New Delhi, July 7 (IANS) Prakash Javadekar in the two years as Environment Minister was in the limelight for his pro-industry policies and climate diplomacy, but he also faced flak from environmentalists who dubbed dilution of green norms as “an obsession for short term economic growth”.
Javadekar, who now heads HRD, the only Minister of State who got promoted to cabinet rank in Tuesday’s reshuffle, credits himself for granting environment clearance to over 2,000 held-up projects, paving the way for investment worth Rs 10 lakh crore.
However, the figures don’t project a very upbeat image of the ministry in the past two years.
More tigers were poached in the first four months of 2016 than in entire 2015, over 1,100 cases of wildlife crime were reported, more than 20 elephants were killed, green corridors and about 15 lakh acres of forest land remained encroached upon and only 60 out of estimated 2,226 tigers were radio collared.
“We cannot help but worry when the Environment Minister boasts of the increased speed of clearance of development projects as his major achievement, and points to the number of projects cleared as a measure of his performance. Sadly, Javadekar’s tenure has been marked by this dramatic change in how the ministry’s priorities are defined,” Ravi Chellam from Greenpeace India told IANS.
As green bodies question the understanding of environmental principles of the former minister, they say that new incumbent Anil Madhav Dave will have to build “from scratch”.
A commerce student and former banker, Javadekar is also accused of moulding policies in favour of developers, “placing great trust in them with blatant disregard for precautionary principles”.
He recently lifted a 2013 moratorium from the industrial cluster of Chandrapur, Maharashtra — one of the most polluted cities in the state — to pave the way for renewed investment in the region.
Javadekar came up with an explanation for his work.
His first announcement, after taking office in May 2104, was to make industrial clearances ‘on-line’ and since then about 349 clearances in the mining sector and 264 clearances for non-coal mining sector had been granted.
His ministry claims that project clearance time has been brought down to 192 days from 600 days and will be dropped to 100 days in the coming months.
Just last month, Javadekar and Union Minister Maneka Gandhi were locked in a stand-off with the latter accusing him of giving sanction to state governments to kill animals, including blue bull (Nilgai) and wild boar.
An Environment Ministry memorandum passed in December 2015, which said that wild animals, such as Nilgai, Rhesus Macaque and Boar, which destroy crops should be treated as vermin, drew the ire of animal rights groups.
Experts said that human-animal conflict was rising and instead of culling, some other and “lasting and permanent solution” should be worked out.
Javadekar had also announced to change rules for allowing timber farming to save India from imports worth over Rs 40,000 crore.
However, Javadekar has also been praised for his work on pushing the climate change policy.
“Last two years had been brilliant under Javadekar as far as the climate change is concerned. India had emerged as leader in keeping it’s own and the concerns of developing countries at COP-21,” said Aditya Pundhir from The Climate Reality Project.
Green bodies like Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in a study termed the Paris Climate Change Conference as a missed opportunity. They however praised the ministry for positive measures for pollution control and monitoring.
“The government has taken few important steps towards improving the way we manage our environment and our resources,” Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General, CSE, said in a study launched on the two years of the NDA government. He however added, “on the other hand, India lost the opportunity to exert the ‘right of development’ of the world’s poor.”
Javadekar’s last task as Environment Minister was at the Seventh St. Petersburg Climate Dialogue in Berlin on July 4 where he reiterated that India and developing nations would require “financial and technical assistance” to implement COP-21 climate goals.
Under him, the environment ministry started real-time monitoring of polluting industries.
The CSE study, giving this government an edge over UPA, praised the central government’s technology-based mechanisms like Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS), air quality index, six waste management rules and announcements to setup Euro VI emissions standards by 2020.
The minister is also credited with bringing the National and state Compensatory Afforestation Fund, paving the way to unlock Rs 41,000 crore earmarked for forest land, lying unspent.
The ministry under Javadekar revised the solid waste management rules after 16 long yeas, set new norms for hazardous and e-waste and promised blue collar jobs to the rag-pickers.
(Kushagra Dixit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)