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NDA's open season on the Indian ecology

Easing green laws to facilitate business cannot be at the cost of the environment. Not realising that the long-term viability of our economic future depends on the judicious use of our natural resources could turn out to be suicidal.

comment Updated: Dec 07, 2014 22:36 IST

Hindustan Times

The NDA came to power on the promise of rebooting the economy and creating new jobs. This promise is not new: The Congress had made the same but failed to fulfil it.

Once in power, the NDA decided that one of the main obstacles to economic growth is India's green laws, which make clearance of projects difficult, a sentiment the government shares with business houses.

In an effort to clear the bottlenecks, the government formed the TSR Subramanian Committee, which has now recommended changes to the rules and legislation that include an overhaul of laws, fast-track dispensation for power, mining and linear projects, self-certification of compliance by industry and diluting the powers of the National Green Tribunal.

The panel has also called for amending the Forest Rights Act to dilute consent powers and a new environment service as part of an All India Services cadre.

One ground rule for self-certification is proper monitoring. How the government proposes to keep an eye on the self-certification process is not clear yet.

Moreover, do we need another cadre, considering that India has a forest service? In keeping with its promise, the government has been on a clearance spree: 130 projects, including mining pits, power plants and a defence testing site close to protected wildlife areas have been cleared.

"All projects approved have national importance," an official told HT.

Understandably, the green lobby, which is increasingly finding itself pushed into a corner, is not happy.

The reasons for the government going this way are not far to seek: Jobs get votes; environmentalism doesn't. And they can get away with it because people don't see the link that exists between polluted air and water and their medical bills.

The data show that 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are Indian. However, the results of such extravagant and mindless spending of our natural resources will be felt sooner rather than later.

For example, take drinking water. India is considered a water-stressed nation. Can the government afford to neglect equitable distribution of water between the farming community and industry?

These are tricky issues and difficult choices that can have far-reaching consequences and giving the alibi of 'national importance' for every clearance will not be a sound investment for the future.

One of most misused words today is sustainable development. But not realising that the long-term viability of our economic future depends on the judicious use of our natural resources could be suicidal.

The least the NDA government can do is to ensure that the proposed changes are time-bound and promise that they are open to review over the next five years.