As Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then a PM-nominee, shuffled frenetically between election rallies in late April, there was a dramatic shift in China, whose economic model he admires and draws lessons from. After two long decades of focusing on high-growth at the expense of the environment, China amended its feeble Environment Protection Law.
According to a science journal, Nature, the amendments made it possible for harsh penalties and public shaming for environmental violations, with jail for some offenders. It also gave the Chinese the right to environmental information.
The most significant part was that government officials who were being evaluated for their contribution to economic growth would also be apprised for their environmental record and compliance.
After its unrelenting focus on growth at all costs, China was forced to take note of its environmental costs as it could no longer ignore official studies that spelled “environmental disaster” — its forest cover had dramatically reduced, groundwater in many areas was contaminated and unfit for consumption, air pollution in cities was consistently high and some had become unliveable due to coal burning, farms were contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals.
The cost of environmental degradation tripled from 2004 to 2013 and stood at nearly 3.5% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), pointed out the report in Nature that appeared last month.
According to a World Bank study, 16 of the world’s most polluted cities are in China.
“I am clear that in this dispensation, it’s the PM who will take the call on environment, climate change and wildlife. He has the mandate to steer away from the ecological precipice we are at and secure our future. I hope he wants to,” said Bittu Sahgal, well-known environmentalist and wildlife conservationist.
Sahgal, who has worked with seven prime ministers on ecological issues, added: “In the lead up to the election, when he spoke about the economy and growth, we didn’t hear him speak on wildlife, ecology and climate change”.