The UPA government does not have a Cabinet-level minister for the environment and forest ministry, though it has named Jairam Ramesh as minister of State (MoS) for Environment and Forests, with independent charge. Normally, cabinet meetings are open to MoSs with independent charge when an issue explicitly concerning their ministry needs to be discussed.
However, most issues that the Cabinet discusses have a significant environment component, even when the environment ministry’s role is not explicitly mandated. Discussing such matters, without inputs from the Ministry, would be incongruous as nobody would be present at cabinet meetings to raise these issues. This situation seems like a serious anomaly, which we can ill-afford.
The trouble today is that, whether we like it or not, every aspect of government decision-making has a significant bearing on the environment, whether directly or indirectly. And climate change has only made the role of environment governance all-pervasive and important. This is true to the extent that it’s difficult to list too many cases where the agenda items of a cabinet meeting would have no role for environment governance.
It is true that in the normal course of things, all cabinet notes are circulated among concerned ministries, where all have a chance to have a say. However, this is not the same thing as having the concerned minister at all meetings.
The solution can be to either have a cabinet-rank minister for environment or to change the rules to make all cabinet meetings as open for the MoS (independent charge), as for any other Cabinet member. Similarly, the Environment Minister should get automatic place in the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), since the CCEA takes the most crucial economic decisions, which also involve the environment.
Not having a cabinet-rank minister for environment and forests has many adverse implications; this is one of the important ones. Is the UPA sensitive to such matters for taking necessary action? The signals so far are not particularly green.
Himanshu Thakkar is Coordinator, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People.