"At what cost to the environment"

"The country's forest cover will be raised by five per cent during the Ninth Plan," said Suresh P Prabhu , the Union minister for environment and forests, in an interview with Down To Earth. The interview was his first with any magazine since he assumed office. Accused of giving priority to the industrial sector rather than the environment, he said: "We should now decide how much development we need and at what environmental cost." Excerpts from the interview with Richard Mahapatra

Published: Friday 31 July 1998

On the delay in taking up the Biodiversity Bill in Parliament:
India will be the first country in the world to legislate on sovereign rights over its biodiversity. It is going to be a very comprehensive bill. For that, we need to seek the views of experts and stakeholders in biodiversity. Therefore, it will take time before the bill is placed in Parliament. In fact, I have put a time frame of two weeks (from June 12, 1998) for feedback on the bill from the various sections of society, so that I can present the bill in the monsoon session of Parliament.

On who the stakeholders are:
The stakeholders will be the local communities who understand the biodiversity in their area very closely. Interests of the communities and their traditional knowledge of nature will be protected at all cost.

On development versus environment and his preference for putting development before environment:
This accusation arises from a misunderstanding of my views. My point is that nature can't be recreated after being destroyed. So development should always be sustainable. Since development is inevitable, so is its impact on the environment. It's up to us to decide how much development we need and at what environmental cost.

On the appointment of bureaucrats as heads of different committees of the MEF (though he had declared that "environmentalists of repute" would be appointed):
These committees are administrative by nature and one cannot discount the knowledge of the bureaucrats. What matters is the output of these committees. I assure you that if there are complaints against the output of any committee, I will take action. Besides, environmentalists have always been consulted.

On giving wastelands to paper mills for plantations:
I am aware of the controversy that this issue has created. But I don't know why there should be any controversy.

According to our forest policy , we need 33 per cent of forest cover. Attaining it is a tough job. We have two ways -- first you regenerate the lost forest and then you take up plantations to create forests. My priority is to regenerate the lost forests first with the help of the community. Then you go for plantations. But for that you need resources, both physical and financial. So if somebody comes with a proposal for plantations in wasteland, there is no harm in accepting it. We need help from every possible sector.

On whether the paper mills will be allowed to use the wasteland for raising their raw materials
Till now I have not received any specific proposal. But if somebody comes with a proposal, I will go by my priority -- first regeneration of forests by the efforts of the community and then plantation by industries.

On the Kyoto protocol and lack of India's comprehensive views and stand on it:
By the time the next round of discussion starts in November on the Kyoto conference, I hope India will be able to present its stand more clearly. As a preparation for the November discussion, I have already started dialogue -- both formally and informally with different countries. During the Commission on Sustainable Development (csd) meeting in New York in April, I spoke to many people from different countries. I believe India will be able to protect its interests and our views will be accepted by other developing countries.

On compulsory environmental education in schools and colleges:
I have already initiated moves to attain this goal. I have talked to the human resources development ( hrd ) minister and have sought their help in making this possible. The hrd ministry will be implementing the decision while my ministry will provide the necessary inputs for the texts.

On the Ninth Plan and the environment sector:
The mef's target for the Ninth Plan is to increase the forest cover by five per cent. And there will be a vigorous exercise of bringing more land under forest cover. These targets will constitute our basic tenets for the coming Plan.

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