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Environmental norms will be made more stringent and practical, Prakash Javadekar says

Times of India, New Delhi, September 16, 2014


Amid criticism of mindless clearances to many projects at the cost of green concerns, environment, forests and climate change minister Prakash Javadekar on Tuesday said that his ministry had taken many steps to bring transparency and emphasized that environmental norms would be made "more stringent and practical" keeping in mind the enormity of the problem and issues involved. "The stakeholders would be consulted in the process so as to ensure complete compliance once the norms are laid down," said the minister while delivering his address at the ninth 'Sustainable and Inclusive solutions Summit', organized by the CII. His remarks may be seen in the context of the government's recent decision to set up a panel to review all environmental laws.


The mandate of this panel is to suggest necessary changes in the green laws, keeping in mind the developmental goal of the new government. Referring to the revision of norms related to the cement industry undertaken recently, he said that these norms were implemented taking into account the concerns of the industry. Elaborating further, Javadekar said that the cooperation of the industry stakeholders was critical in the context of monitoring, evaluation and implementation of environmental norms. This would enable the government to implement "eco friendly and growth friendly" policies, he added. He also insisted that his ministry has taken a number of measures in the past three months to not only ensure speedy clearances of crucial infrastructure and defence-related projects but also bring transparency by launching online mechanism in the decision making processes.


Unlike many ministries that had first to chalk out strategies to give new direction to their mandated tasks, the environment ministry had found its works right on the table from the day one under the new government. It had to simply take 'decisions' on various pending clearances and let things move quickly at the time when years of 'indecisions' under previous government had made the ministry a major stumbling block before economic activities. The ministry exactly did what it was expected to do in the first 100 days. It had not only given all kinds of green clearances (environment, forest and wildlife) but also launched two 'online' systems to make future clearances easy. The ministry under Javadekat did all this so quickly that it got an epithet of 'environment clearance' ministry and faced criticism for ignoring its original mandate of 'environment protection'.


Be it giving much awaited nod to the Indian Navy's ambitious infrastructure project at Karwar or easing out norms to give clearances to over 100 small and big road projects and transmission\communication lines along Indo-China border and in naxal-affected areas, the ministry had just to apply common sense by prioritizing its goals. It selected key public sector projects having huge security implications as its first preference. Secondly, it turned its attention to ease out norms for coal mining so that the existing thermal power plants do not face scarcity of raw materials. Thirdly, it reconstituted the powerful National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) by keeping outside experts (dissenting voices) mostly out of its ambit and ended up clearing as many as 133 proposals — specifically road projects — within five to 10 kilometres radius of various wildlife sanctuaries and national parks across the country.


Though the ministry has had its share of criticism for ignoring ecological concerns while taking call on such clearances, its acts perfectly suited the agenda of the new government. Javadekar, on his part, tried to convince his critics by repeatedly saying that both 'development works' and 'environment protection' would go hand in hand by adopting right approach. He had launched two web-based systems to give faster environment and forest clearances through transparent manner. Besides, the ministry has also written to all the states to equip its respective pollution watchdogs with online platforms so that it can strictly monitor treatment of industrial waste and its discharge into rivers including Ganga. Quick actions on pending clearances may be needed to spur economic growth, but the ministry is still far away from doing some actual works on the ground to protect environment.