahead. At least 10% of major pending projects, including the Rs 24,000-crore Rio Tinto diamond mining project in Madhya Pradesh , will benefit. So will around a third of the 800 coal blocks that can be developed.
Centre’s decentralisation of power is a facade
Ritwick Dutta, Deccan Herald
According to a Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) document released in 2015, “Towards Transparency and Good Governance,” the devolution of powers has resulted in nearly 92% of the approvals being granted by the state governments. Ever since the present NDA government came to power, the MoEF has taken a series of steps towards what it claims is “decentralisation” of powers from the Centre to the state and local levels. This is part of the Central government’s overall focus on good governance. However, in the process of so called decentralisation, the crucial question that arises is, whether the Central government is abdicating its constitutional responsibility with respect to the environment.
CIC asks Javadekar to release ‘suppressed’ coastal zone report
Nihar Gokhale, Catch News
Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar’s office has been instructed to make public an expert committee report that his ministry has been “suppressing” for over a year. In a significant order, the Central Information Commission, on 13 May, came down heavily on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for denying an Right to Information (RTI) applicant a report submitted by the Shailesh Nayak high-level committee in early 2015. The CIC has instructed Javadekar’s office to make the report public. This was done because during the proceedings before the CIC, it transpired that the report was submitted to the minister, and was lying with him.