In 18 months as an environment minister Jairam Ramesh has brought a new focus on environmental issues irrespective of whether it had made him unpopular in his own government or made him hero of civil society. He spoke to Chetan Chauhan on some of the concerns he has on environment and how his task is tough.
What do you consider as your achievement in the last 18 months as environment minister?
I came to this ministry with an agenda. It was to bring environment on the national political platform and I think I have been successful in that. Be it the issue of clearance to Navi Mumbai airport or Vedanta, I have tried to ensure that the law of the land on environmental issue is complied. I have to admit I have not succeeded fully but to a large extent.
Have you been successful in your aim?
I had to take a lot of hard decisions. But, I want to state that environment is not about me. The media had tried to portray that I as the focal point of environmental issues. It is a big frustration. This is neither my aim nor it is relevant. What is important is that the laws of the land, which are more relevant now, should be complied with and I have been trying to do so. My ministry has 95% approval rate. I don't agree with it. We should have a high rate of saying Yes
to proposals with a lot of buts. This is what happened in case of Navi Mumbai, where I started with a no and then got the project proponents to agree with large number of our concerns. I am 70% satisfied with what we have got in Navi Mumbai.
By when is the decision expected?
I am meeting Maharashtra Chief Minister next week
Has the ministry's work culture also changed?
When I came, as you know, it was called as an ATM (All Time Machine) ministry on forest and environment clearances. I have changed that ATM into accountability and transparency ministry. We have adopted a new approach and I am looking at tough regulation without much bureaucratic interference. We have already set up National Green Tribunal and shortly National Environment Protection Agency would be set up to make entire environment clearance process transparent and accountable.
You have received a lot of criticism for your policy on go and no go areas
I would be wrong to say that we (environment ministry) proposed go and no go areas for coal sector. In fact, it was the coal ministry which came up with the proposal and we conducted a joint survey with Coal India and just went by the findings of the survey. Some minister criticized me and the steel minister Virbadara Singh said that I should not be dogmatic and should be pragmatic. I have written to him saying that he should not consider my ministry to be automatic.
The big climate summit would be starting in Cancun, Mexico, later this month. What are your expectations?
A. We have tried to roll the discussions in Cancun on measurement research and verification-international consultation and analysis (MRV-ICA) to push the negotiations ahead. It has been well received at the meeting of Major Economies Forum in Washington. India is playing a proactive role in getting the negotiations rolling. There is a lot of trust deficit since Copenhagen conference failed. If the logjam continues, Cancun will be dud as Copenhagen.
What are the areas where there is some convergence?
There is some agreement on forestry and technology issues. But I don't see a possibility of having an agreement at Cancun. It will all depend on the political leadership as it happened in Nagoya (Japan) where an agreement on access benefit and sharing on bio-diversity was agreed. To me, finance is still a big bottleneck as rich countries are yet to provide their committed US 30 billion dollars to poor nations to fight climate change. Moreover, if there is no second commitment period for Kyoto Protocol Cancun will fail.
Do you think an agreement is possible without United States
United States is providing homeopathic medicine on climate change. It has offered 17% emission reduction by 2020 to 2005 levels, which is just three percent as compared to 1990 levels. They are adopting a surgical mode on climate issues.
You have brought a lot of change on India's stand on climate change
I tried to bring India out of pardah of per capita emissions. Many countries now consider India as a positive player in climate negotiations and that was what the Prime Minister asked me when I took over environment ministry last year.