June 5. Yawn

Not once has the ministry of environment and forests taken a strong stand, shown results

Published: Friday 30 June 2000

Another day, another idle promise. This year the Indian ministry of environment and forests ( moef ) acknowledged the passing of June 5, World Environment Day, by announcing an Environment Protection Fund to create mass awareness, and a 15-25 per cent increase in funds for soil and water conservation. Like every year, the token gesture was pompously delivered by the minister in-charge, and solemnly reported by the Indian press.

The day will pass, the funds will vanish, but the problems of mass awareness and of soil and water conservation will remain. After all, who ever questions? Who will question what mass awareness means, and whether it has been achieved? Or ask what was so good about the soil and water management programmes, which merited a 15-25 per cent increase? More pertinently, even if somebody does ask, who will provide truthful answers? More than a decade after the moef was created, there is no responsible and accountable governance at the helm of environmental affairs in the country.

Not once, on any issue, has the moef taken a strong stand, found a solution, shown results. Its job is being done by communities across the country, and by the Supreme Court of India whether it is the issue of forest, soil or water management, air or water pollution, or of saving the country's biodiversity from biopirates, or from the entry of genetically modified organisms. Its attempts to work with communities has more often than not been interference than help. Rajendra Singh, working on watershed management in Alwar, Rajasthan, is serious when he says the communities in the region want only one thing from the government, and that is for them to stay away from their projects. Even more atrociously, the moef has worked against the environmental interests of Indian citizens by pitching in for the automobile industry in the Supreme Court case on vehicular pollution.

Why, we might ask, do we continue to maintain the white elephant at Paryavaran Bhawan? Why do we continue to accept its tokenism, committees and paper laws with indifference? Habit, it is said, is a dog tied to its own vomit.

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