World thrusts climate action leadership on India, but country has to set its house in order

Aesha Datta New Delhi | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 04, 2017

Several domestic policies have undergone surreptitious changes in recent times

The US’ pull-out from the Paris Agreement may deal a body blow to efforts to mitigate climate change — the country is both among the top three carbon emitters and was a potential key donor to the UN Environment Programme. The UNEP has now put the onus on countries such as China and India to redouble their efforts to achieve the ends of the 2015 climate change accord.

While Prime Minister Modi reiterated his commitment to the Paris deal on Saturday, describing it as a “shared legacy of the world” and an “article of faith”, environment protection at home has not been very encouraging.

In the last year or more, India’s environmental policies have undergone much change, and not all of it has been in the right direction. Rapid changes, made quietly in the background, have been cause for disquiet.

The recent slew of policy changes for to enable “ease of doing business”, such as the latest proposal to relax norms protecting coastal areas, or the notification that allows violators to take post-facto approvals, are clearly regressive.

“Donald Trump’s decision to move out of the Paris Agreement has given the opportunity for more diffused leadership in climate negotiations on the global stage — which is good. However, in India, as far as environmental regulation is concerned, we are in one of the worst stages in the last 30 years. For example, State pollution control boards are hardly functioning. The decision to monitor compliance online has not worked and there is hardly any debate on fundamental issues,” says Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Kanchi Kohli, who is the Legal Research Director at the Namati Environmental Justice Programme of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), concurs, while adding that the culture of tweaking policies in relative secrecy is jeopardising environmental justice.

A battery of legislative changes to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification have resulted in freeing a huge chunk of the real estate sector from seeking environmental clearances. Besides, norms for the mining industry have also been relaxed, easing project expansions.

It appears that the government is trying to keep opposition and noises against its moves to a minimum — by reducing the number of independent expert members in the National Board for Wildlife, cutting representation from NGOs to nearly nothing, or by refusing to share information meant to be put up on public fora.

Promises made on international platforms will come to nought if the country’s internal policies are not in line with the objective of reducing damage to the environment and biodiversity.

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Published on June 04, 2017
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