Env minister Bhupender Yadav’s law expertise may help perform a balancing act
Several environmentalists and former bureaucrats are hopeful with Bhupender Yadav’s appointment as the new environment minister.
Yadav, a lawyer and former national secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party, is also called the “Committee Man” because he has chaired several parliamentary committees on critical issues, such as the Rajya Sabha Select Committee on Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2015 etc.
More importantly, he has co-authored a book with environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta in 2011 on the legal aspects of forest conservation in India titled “Supreme Court on Forest Conservation.”
On Thursday afternoon, when he took charge of the environment ministry, some officials felt that he came across as a more approachable minister. Yadav first participated in a plantation drive and then met senior officials from the ministry for a briefing on ongoing projects and issues.
“I will not be able to answer questions today. All I can say is that I am grateful that I have been selected for this responsibility,” he told the media. “He seems soft spoken and more understanding of complex issues surrounding environment and climate change,” said a senior environment ministry official.
Anup Nayak, former member secretary, national tiger conservation authority (NTCA) tweeted: “With the change in guard in the MoEFCC, let’s hope that the highhandedness and arrogance will give way to humility and rational decision-making benefitting forestry.”
“It’s good that a lawyer has taken charge of the ministry. The ministry was circumventing the parliamentary process through various office memorandums and orders. I really hope he addresses that first. Given his background in law, he can help improve the functioning of the ministry. He has been associated with various environmental movements and has taken up environmental cases so he knows the issues very well. He has chaired the highest number of parliamentary committees also,” said Ritwick Dutta. Yadav has, for example, taken up issues related to Sethu Samudram project and Andaman and Nicobar in the SC, Dutta added.
“I think we have reasons to maintain hope. He is an advocate with knowledge of environmental law and being one of the cadre he may listen to people’s voices. It’s an opportunity for the NDA to clean up the damage done through various dilutions in the past seven years,” said Sudiep Shrivastava, a Chhattisgarh-based lawyer who is working on cases related to Hasdeo Arand.
The environment ministry has been facing public backlash on various controversial decisions in the past few years during Prakash Javadekar’s tenure. The draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification published on March 23, 2020, has been in the eye of a storm because of widespread opposition to certain clauses which can weaken the process of environmental appraisal of industries and infrastructure projects. The Delhi Police had sent a notice on July 8 last year to youth climate group Fridays for Future under sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for sending multiple emails to Javadekar against draft EIA 2020. Delhi Police had later clarified that sending the notice was a clerical error. The ministry had received over 200,000 objections and comments to the draft EIA 2020 which are being assessed by a committee.
Large infrastructure projects, such as townships planned in the fragile Andaman and Nicobar Islands; the Char Dham road project through Himalayas in Uttarakhand; hydropower projects in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley; mining in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand forests are presently being considered by the ministry. The ministry has also started amending almost all environmental legislations to ensure they meet current requirements according to officials. The ministry’s wildlife division has prepared a Cabinet note to amend the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 which is yet to be cleared by the Cabinet; a similar note on the amendment to Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 has also been finalised after circulating it internally among ministries. Recently, the ministry has called for expression of interest from consulting agencies, firms, and joint venture consortiums to prepare a new draft amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927. A private law firm is preparing a draft environmental management act which will subsume the Air Act 1981, Water Act 1974, and the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and serve as an overarching law particularly for all infrastructure and industry projects.