Green bona fides?

Minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh has said he was under ‘pressure’ to overlook violations of environmental norms while clearing certain projects. He has not named the projects which he was reportedly forced to give his nod to. However, one can surmise this could have happened in relation to those projects he turned down initially, only to give his assent eventually.

That the minister was under tremendous pressure from ministries such as mines, surface transport, etc that are keen to green signal projects to boost ‘development’ was never in doubt. What is problematic about Ramesh’s candid confession, however, is that it raises questions over the depth of his commitment to the cause of environment. If he is indeed convinced that environmental regulations are being violated, why did he waver and give in? He should have dug in and convinced his ministerial colleagues with strong arguments.

Had he been really convinced over the violations, he should have stepped down on a matter of principle, rather than give his assent and then grumble. Huffing and puffing on environmental issues is not enough. One needs to run with the issue till the very end. With his revelation Ramesh has indicated, sadly, that he lacks the stamina to run the marathon on environment issues.

Ramesh has infused the environment ministry with a new energy. This was a ministry that had become largely irrelevant over the past decade. Ramesh not only raised its profile, but also has pushed environmental issues to the fore of public discussions. He has rightly argued that we cannot deforest or pollute our way to prosperity.

Yet, with his confession that he buckled to pressure on several projects, it does seem that these arguments were empty bluster aimed at scoring points with activists. Was Ramesh’s passionate espousal of the cause of India’s dwindling forests, its tigers and magnificent marine life only confined to rhetoric?

Ramesh will find that giving the go-ahead to projects that violate norms will not be problematic if he assiduously implements the ‘polluter pays’ principle. That is, if a mining project envisages destruction of forest land, it will be given the green signal only if it engages in reforestation, rehabilitation and so on in a way that it undoes all the damage done. That way, neither Ramesh nor the public will regret his green signalling development projects.

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