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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

Premature deaths a serious issue but not directly related to pollution: Prakash Javadekar

Prakash Javadekar said the Kashmir success story is one of the most important achievements of the Modi government.

india Updated: Aug 05, 2019 17:13 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran and Jayashree Nandi
Smriti Kak Ramachandran and Jayashree Nandi
New Delhi
New Delhi, India - July 30, 2019: Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar arrives to attend the BJP Parliamentary meeting, at Parliament library, in New Delhi
New Delhi, India - July 30, 2019: Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar arrives to attend the BJP Parliamentary meeting, at Parliament library, in New Delhi(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
         

Union minister of information & broadcasting and environment & forests Prakash Javadekar spoke to Smriti Kak Ramachandran and Jayashree Nandi on a range of issues, including environmental clearances, the Indian Forest Act, and situation in Jammu and Kashmir, mob violence, and criticism from the Opposition that the government was pushing legislations through Parliament without enough discussion. Edited excerpts:

There is speculation and concern about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. A lot of people are of the view that the government has not been able to clear the air on what’s happening -- travel advisories in place, pilgrims have been asked to leave.

I think the government has made it very clear that there is a perceptible threat perception, and we don’t want a terror attack; we want to foil it. Therefore, the governor has made it very clear to not only the delegation of political leaders, but to the people, by giving interviews and holding a press conference that people should not worry, nothing is going to happen dramatically. These are all precautionary measures. I think that suffices the purpose, nothing more should be added at this juncture.

Prime Minister Modi spelt out the Kashmir policy when he said “na gaali se, na goli se...Kashmir samasya suljhe gi gale lagane se” (not with abuses or bullets, the Kashmir problem will be solved through warm embraces). Has the government been able to do so?

The Kashmir success story is one of the most important achievements of the Modi government. We talk straight to the people, not to the separatists and that has resulted in holding of panchayat elections in 40,000-odd villages with 75% voting, and peacefully.

In a reply to a Lok Sabha question, you said there is no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlation of death/ disease exclusively due to air pollution. But there is an Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) study, which said 1.24 million premature deaths in 2017 were due to exposure to air pollution.

Premature deaths are a serious issue. It is not happening only in Delhi, but in non-polluted areas also. Therefore, there is no direct correlation. But because of air pollution, there is a problem of pulmonary functions, lungs, throat infection. It definitely impacts these. Therefore, we have taken major action. Don’t you feel good in Delhi today? The good air days have increased, and bad days have reduced. A fair amount of this is a result of what we have done in the last five years.

The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) targets are not legally binding on states or cities. How will you ensure they deliver on the target of reducing particulate matter emissions by 20% to 30% over five years?

People are aware; in polluted cities, they are demanding action - that’s the strength of a democracy. Things will fall in line. Now everybody has realised that we have to tackle pollution. Pollution mitigation has a cost, but we need to incur that cost. I have come up with a new idea of oxygen banks. There is a study which shows seven fully grown trees give as much oxygen as one man requires throughout his life. If that is the case, everyone should be committed for planting and ensuring the full growth of seven trees .

There is a zero draft on environment impact assessment notification 2019. It has made a number of relaxations and changes to the environmental clearance process. Have you got comments from states? How will it ease the clearance process?

We want to change processes without compromising on environmental considerations. We have installed 24x7 monitoring stations on chimneys and on water discharge points and more than 3,500 industrial units We want to make the process more rigorous but at the same time it can be made easy. That is why the time lag [for environmental clearances] which was 680 days during Jairam Ramesh and Jayanthi Natarajan [former environment ministers] has come down to 108 days, and I want to bring it down to 70-80 days.

There is much criticism of the zero draft on amending the Indian Forest Act on the grounds that it undermines the role of gram sabhas and gives draconian powers to the forest officials.

There is no amendment. Let me make it clear that we have not proposed a single amendment to the Indian Forest Act. It’s a zero draft for discussion. Officers had drafted it. It’s not a government-approved draft.

What will be India’s position in the upcoming United Nationas Climate Summit in New York?

There is historical responsibility of developed countries which have reaped benefits out of industrial revolution. Now what we are saying is that we need a global solution to climate change. Advanced countries have committed $100 billion for finance every year and technology transfer, but both are not happening. We will definitely put in our view in all forums available, in New York, in Chile, now when I go to Brazil. Major polluting countries are not part of the Paris deal. That’s my worry.

This has been possibly the longest and most productive session of Parliament in recent memory. But the Opposition has a grouse, they say legislative business was rushed through. The passage of the Triple Talaq and RTI bills came in for much criticism from the Opposition.

The Motor Vehicles bill, for instance, has gone to the standing committee to the select committee. Why did the bill come to Parliament again;because of Congress’s non-cooperation, because of the Oppositions’ opposition for the sake of opposition, which led to a backlog. These bills lapsed because of Parliament elections. Actually the Opposition owes an apology to the people that it delayed the passage of bills that were duly scrutinised. A majority of the bills that we are passing today have undergone scrutiny by the standing committee, many of them at the select committee also; but if you want to appoint yet another select committee, I think this is taking it too far. This is not rushing, this is what the legislature is meant for. The Legislature is meant for legislation, and that is what we are doing.

There are allegations that the BJP is poaching MPs, especially in the Rajya Sabha.
EF Schumacher [economist] used to say that small is beautiful. But we know in daily life, small is beautiful only if it grows fast, like a child. A party has to grow. We were just two in Parliament in 1984 and only about two crore [20 million] members across the country. Now, we have already 11 crore [110 million] members and the membership drive will fetch another 6-7 crore members. As far as poaching is concerned, we don’t believe in it. I am the environment minister, I act against poaching.

For a good Congress worker, what must he be feeling...I always feel his anguish at the completely inactive party for the last two-and-a-half months as if it is dead. There is no president, they couldn’t even appoint a temporary one.

How is the government gearing to face the challenge posed by violence by vigilantes, statements by some party functionaries that cause unease among the minorities, and the misuse of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and fake news that have led to lynchings in some cases?

As far as Jai Shri Ram is concerned, the name of Ram is there from Arunachal Pradesh to Kerala. It is the ethos and Indian culture. [By showing] objection to Ram... West Bengal has done the worst kind of thing. If you want to call the police in Delhi, you ring 100; if you want to call the police in West Bengal what will you do... chant Jai Shri Ram and it comes immediately. This is wrong.

As far as lynching is concerned, let me tell you unequivocally that any kind of mob violence is absolutely unacceptable. But law-and-order being the state subjects, the state has to take effective actions and we are following up with every state where the incidents happen. As you know, lynching is projected as targeted [against specific communities]; no, it is all pervasive...More importantly, we have to see things in context, not disproportionately highlight them as if everywhere lynching is happening. Yes, even a single incident of lynching or mob violence is bad and wrong.

Third, about our leaders talking out of tune - that has reduced to a great extent. People have understood the importance of party’s image being hurt by non serious utterances and now everybody follows the discipline.

(An earlier version of this interview incorrectly interpreted the minister’s reference to (EF) Schumacher, the economist, as a reference to (Michael) Schumacher, the Formula 1 racer. The error is regretted.)