Two conflicting views — one of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and the other of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — can coexist but a choice will have to be made based on what people want, environment minister Jairam Ramesh said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
Gandhi had raised the issue of environment degradation because of fast economic growth whereas Singh had said environment could not be an impediment to economic growth. Striking a balance between the two was discussed at the summit.
Ramesh said “the concerns are not mutually exclusive and can coexist” if India has the ability to reconcile the two. Panelists Ramesh and Sunita Narain, director of Centre for Science and Environment, said that economic growth could not come at the cost of natural resources and the corporate sector had to be more responsive to environment norms. They also agreed that environment had to be on the national political platform.
“Development should not mean loss of livelihood to millions of poor,” Narain said, supporting Ramesh on scrapping environment clearances to bauxite mining for Vedanta Resources in Orissa. “Environment is livelihood for poor and we have to change our developmental model to meet their aspirations.”
Ramesh said what he was doing was not extraordinary and emphasised compliance with environment laws, which had not been done for the past 30 years. He was not against projects but said he wanted them to meet tough environment conditions. “I want to say yes to projects with a lot of buts,” he said, denying the charge that he was an activist minister. He gave the examples of the Navi Mumbai airport and Vedanta, where environment norms were enforced.
Ramesh said there would be no problems for projects that meet the norms, adding he was trying to make the environment clearance process more transparent and accountable. The process was on the ministry's website, he pointed out.
Narain said that India needed to leapfrog on new technologies to reduce rising emissions, especially from the transport sector, and referred to Ramesh’s recent comment that using sports utility vehicles was criminal.