Environment has always been a sensitive issue. Some people have claimed that environmental concerns are detrimental to growth. Environmentalists, meanwhile, always accuse the government of ignoring their concerns. What are your priorities?
The coffee-table idea that defines environmental concerns as detrimental to growth is actually damaging development globally. Both components are dependent on each other. So, I don’t agree with this notion that environmental concerns are detrimental to growth. This is fundamentally wrong.
Under the previous government, there were several instances of corruption with regards to environmental clearances. What measures have you initiated to enhance transparency?
I am a person who never looks back. Whatever has happened in past, you cannot change it. Responding to these allegations is a waste of time. The time period for environmental clearances for projects has been brought down from 600 to 190 days and will be further reduced to 100 days to provide ease of doing ‘responsible’ business. We also think that every file must have a deadline. Top officials must stick to the deadline. They should also know where and how much time it took to process the final clearance. Besides that, officials have to also specify the process, which is the only way to make the system or process more transparent. I will do my best to achieve this end.
Many coal mines auctioned by your government have still not received clearances from the Ministry. What are you doing about it?
The government will surely look into it. It also depends on some terms and conditions, which require a final clearance. So, as of now, it is difficult to give a layered opinion. The rest is up to the Ministry of Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy, and Mines. And I think the Minister of States (I/C) Sri Piyush Goyal will be the right person to present answers.
Massive real-estate development has wreaked havoc in hill areas like Uttarakhand. Is your Ministry preparing a comprehensive plan to tackle this problem?
In Uttarakhand, the state government must take the responsibility of investigating this massive surge in real estate development. The state government is accountable. As far as the Ministry is concerned, if any action violates the environment or its policies, it is brought to our knowledge and we take stringent action. Our government is making the necessary corrections in environmental laws and policies.
In hill areas, there are different problems. These problems require different solutions. First of all, raw materials are not available. Secondly, the available materials are a hazard to the environment in some ways. The rest is brought from other places. The Ministry is looking into the matter and will come up with a solution. Right technology and correct policies are required for both infrastructure development, as well as housing development for hill areas.
There are allegations that the government is diluting environmental laws to facilitative quick industrial growth. Forest governance is witnessing a shift from a people-centric approach to industry-centric approach. How do you handle this challenge?
As I have already mentioned, this is a wrong notion. Our government believes in equality. The facilities and infrastructure present in urban areas should also be available to people living in rural India. They also deserve roads, proper transportation, water supply, power, and other facilities like us. Unfortunately, these are called anti-environment activities by some people who enjoy all the facilities. I call it “people-centric”. Every individual from either metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata or remote areas of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu should be provided for. Then the sewage or drainage systems of all cities should be organised and managed so as to not pollute rivers. Is it possible?
This is not a fight between environment activists and developers. This is a battle of perceptions.
(Simontini Bhattacharjee is a Correspondent with Millennium Post.)