World Environment Day: all gas no action

Every year the world celebrates June 5 as the World Environment Day. The day is marked with lot of rhetoric about saving the environment but action on ground is negligible.

This is stark reality in the Indian context. The government makes tall claims on saving the environment but it pursue policies purely for environmental destruction.

The latest example of this phenomenon is the environment ministry turning into a clearing house for proposals in country’s finest forest and wildlife reserves with scant regard for protecting the nature for future generations.

The ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee had cleared proposals in dense forests of Saranda in Jharkhand, in tiger and elephant corridors in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand and is pushing for approving the Posco steel project in Orissa.

It has happened as FAC does not have a hardcore environmentalist as a member anymore. The so-called independent members in the FAC are government agents to push projects instead of playing a proactive role to strike a balance between growth and environment protection. The latest FAC has found ways to overturn the decisions of past forest committee having real environmentalists on flimsy grounds.

Environmental activism in India witnessed an upsurge when Jairam Ramesh became environment minister in 2009. In a short span of time, he realised that activism cannot work before powerful industrial lobbies working from top government offices. He was repeatedly under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to clear the projects forcing him to issue lengthy speaking orders to clarify his position.

The change of guard at the ministry resulted in slow demise of the activism and return of the old days – when projects were cleared under the vault of secrecy.

In its four years, the UPA-2 government has not been able to deliver even on a single environmental promise. There is no forward movement on creation of Indian version of the Environment Protection Agency of the United States or making environmental impact assessment for projects professional. The proposals on cumulative impact assessment of major river basins and wetlands are also heading for slow death.

Wildlife protection remains in limbo with most population of the major species except tigers and elephants dwindling. There are not more than 200 Great Indian Bustards left in wild but the government is not alarmed. India does not have data on other endangered species such as vultures and plethora of birds and animals, indicating our policy inertia towards environment.

On the other hand, the UPA years have witnessed series of mining scams from Goa to Karnataka to Orissa to Chhattisgarh. India’s natural resources have been looted to such an extent that one of the finest green zones are now dark spots of environmental degradation.

On this year’s environment day I have no hope left for bright future of environment under the present dispensation as I know that there would be mere rhetoric from the political class without action. A sad day for all for whom environment is close to their heart.

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