Experts count on Bhupender to tackle environmental challenges
New Delhi Environmentalists and former bureaucrats on Thursday welcomed the appointment of Bhupender Yadav as the new Union minister for environment, citing his understanding of complex issues surrounding the environment and the climate crisis.
On Thursday morning, Yadav started his first day in office by participating in a plantation drive, following which he held a meeting with senior officials of the ministry to review ongoing projects and issues.
“Assumed charge of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (@moefcc) today. The PM Sh @narendramodi ji’s govt is committed to sustainable development. I wish to be able to ensure India [attains] those goals,” he said in a Twitter post.
A senior environment ministry official said: “He seems soft spoken and more understanding of complex issues surrounding environment and climate change.”
A lawyer and former national secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Yadav is also called the “Committee Man” due to his history of chairing several parliamentary committees on critical issues such as the Rajya Sabha Select Committee on Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2015, among others.
Yadav co-authored a book, titled “Supreme Court on Forest Conservation”, with environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta in 2011 on the legal aspects of forest conservation in India.
“Its 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 Dutta.
Over the past few years, the Prakash Javadekar-led ministry, faced widespread public backlash over various controversial decisions.
The draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification, published on March 23, 2020, has been in the eye of the storm over certain clauses, which can weaken the process of environmental appraisal of industries and infrastructure projects. On July 8 last year, the Delhi Police had sent a notice to youth climate group Fridays for Future, under sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), for sending multiple emails to Javadekar against the draft EIA 2020. Later, the Delhi Police termed the notice a clerical error.
The ministry has, so far, received over 200,000 objections and comments on the draft EIA 2020, which are being assessed by a committee.
“With the change in guard in the MoEFCC, let’s hope that the high-handedness and arrogance will give way to humility and rational decision-making benefitting forestry,” said Anup Nayak, former member secretary, national tiger conservation authority (NTCA) in a Twitter post.
At present, several large infrastructure projects, including township planning 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 and mining in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo Arand forests, are being considered by the environment ministry.
According to officials, the ministry has also started amending almost all environmental legislations to ensure they meet current requirements.
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 called for expressions 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.
“I think we have reasons to maintain hope. He is an advocate with knowledge of environmental law and being one of the cadres 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, Chhattisgarh based lawyer who is working on cases related to Hasdeo Arand.