Balancing Environment With Growth
The West has polluted the world since the industrial revolution in the 18th century and can afford tough green standards. India needs a more holistic balance between industry and the environment. That is the challenge the Modi government must take head-on
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A key objective of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s last cabinet reshuffle was revamping the environment and HRD portfolios. HRD minister Smriti Irani went to Textiles. Environment minister Prakash Javadekar took over HRD. The outcomes in these two pivotal portfolios are yet to be determined.
However, it’s important to examine Javadekar’s record in the environment ministry for two reasons. First, the infamous “Jayanthi tax” had stalled nearly 200 projects during the UPA-2 government.
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan was accused of keeping files in abeyance for months. She defended herself in an impassioned letter to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in January 2015. Few were convinced.
Let’s examine the evidence of the past two years when Javadekar was environment minister. Did he unlock the logjam?
According to one report, the environment ministry gave clearances to 1,049 projects in the NDA government’s first two years in office – more specifically between May 26, 2014 and March 31, 2016. The total value of these projects was Rs. 7.39 lakh crore. The ministry’s report claims these projects created 2,70,325 jobs.
Mint reported that the sectoral break-up showed “398 of these clearances went to industry, 264 to non-coal mining, 255 to infrastructure, coastal and construction projects, 85 to coal mining, 27 to thermal power projects, 17 to river valley projects and three to nuclear and defence projects.”
More importantly, the ministry brought down delays in clearances from 600 days to 192 days.
One of the major criticisms faced by the environment ministry in UPA-2 was using “green” objections to stall projects. This was often a pretext to subvert industrial progress at the behest of the green lobby. It also opened up an avenue for potential corruption.
Obviously, there needs to be a balance between industrial projects and environmental protection. In India that balance in the past has worked against the environment with indiscriminate use of pollutants, cutting of trees and damaging biodiversity.
However, over the past decade, the balance has shifted towards enhanced environmental protection, often at the cost of industry. During the UPA-2 government, green lobbies assumed centrestage, resulting in a slowdown of several large projects. Posco was one of the most high-profile victims. Several other projects were stymied.
The consequences of stalled or lost projects can be significant. Last week mining giant Rio Tinto announced it was closing its Rs. 2,200-crore diamond mining project in Madhya Pradesh. According to one report, the National Tiger Conservation Authority said the project “has potential to disrupt tiger dispersal around Panna landscape.”
Rio Tinto confirmed in a statement mailed to The Indian Express: “As part of its ongoing efforts to drive shareholder value by conserving cash and cutting costs further, Rio Tinto has decided to not proceed with development of its Bunder project in India. Accordingly, we will be seeking to close all project infrastructure by the end of year 2016.”
Have Javadekar and his successor as environment minister, Anil Dave, succeeded in redressing the balance between protecting the ecology and catalysing industrial growth in the first 27 months of the Modi government? The empirical data suggests they have. And yet, as the Posco and Rio Tinto cases show, much more needs to be done.
Critical decisions will soon be taken on India’s position on capping carbon emissions. The prime minister has committed India to meeting by 2030 norms of carbon emissions that were agreed upon at the Paris conference last Novermber. He has emphasised though to world leaders that as a developing economy India cannot sacrifice industrial growth to achieve green targets at the same pace the West can.
The West has polluted the world since the industrial revolution in the 18th century and can afford tough green standards. India needs a more holistic balance between industry and the environment. That is the challenge the Modi government must take head-on.
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