In the two years of NDA government, the Union Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change has been constantly in news for bringing policy changes that affect business and environment. In an interview to HT, environment minister Prakash Javadekar talks about his ministry’s policies and their impact on industry, forest and wildlife, tribals and climate change. Edited excerpts of the interview:
Q. How do you see your ministry’s work of the past two years?
There are three-four major areas where we have got good success. First is that forest cover of India has increased by 3500 kilometers and mangroves have increased by 100 square kilometers. Now we are unlocking 42000 crore rupees that will have impact of more afforestation. And we are incentivizing tree cover outside forests. We are moving towards our target of increasing forest cover to 33% of country’s land from the current 21%.
Second, we are now better monitoring the pollution. Pollution load from many industries have reduced because we have made the pollution norms more stringent for 20 industries like cement, textile, thermal, paper and pulp and many other industries. We are monitoring it through 24/7 monitoring mechanism. We have mandated all the polluting industries to install 24/7 monitoring censors on their chimneys and effluent discharge points. The are generating alerts. That’s a good beginning.
Third major achievement is the ministry which was perceived as a roadblock ministry, we have made it transparent by making the process online. Instead of concentrating the entire power in the ministry, we have decentralized the power at 10 regional centers. So, all the important projects of roads, rails etc are cleared at the regional level itself. So, we have been able to clear 2000 projects which has unlocked 10,00,000 crore of investment. That’s a big thing. The process of environment clearance which used to take 600 days earlier, we have brought down to 190 days. We are going to bring it down to 100 days. With proper appraisal and proper environmental conditions, we can achieve that target by standardization, decentralization and transparency.
Q. You claim there is an increase in the forest cover. But the data of the Forest Survey of India show massive deforestation in natural forests in the past 10-12 years. Increase in plantations outside forests is masking loss of biodiversity-rich natural forests.
See, for last 10 years, one thing happened in this country. Funds meant for aforestation have not been used for afforestation. They were locked up in legal tangle and in the banks. That is what the CAMPA Bill is unlocking and that is why all the parties and all the states supported it in Lok Sabha. I am very sure Rajya Sabha will also pass it Unanimously. And therefore some kind of deforestation that we have seen in forest areas will now get rectified. Our target is to convert degraded forests into moderately dense forests and moderately dense forests into dense forests. And yes, we want to incentivise plantation outside forests. Because our forest land is only 21 per cent. Our target is to bring forest into 33 per cent land. How can we achieve this? Only by incentivizing plantation outside forests.
Watch | Prakash Javadekar on tiger conservation
Q. There is also a scheme of bringing private companies into afforestation. Concerns are raised by environmentalists that consent of tribals will not be taken for such plantations.
No. Never. It is actually the empowerment of tribals. It will improve the habitats of tribals. They will get employment for doing so. This will enrich India. It will help in creating carbon sink. Wherever there is a public hearing required by the law, we are doing it. There is no compromise on tribal welfare and tribal and forest-dwellers’ rights.
Q. You said India should take its time for implementing the Paris Agreement. What do you want to wait for?
We don’t want to wait. We have already signed the agreement. We will be ratifying it in due course. But the Paris agreement starts implementation from 2020. What developed world will do between 2016 and 2020, that is the question we are raising. And we are saying there can’t be an action holiday for five years. Five years should be affectively used and developed world must ratify their second commitment period of Kyoto, and those who are not part of this agreement like US and Japan, Canada, Australia, they must declare their ambitious targets for five years. That is all our demand is.
Q. You have said that almost 90 per cent of the work of approval for projects is being done by the state.
Yes, in forest issues. But without compromising on any environmental condition. Actually, the environmental conditions have been made more stringent. There is state participation; there are officials and experts, all together. It’s an interstate mechanism we have created for the empowerment of the states.
Q. You are saying that the environmental conditions have been made more stringent, but the changes in the regulations show they are dilutions of environmental safeguards.
No, that may be your interpretation. I don’t agree with that. We have made pollution norms more stringent for 20 industries. We are building the eco-bridge for the first time in the country for the four-laning of highway near Kanha (Tiger Reserve). For 70 years nobody did that… only lip service to the wildlife. We are providing eco-bridge to the tigers and for the wildlife. The forest will be below and the wildlife will be passing from above with a natural habitat. That’s a great achievement. And we are making it more stringent.
Q. You talk about decentralization but at the same time there have been attempts by the ministry to dilute the Gram Sabha’s consent requirements for various projects under FRA.
Q. For the linear projects, it had been done. There has been correspondence between your ministry and the tribal affairs ministry which shows this.
No. No. that is wrong. Let me tell you we are not diluting any forest rights. Modi government is actually committed for the empowerment of tribals.