Millennium Post

Green isn’t a lobby, unless it’s made so

Environment is certainly the pie that everyone wants a share of. With the ministry of environment and forestry now under Veerappa Moily, also the petroleum minister, things have heated up already. Not only have been pent up clearances given, including for ones as controversial as the POSCO steel plant in Odisha, but looks like the Centre has decided to wage a battle with the apex court that has ordered the union government to appoint a regulator for giving green go-aheads to projects. But the moot point is this: are we confusing environmentalism with more bureaucratic red tape, as was evident in the vicious attacks of Narendra Modi on the former MoEF Jayanthi Natarajan? If Modi’s accusations are true, Natarajan had used her lucrative portfolio to turn the green ministry into a bureaucratic hurdle, not because of serious concern for ecological issues at stake, but to charge what in Modi’s parlance has been dubbed ‘Jayanthi tax.’ A number of reports in the media as well as Natarajan’s unceremonious removal in December last year point to the minister’s being at loggerheads with the rest of the union cabinet, ostensibly over her intransigence to clear hundreds of files, with the backlog going as far back as 2011. But as is well known, Natarajan, along with the rural development minister, Jairam Ramesh, have more often than not given precedence to protocol and potential environmental impact of big mining or manufacturing projects, although whether or not the ex MoEF demanded a ‘tax’ for currying corporate favours could only be established if a probe is ordered into the workings of the ministry. Moreover, even if Natarajan’s conduct comes under a shadow of doubt, that hardly justifies the breakneck pace at which the new minister, Moily, is busy clearing mammoth projects, even at the cost of defying Supreme Court recommendations.

It is a pity that in this country green activism and sensitivity towards ecological issues are being equated with just another bureaucratic or extra-bureaucratic mechanism to stall India’s relentless growth, deliberately blind to the disastrous effects of such myopic decisions. If the mid-2013 catastrophe in Uttarakhand is any indication, neglecting environmental issues can undo decades of infrastructure investment. It is foolhardy to overlook the clauses which not only affect livelihood of millions but also directly impact the lives of the locals, negatively affecting their health and ending up displacing most, without adequate rehabilitation, or worse, even basic compensation. Hence, while it is extremely important to investigate whether there were intentional lapses and delays on the part of Natarajan to clear big-scale industrial projects, it is equally crucial to understand if the Centre is being a sellout to the big business lobby and, via Veerappa Moily, is using the accelerated clearances to shore up its dwindling chances in the coming Lok Sabha polls. Not only has Moily reversed a slew of significant decisions made by the Natarajan ministry, from the Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats to hitherto wavering stance on genetically modified crops, he has also tried allaying the definitely unscientific demand of six states on maintaining ecologically sensitive zones, thereby hiking their expectations over carrying on with environmentally damaging mining, irrespective of fallouts. Clearly, it is time to reinvent the green ministry and walk the tightrope between growth and environmental sustainability.
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