Are we heading towards ecological and social suicide?

The revived lake in Valni village, Nagpur
The revived lake in Valni village, Nagpur

In the article titled 'A hundred days closer to ecological and social suicide' published in the Economic and Political Weekly, the author argues that the recent changes in the government do not seem to have helped in changing the environmental policies of the country. Rather, they reflect regressive actions that could lead to a large-scale assault on rules, laws and institutions meant to protect the environment.

This is obvious in the following actions undertaken by the new government:

  • Slashing of the budget for the Ministry of Environment and Forests and dilution of environmental laws and proceedures
  • Emphasis on investment and growth
  • Clearing environmental projects without undertaking proper environmental impact assessment studies or public hearings at local sites
  • Diluting existing laws and norms such as delinking forest clearance from the green clearance given by National Board for Wildlife for projects around tiger reserves, national parks and sanctuaries
  • Relaxing procedures under the Forest Conservation Act
  • Doing away with the need for public hearings for coal mines
  • Exempting irrigation projects affecting less than 2,000 hectares from environmental clearances, and allowing state governments to clear those affecting 10,000 hectares
  • Lifting the ban on new industries and expansion of existing industries that MOEFCC had issued for 43 of India’s most “critically polluted clusters”

Further, there are more regressive actions coming up that include:

  • Control of the National Green Tribunal by the government
  • The Forest Rights Act increasingly being seen as a hurdle for quick clearances of projects
  • Modifications in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCLARR), 2013
  • Restrictive strategies used in reviewing environmental laws

The paper informs that a committee has been set up to review five environmental laws (Environment (Protection) Act, Wildlife (Protection) Act, Forest (Conservation) Act, and Water and Air Pollution Prevention and Control Acts), and it has been given two months to review the implementation of these Acts. However, there appears to be no clear mandate on the reason for the amendments, no civil society members have been appointed on the committee, and no known environmental law experts included in the committee.

The report and interview with TSR Subramanium has been released following this paper, which indeed at first glance reveals that the report seems to place emphasis on a kind of top-down centralised, authoritarian and bureaucratic sort of implementation of environmental laws. This seems to discourage or at times appear to be abrasive about considering alternative points of views, rights of people, grievances of the local people involved and seemingly tries aggressively to push its own agenda forward.

The author argues this kind of an ambitious growth-at-all-costs agenda not only brings about so called development with the environment and ecosystem-dependent communities as its casualties, but also affects democratic governance. Those resisting or opposing displacement, dispossession,and ecological damage are gradually silenced once they start hurting the interests of industry and the state. The author says that the only hope that now remains is initiatives from the civil society. And civil society’s greatest contribution in these times should be to understand, document, spread, support, and help network these resistance and reconstruction movements.

A copy of the paper can be downloaded below.