IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA,
GREAT JOB MR. PARMAR
it is good to eat as many as vegetables and fruits (totally vegetarian), but my aurvedic doctor asked me to stop eating every...
AS THE party in power at the Centre
for 45 out of 49 years, the
Congress(i), with all its factions,
can be held mainly responsible for
India's achievements and failures.
In the politically tumultuous '70s,
,environment' was attracting international attention, with the UN-
sponsored Conference on Human
Environment taking off in
Stockholm in 1972, where the first
attempt was made to link development with environment.
Consequently, Indian politicians too began evincing interest
in the issue.
At the Stockholm conference, the Indian Prime Minister
Indira Gandhi had proclaimed: "Poverty is the biggest polluter." This analysis, which made the poor the main adversaries of environment in the eyes of the government, influenced the party's policies on environment.
During Indira's tenure, India launched 'Project Tiger' to
protect the tiger and its habitat, leading to eviction of people
from reserve areas. One unfortunate outcome of this was the
police firing in Bharatpur's Keoladeo Ghana National Park in
Rajasthan (1982), which led to several deaths and injuries;
locals had let their cattle into the Park for lack of grazing
In February 1980, the government appointed the Tiwari
committee to suggest ways to improve environmental protection. On the committee's recommendation, a separate department of environment was created in November 1980 to carry
out environmental appraisals of development projects. But the
practice of viewing certain regions (like adivasi homelands) as
backward and needing upliftment through industrialisation,
with unchecked mining of natural resources, continued.
Environment found an independent reference for the first
time in 1984 in the party's election manifesto, which stated that the party will "optimise use of natural
resources so that while meeting the current
needs of growth, the resource base is oriented
towards sustainable development". The manifesto admitted that the development strategy
followed by the Congress(fi till then could not
be continued at the expense of ecological
degradation and unchecked exploitation of
natural resources. It said that the Congress(i)
formulate a national conservation strategy to
promote rational resource management;
establish biosphere reserves;
emphasise environmental concerns in education and information media;
take effective steps to control air and water pollution;
establish task forces for eco-development programmes;
protect existing forest wealth and undertake
massive afforestation programmes.
However, as it neglected local people's rights to
forest resources, the document remained a long
way from explicating the actual links that environment had with people's lives.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi introduced
the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) in 1986 for cleaning up the Ganga river. However, the Plan got
bogged down it) bureaucratic procedures. A
national wasteland board was created in 1985.
A process to devolve powers to local levels with
an effort to give a constitutional status to panchayat raj institutions was also initiated. The
Prime Minister invited Anil Agarwal (CSE) to
deliver a series of lectures to his cabinet ministers and subcommittees on environment,
However, the exercise demonstrated that not
many of the ministers were really interested in
The Rajiv government upgraded the environment department to a level of ministry in
1986 with Bhajan Lai as its first minister.
Ironically, Lai had neither an interest in environment matters nor could develop a perspective or actions on them.
In 1991, while reiterating some of the earlier
promises, the manifesto pledged to take
effective steps to enforce pollution control
regulations, to evolve integrated national water
and land policies and to implement the GAP
with renewed efforts. Wildlife was declared a
priority area. The important addition was its
categorical assurance of involving the people in
protecting the environment.
During the tenure of Kamal Nath, the
Congress(i) minister for environment and
forests under Narasimha Rao, the ministry
acquired a high profile image, with the minister
jet-setting around the world to attend
international conventions voicing'I hird World
concerns and networking with NGOS on global
environmental issues. However, critics say
Kamal Nath did not exhibit the same openness
regarding domestic issues.
Critics also point out that the government's
liberalisation policies have the potential to
affLt the survival base of the poor with more
intensive exploitation of natural resources. The
government's budgetary allocations have not
encouraged 'green' efficiency; the 1995-96 budget does not propose tirs concessions to industry for polhttion'@Ontrql, nor any punitive taxes
for causing pollution.
- 'Rajesh Pilot, who took over the charge of
the ministry from Kamal Natb, has had his
share of controversies within his short stay in
office. In a letter to CSE, he stated that although
he was aware of the hardships caused to local
communities due to the Wildlife Protection
Act, he expected these commupities to
continue to play the role of martyrs!
The National Forest Policy, 1952, introduced
by Jawaharlal Nehru, had vested all forest land
under the state, thus restricting the forest-dwelling population's access to forest
resources. In keeping with Nehru's economic
outlook, the government saw forests as a
resource to be extracted for the development of
industries and infrastructure - a policy continned in Indira Gandhi's time. However, with
the increase in degraded forest lands, the
Fourth Five Year Plan (1974-79) introduced
the term 'afforestation' for the first time.
Forests were brought into the Concurrent
List in 1976, enabling the Central government
to enact legislations on the same. The 1980
Forest Conservation Act, which banned the
diversion of any forest land for "non-forest purposes" without the Centre's permission, followed. While environmentalists felt the Act was
a symbolic beginning of an understanding that
national 'development' had been achieved at
tremendous costs, it brought Centre-state politics to the fore. Opposition chief ministers
claimed the Act was being used by the Centre to
keep their states 'backward', while allowing
Congress-ruled state governments to divert forest lands for development purposes. The lease
approval of 144 ha of forest lands for mining
purposes given to B K Gadhvi, the then Union
minister of state for finance - under pressure
from the Gujarat Congress(i) chief minister
Amarsinh Choudhary - was cited as an example.
Social forestry programmes, initiated during this period, failed because pulpwood
species like eucalyptus were planted, which did
not provide for the biomass needs of people in
1984, the National Remote Sensing Agency
(NRSA) calculated the nation's forest cover as
only 35.43 million ha. The following year, Rajiv
Gandhi declared: "Continuing deforestation
has brought us face to face with a major ecological and socio-economic crisis- The arend
must be halted. I propose to set up a National
Wastelands DevIelopment Board with the
object of bringing five million ha of land
every .year tinder fuelwood and fodder
plantations. We shall develop a people's
movement for afforestation." The toard was
duly created, but internal hickerings and
neglect of the aspect of popul#' partlizipation
denied it any considerable achievements; by
March 1989, lh@- Board had succeeded in
afforesting only 7.16 million ha.
. In more recent times, strident criticism has
effectively stalled Kamal Nath's draft forest bill
(1992) -which proposed to give more powers
to the bureaucracy - and his proposal (1995)
to give degraded forest lands to the paper and
pulp industry for growing their captive raw
material. Moreover, Rajesh Pilot's proposal to
appo int Va n M ukh ins i n each panchaya t by forest departments, who will act as middlemen
between the viltage protection commitees and
the departments, is causing considerable heartburn. Environmentalists fear the retrograde
step will take away whatever little say communities have in forest management today.
Energy policies of the Congress have been
governed by heavy subsidies. The party has not
been keen to pursue the question of price hike
in the sector for fear of antagonising the farming and industrial lobbies, which constitute two
important vote banks.
In this scenario, internalising the ecological
costs involved in production of power seems to
be a distant dream. Moreover, the constant
wrangling between the power and environment
ministries has made matters worse. Kalpnath
Rai, the former minister of state for power, had
complained, "The power sector has been singled out for tough environmental standards."
Environment ministry officials have retaliated
by maintaining that "power projects are often
taken up with total disregard for environmental guidelines, with the hope that once the initial investment is made, the clearances can be
Investments in eco-friendly renewable
energy resources have been given a boost by
creating a ministry of non-conventiorial energy,
presently, non-conventional energy accounts for only one per cent of the country's total
energy production. With a far from encouraging budget, much needs to be done in the field.
Over the years, various Congress governments
have enacted legislations to deal with the
problems of industrial, water and air pollution
under pressure from people's movements.
The Indira Gandhi government had introduced the Water Pollution Control Act, 1974 - one of the first central acts on pollution after
independence - which laid down that effluents from factories should be treated before
they are released into rivers. It was followed by
the 1981 Air Pollution Control Act.
Following the Bho at tragedy, Rajiv's
Congress(i) government made the first attempt
to bring in various kinds of pollution under the
umbrella of the Environment Protection Act,
198& This Act placed the responsibility of protecting the environment on the Central government, which secured powers to close, prohibit
or regulate any industry. It also gave all citizens
the right to move courts against those who
damage the environment. But the Act could
not grant justice to Bhopal's victims; in a total
sell-out, the Government of India settled the
case with Union Carbide for us $470 million in
1989 and absolved the company from any
criminal liability. In the same period, the
Rashtriya Chemical Fertilizers Ltd, an urea-manufacturing factory in Clbembur, Bombay,
notorious for its polluting effects, was awarded
the Priyaclarsharn Award for Environment
Protection by the government!
In January 1994, Kama] Nath issued a
notification on environment impact assessment (FIA), under which new projects with
investments of over Its 50 crore in 29 sectors
were to be appraised by expert committees of
the ministry. The notification did not include
the public hearing clause, which would have
allowed people's participation in evaluating the
ecological damages that an industry can cause.
On top of it, the May 1994 amendment gave
discretionary powers to the ministry to
disregard experts, environmental groups
and voices of affected populations and even
allow some industries to dispense with EIA
In the meantime, the widespread demand
for environment courts led to Parliament's
approval of the much belated bill for establishment of environment tribunals in May 1995.
While Kama] Nath claimed the bill to be
unique, environmentalists have considered it a
piecemeal measure, pointing out that it
did not deal with prevention of environmental accidents or disasters or force
industries to take safety measures;
did not ensure local communities' right to
information regarding industrial hazards;
exempted the government and its agencies
from the purview of the tribunal.
With elections due, the ministry of
environment and, forests (MEF) claims to be
working on a new notification eyipowering
local communities with the right to any
information r4arding' hazardous industries.