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Why Environment Ministry has failed so far and what can be done now

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, May 30, 2014 | 6:45 AM


To

Shri Prakash Javadekar
Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
Government of India
New Delhi

May 29, 2014

Subject-Why Environment Ministry has failed so far and what can be done now

Sir,

Let me congratulate you on taking this new assignment ahead of the next Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) before making my submission
regarding why Environment Ministry has failed so far and what can be done now.

I submit that you have been assigned the unenviable task of safeguarding our country’s ecosystem which faces myriad threats from most limited liabilities companies Indian and foreign origin besides
ringing the faint bell for almost all the ministries that contribute to environmental destruction through their policy, program and project related decisions.

I submit that ideally you should have been made a cabinet minister to look after such a task and fort being the voice of the voiceless nature in the cabinet meetings but like your predecessors you and ministry have not been accorded the priority it deserved. I still hope that the Prime Minister who is deeply concerned about the plight of Ganga due to pollution and depletion of water will soon realize why you deserve a cabinet status for acting as the saviour of environment.

I submit that while all industrial projects are cleared by Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), what role can an effete body of the environment ministry do to undo the wrongs committed by the CCEA?
In fact, if one undertakes an investigation of institutional accountability for Bhopal gas leak disaster, it is quite likely that the buck would stop at the CCEA. So far the environment ministry has failed to save itself from the regressive influence of CCEA.

I submit that pre-existing bureaucracy of powerful ministries which is callous towards alive to the collapsing ecosystem seems to have prevailed upon the Prime Minister to maintain the pre-existing structural weakness of the ministry.

I submit that the core question is whether the CCEA will let the environment ministry make the structural changes required in terms of reversing the current policies which have resulted in manifest adverse impact on environmental health or whether poisoning of our blood streams and amputation of river basin systems would continue to be deemed collateral damage.

The threat to the integrity of the natural systems is a threat to human health, and such threats have become routine because of myopic industrial agriculture, blind urban development, regressive transport
systems and criminal neglect of non-human species. While legislative safeguards for environmental protection do seem to exist on paper, the role of the political class which is funded by corporations illustrates that homicidal ecological lawlessness that has led to rampant industrial pollution, soil erosion, agricultural
pollution, and genetic erosion of plant resources are quite crucial and merit more acknowledgment.

Be it blood contamination, congenital disorders, preventable but incurable cancer or extinction of known and unknown living species on our planet, it creates a compelling logic to re-examine the premises of Industrial Revolution and design a new one. In the developed world the model of development is under interrogation because of environmental problems.

Between 1975 and 1995 the Indian economy grew 2.5 times, industrial pollution went up four-fold, and vehicular pollution went up eight-fold. This analysis seems factually correct but it has ended up
internalising the pollution and externalising the human cost of pollution. In such a context, health indicators of the deteriorating environment is witnessed in terms of a double burden of disease but the political class seems to have been rendered spineless by the corporate empires.

I submit the following suggestions that merit your immediate and urgent attention for remedial action:

1. Publish a database of environmental criminals and fugitives with their photographs and profiles with the name of the companies which fall under the 64 heavily polluting industries under the Red category
(highly polluting industries), 34 moderately polluting industries ('Orange' category) and 54 'marginally' polluting units ('Green' category). Also publish a list of India's Most Wanted Environmental Criminals with wanted posters.

It is high time environmental regulation keeps pace with environmental crimes. Even Interpol has a Pollution & Environment Crime Working group; India too needs one.

2. Persuade every ministry to create an environment department after all environmental concerns cannot be deemed adversarial concerns because unless natural capital is preserved no business will make sound sense. How can profit making in a scenario where the principal amount-the nature- is depleting be adopted as a way of wise economic activity.

3. Ensure that environment ministry gets enhanced budgetary allocation for rejuvenating the decaying institutional infrastructure including the Central Pollution Control Board. One parliamentary report too
calls for saving the CPCB, the nodal body for regulating environmental norms. Currently, environment clearance, compliance and monitoring are in a very sorry state. It should be strengthened. The practice
allowing project proponents to prepare Environment Impact Assessment reports by hiring consultants should be stopped and government should enlist services of independent institutions to undertake these tasks.

4. Stop transboundary movement of polluting technologies, hazardous wastes and create an inventory of hazardous chemicals and wastes besides conducting an environmental health audit along with the
ministry of health to ascertain the body burden through investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood. In one such study in the US, of the 287 chemicals detected in
umbilical cord blood, 180 were known to cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. Absence of such
studies in India does not mean that a similar situation does not exist in India. Until and unless we diagnose the current unacknowledged crisis, how will he regulatory bodies predict, prevent and provide remedy.

5. Save India from becoming a victim of the unfolding Lawrence Summers Principle. Lawrence Summers, director of the White House's National Economic Council for US President Barack Obama as a World Bank chief economist, sent a memo to one of his subordinates justifying transfer of harmful chemicals from developed countries to developing countries. Indian position on the Basel Convention, Rotterdam Convention and the recently adopted IMO Convention reveals the same. Under your advice,
the stance of your predecessor must be reversed to signal a qualitative change.

6. Disassociate India from carbon trade and adopt mandatory emission cuts as a national, domestic and enforceable objective even as we affirm the validity of the 'principle of historical responsibility' which is indisputable and incontrovertible. The current stance which states, 'subjecting national aspirational efforts to an international compliance regime may result in lower ambitions' is fine but our ability to reach a certain emission reduction target under a national plan as a national legal obligation would enhance India's negotiating
position. In fact the National Action Plan for Climate Change should be revisited to ensure visible and truly 'credible actions' within our own framework.

It is inconsequential for citizens whether some post-dated international humanitarian law is being followed in letter or not, what is of consequence is whether or not its governmental actions factor in the spirit behind a law that will have ramifications not only for the present generation but also for the future generations.
Disassociation with carbon trade is also a must because benefits from it are deeply suspect. A White Paper on benefits from carbon trade may be commissioned.

I submit that the new government and your ministry should ensure the death of the old industrial policies of the pre-climate crisis era and the rebirth of an enlightened policy-making that takes into account intergenerational equity with regard to natural resources would be sufficient.

In conclusion, I must say that beginning appears to have been made with your appointment because you have a way with the words as you can easily see through verbal, rhetorical or cosmetic solutions to environmental crisis that is making a deeper assault on the very substratum of our existence.

I wish that when your tenure ends you are remembered as one of the most sensitive environment ministers the world ever witnessed because you will surely that our culture will ultimately prevail over those tendencies that are destructive towards our Mother Earth.

I hope to meet you at a convenient time to learn about your blueprint for India's environment and share few inputs from the ground.

Warm Regards
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Mb: 09818089660, 08227816731
E-mail:gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com
Web: www.toxicswatch.org


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