Even as the floodwaters in ravaged Jammu and Kashmir show first signs of receding, it’s the turn of Assam to feel the brunt of a lopsided monsoon, decades of environmental degradation and an utterly inept water harvesting mechanism. With J&K facing the worst floods in over a century, right after huge swathes of Odisha were drowned under rainy fury, the situation has only aggravated with the northeastern state now under the radar.
Cities and towns are fighting tooth and nail against ferocious, sudden bursts of rain, while inefficient drainage system and reckless real estate boom have resulted in both unprecedented floods and long spells of drought-like conditions in northern, central, western and southern parts of the country. Like Srinagar, which saw even the robustly built Army cantonment deluged, Guwahati is reeling under excessive rain. It is evident that not only the authorities, including the union government and the ministry of environment, are giving a deaf ear to the urgent screams of help from nature, they are, in fact, actively pushing the agenda of a myopic and profit-sharking private sector that is neither interested in making long-term, ecologically sustainable commitments, nor are pitching in contribute to the relief operations necessary after the periodic bouts of absolute devastation.
It is as if no lessons have been learnt from the spectacular destruction from last year’s Uttarakhand episode, and even a regime change in the centre hasn’t effected any noticeable betterment as far as tackling climate change and associated catastrophes is concerned.
In fact, if there has been a palpable shift, it is towards even more heedless and clandestine sanctions for dubious private sector projects that have plunder written all over them. As India reels under unpredictable monsoons and a completely offtrack water management and drainage system, as our lands are increasingly eyed as cauldrons to boil the ever more odious broth of real estate, mining and polluting industries, the Parakash Javadekar-led ministry of environment has shown an unbelievable alacrity at clearing all kinds of ‘development projects’ that reek of more pollution, displacement and dislocation of forest dwelling people.
In barely three months, the ministry has introduced significant changes in environment legislations: such as, discarding a provision of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 that requires ‘prior informed consent’ of community before their forest land is cleared for industrial purposes; deflating the National Board of Wildlife by getting rid of independent experts; exempting coal mining from public hearings; sanctioning irrigation projects affecting less than 2,000 hectares, thus playing havoc with the already choked riverine systems.
In addition, the union ministry has also substantially curbed the powers of the National Green Tribunal, while plans to review existing legislations pertaining to environment are afoot. While PM Modi talks of smart cities, looks like he has conveniently sidelined the ecological imperatives.