Is India on pace to be more environmentally friendly or to make the environment a business?

Being a developing country, India’s primary goal is to develop economically and environmentally, according to Prakash Javadekar, the country’s newly elected Minister for Environment and Forests [1].  In May 2014, he initiated his duties by increasing the efficiency of the EIA online system and by speeding the process of EIA approvals in India. In his first 100 days, about 240 of 325 projects received environmental clearance which had been halted by the previous government [2].

A key question arises: with the EIA notification in India having already changed more than 100 times before now [3] and with the speed of developments and Environmental Clearances sanctioned by the new government, will the objective for which the EIA process is designed be maintained or will the environment be treated as only a business?

The EIA notification in 2006 itself is important to recall here. It was a notification intervening in the 1994 notification, and gave more opportunities to the State Governments, gave rights to the funding agencies like the World Bank to implement their own methods for Environmental Clearance, reduced the public hearing procedures with the exclusion of the Panchayats (local people assembly), and much more [4]. Since then drastic changes are visible every time a new minister takes the charge.

In the last six months, the following activities occurred, boosting up development and focusing on the protection of the Environment.

  • In July 2014, an online system was initiated for the submission and the monitoring of forest clearance projects. [5]

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Online system initiation and designation as a Business. [11]

  • In December 2014, a notification was issued where the Environment Ministry exempted the building of schools, colleges, industrial sheds etc., up to an area of 150,000m2 from needing a prior clearance for construction [6].
  • On January 21, 2015 approximately 50 utility projects including railways, roadways, power, irrigation etc were given a speedy clearance.[7]
  • In January, 2015 US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi teamed up to combat climate change and support India’s ambition in the excellent project of huge investment in the renewable energy sector[8].
  • Investment of 100 billion dollars in clean energy projects achieving Sustainable development.
  • Many other projects have been in the pipeline like the cleaning of the river Ganga in next five years [9], stringent air pollution norms, stringent norms for the industries, and the list goes on.

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Suggestions to be amendments or new laws [12]

Based on these rapid developments and changes, there are some concerns among people. “We were in trouble with the last government and we are in even more trouble with this government. Rather than try to reform the system, they are picking at the edges.” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) [10].

The new political party coming in force in India is bringing huge changes within a short period of time concerning the development of the country, along with the protection of the environment and towards sustainable development. There is much more to come as time passes. But, within this context, somewhere the question remains unsolved: Will this pace of development with upcoming and future projects, rapid clearances of projects and attention driven approaches, change the main objective and the purpose for which assessment of impacts and clearances of projects are carried out?  Or will it move in the right direction?

References:

[1] Singh N. (2014, September 11). Javadekar clears all files in 100 Days. Is Modi Ministry Compromising on Environment? International Business Times. Retrieved on January 24, 2015 from http://www.ibtimes.co.in/javadekar-clears-all-files-100-days-modi-ministry-compromising-environment-608875

[2]Chauhan C..(2014, September 11). Prakash Javadekar clears 240 projects in 3 months. Hindustan Times. Retrieved on January 10, 2015 from http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/on-fast-track-environment-minister-prakash-javadekar-clears-240-projects-in-3-months/article1-1262676.aspx

[3] Chauhan C..(2013, November 11). Environment Impact Assessment changed 100 times in less than 7 years. Hindustan Times. Retrieved on January 26, 2015 from  http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/environment-impact-assessment-changed-100-times-in-less-than-7-years/article1-1149633.aspx

[4] Lemmer, J. A. (2006). Cleaning Up Development: EIA in Two of the World’s Largest and Most Rapidly Developing Countries. Geo. Int’l Envtl. L. Rev., 19, 275.

[5] ET Bureau..(2014, July 16). Environment ministry unveils online system for submission and monitoring of forest clearance proposals. Industry ,The Economic Times. Retrieved on February 1, 2015  from http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/environment-ministry-unveils-online-system-for-submission-and-monitoring-of-forest-clearance-proposals/articleshow/38447247.cms

[6] Dhoot V.( 2015, January 6). Make in India: Government removes arbitrary environmental clearance to facilitate projects. Policy, The Economic Times. Retrieved on January 30, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-06/news/57748024_1_environment-ministry-clearance-environment-management

[7] PTI. (2015, January 21). Over 50 public utility projects get Environment Ministry panel nod, Infrastructure. The Economic Times. Retrieved  on February 3, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-21/news/58306062_1_lac-environment-ministry-general-approval

[8] ET Bureau. (2015, January 26). Obama in India: PM Narendra Modi, Barack Obama strike alliance on climate change; air pollution, renewable energy focus areas. Politics and Nation, The Economic Times. Retrieved on February 3, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-26/news/58470064_1_climate-change-navroz-dubash-climate-talks

[9] PTI. (2015, January 21). Ganga will transform in five years: Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. Politics and Nation, The Economic Times. Retrieved  on February 3, 2015 from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-03/news/57633790_1_ganga-river-clean-ganga-campaign-environment-ministry

[10] Reuters. (2014, October 10). India Approves Projects In Dash For Growth, Alarming Green Groups. International Business Times. Retrieved on January 30, 2015 from http://www.ibtimes.com/india-approves-projects-dash-growth-alarming-green-groups-1702680

[11] Mohan V. (2014, June 6). Green clearances go online with time limits for approvals. The Times of India. Retrieved on January 26, 2015 from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Green-clearances-go-online-with-time-limits-for-approvals/articleshow/36118057.cms

[12] Mohan V. (2015, January 5). Govt moots ideas to sync green norms with growth. ET Auto.com, An initiative of the Economic Times, Retrieved  on February 5, 2015 from http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/auto/news/policy/govt-moots-ideas-to-sync-green-norms-with-growth/articleshow/45756396.cms

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