Two years of environmental governance
Although the Narendra Modi government has done well on pollution standards and monitoring, it needs to do much more on green clearances, forestry and its flagship schemes on sanitation, and the Ganga
As the BJP-led NDA government embarks on its third year in office, the public research and advocacy think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), has come up with an analysis (released recently) on measures of environmental governance, particularly as undertaken by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. While the Narendra Modi dispensation has taken some important steps towards improving the way we manage our environment and resources, some of the big steps that it has initiated are in the danger of remaining mere half-measures if a course correction is not carried out straightaway.
There is no significant difference between NDA government and its predecessor, UPA-II, with respect to environmental clearances (ECs) granted for key sectors. For forest clearances (FCs), the average rate of forestland diversion has reduced when compared to UPA-II. The rejection rate of projects continues to be very low; rejection of projects coming up in wildlife sanctuaries and national parks has, however, reduced under the current regime. The mining and infrastructure sector remains a focus of green clearances. Over 300 projects (new and expansion) combining coal and non-coal mining have been given ECs by the government in its two years in power. Among these are 68 coal mining projects. Similarly for FCs, the highest share of total forestland diversion is for mining projects – of about 47,473 hectares of land diverted (combining in- principle and final approvals), 29 per cent is for mining.
According to Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE, “There is a tendency to ease clearances through incremental changes without making any improvements in the provisions for enforcement.” The CSE analysis emphasises that changes made in the green clearances is largely to ease the clearance process and increase transparency. But this is not helping the ecology as many projects have been cleared in ecologically sensitive and critically polluted areas. “The undermining of people’s participation in green clearances is also worrisome. The NDA government continues to dilute the public hearing process,” says Sunita Narain, director general of the New Delhi based advocacy group.
Pollution control and monitoring
Several positive measures with respect to pollution control and monitoring have been proposed which are commendable, the analysis shows. For instance, pollution standards have been tightened for many industrial sectors such as coal-based power plants and sugar. The government, Bhushan says, is banking on technologybased mechanisms and selfregulation by industries for enforcing the regulatory provisions. A key example is the Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS). If implemented properly, these measures will certainly help control pollution. However, this has not been complimented by efforts to strengthen regulatory institutions. Experiences from the other countries show that ‘self-regulation’ and ‘technologyenabled monitoring’ requires strong institutions to deliver results.
Air pollution and transportation
Significant measures include the implementation of air quality index, leapfrogging to Euro VI emissions standards in 2020 to lower the gap between emissions standards for diesel and petrol cars, and levying an infrastructure cess on all cars on the sliding scale of pollution potential. “However, the government needs to come up with comprehensive action plans to optimally realise their potentials,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director research and advocacy, CSE.
“The government’s proactiveness to extend LPG connections among the rural poor and households below the poverty line is another welcome move,” adds Anumita. The clean fuel option if extended effectively will significantly reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution in rural areas and improve the health of rural women.
The six waste management rules notified by the government covering the areas of solid, plastic, electronic, bio-medical, hazardous, and construction and demolition (C&D) waste, are indicative of the importance the NDA places on this issue. The analysis shows that most of the rules have been significantly improved from their earlier versions; the C&D rules have been brought in for the first time.