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Rewrite Environment & Industrial Policy

Written By krishna on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 | 12:39 AM

Tishyarakshit Chatterjee, the new secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests Vijay Sharma who superannuated on the last day of December 2010 has authored a paper titled "Reorienting Environment Policy in India Towards a Local Area-Based Development and Management Paradigm" which is published in The Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies in 2009.

Chatterjee was formerly, Special Chief Secretary, Pradesh & he has handled Department of Environment & Forests in the state. Perhaps, Andhra Pradesh is the only state where Chief Secretary is the ex-officio Chairman of the State Pollution Control Board.

In his paper Chatterjee refers to the salutary goals of National Environmental Policy, 2006. It is noteworthy that Clause 5.10 in the NEP 2006, calls for the review of the Policy after every three years but the same has not been done.

The relevent clause reads: “Undertake consultations every three years with groups of diverse stakeholders, i.e. researchers and experts, community based organizations, industry associations, and voluntary organizations, and update the National Environment Policy”. The government has not complied with anything mentioned in the NEP. A transparent review of the Policy will highlight the same.

It must be remembered that the current National Water Policy and National Environment Policy that was drafted by the BJP-led NDA government. Both the NEP and the industrial policy must be rewritten with the ecological integrity of river basin in mind to arrest an alarming decline in the ecological resources.

The UPA government must disassociate itself from the regressive framework of the past because among other things it entails agreeing with Tamil Nadu's irrational demand for interlinking of rivers. As part of the same effort, overhauling the National River Conservation Directorate and the Ganga River Basin Authority must ensure a genuine river basin approach undo the unhealthy legacy of bulldozing rivers, flood plains, forests, biodiversity, natural drainage etc in manner as if citizens and intergenerational equity are irrelevant.

It is high time the Environment Ministry fashioned the River Basin Authority in a manner that it does not remain a rubber stamp or a paper tiger because if 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. The environment ministry must save itself from its regressive influence.

The ministry must 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.

The environment ministry must get 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 Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests said the CPCB is being 'reduced to a near-defunct body'. The 141-page report of the steering committee on the environment and forests sector for the eleventh five year plan prepared by Planning Commission deals with environment and development. It refers to 'the regulatory challenge' and states: 'In the past some years, intensive economic growth, which has increased economic wealth, has led to massive pollution and degradation of the natural environment. One of the main reasons for this is that the regulatory and institutional framework to control pollution and degradation of natural resources is unable to keep pace with the rapidly changing economic, social and environmental situation in the country.'

'The number of polluting activities -- and the quantum of pollution generated -- has increased in the last several years. Furthermore, newer and newer environmental challenges are thrown up -- from solid waste disposal, to disposal and recycling of hazardous waste, to toxins like mercury, dioxins and activities like ship-breaking to management of vehicular pollution.'

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

The new Secretary should accord highest priority to s transboundary movement of polluting technologies, hazardous wastes, creating an inventory of hazardous chemicals and wastes besides initiating 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.

Currently, India is a victim of the unfolding Lawrence Summers Principle. Lawrence Summers, director of the White House's National Economic Council for US President Barack Obama 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 on Prior Informed Consent Procedure and the recently adopted IMO Convention on ship breaking/recycling reveals the same.

Our ecological space is a living entity but it is faced with the cannibalistic propensities of illegitimately totalitarian scientism which is married with political consensus. Its linear, piecemeal and closed technological thinking fails to acknowledge that no unlimited development is possible in the nature of things.

While a beginning can be made with the above steps, it must be realised that the economic ideology that has led to the financial crisis is the same ideology that is accountable for the ongoing ecological disorder of the lunatic ilk.

Therefore, nothing short of 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.
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