No improvement in enforcement of environment laws under NDA govt: CSE

CSE said that although measures have been taken to ease clearances but there has been “no improvement” in enforcement to protect environment and interests of local communities.

CSE said that although measures have been taken to ease clearances but there has been "no improvement" in enforcement to protect environment and interests of local communities. (Reuters)

There has been no improvement under the NDA government in enforcement of laws to protect the environment and interests of local communities, Centre for Science and Environment today claimed.

It also warned that steps taken up by the current dispensation are in danger of remaining “mere half measures” unless immediate course correction is taken.

In an analysis of the NDA government’s environmental performance over its two years in power, CSE noted that the rejection rate of projects continues to be “very low” under the current dispensation which is “no different” from its predecessor UPA-II as far as granting of environmental clearances to projects is concerned.

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“The NDA government has taken some important steps towards improving the way we manage our environment and our resources. At the same time, some of the big steps that it has initiated are in the danger of remaining mere half-measures if a course correction is not carried out immediately,” CSE Deputy Director General Chandra Bhushan said.

Elaborating on the analysis’ findings on the aspect of green clearances, CSE said there is “no significant” difference between NDA government and its predecessor (UPA-II) with respect to environmental clearances granted for key sectors.

“For forest clearances, the average rate of forestland diversion has reduced when compared to UPA-II. The rejection rate of projects continues to be very low and rejection of projects coming up in wildlife sanctuaries and national parks has reduced under the NDA government,” it said.

“There is a tendency to ease clearances through incremental changes without making any improvements in the provisions for enforcement,” Bhushan said.

CSE said that although measures have been taken to ease clearances but there has been “no improvement” in enforcement to protect environment and interests of local communities.

Noting that the mining and infrastructure sector remains the focus of green clearances, it said more than 300 projects (new and expansion) combining coal and non-coal mining have been given environmental clearances by the

NDA government in its two years in power, which includes 68 coal mining projects.

Similarly for forest clearances, the highest share of total forestland diversion is for mining projects – of about 47,473 hectares of land diverted (combining in-principle and final approvals) while 29 per cent is for mining.

The CSE analysis emphasises that changes made in the green clearances is largely to ease the clearance process and increase transparency but it is not helping the ecology as many projects have been cleared in ecologically sensitive and critically polluted areas. Elaborating on the government’s flagship Swachh Bharat Mission, the green body said the success of the programme has been around building toilets which will “clearly not be enough”.

“So far, the success of the (Swacch Bharat) programme has been around building toilets which will clearly not be enough. There is very little focus on managing the waste from these toilets which, if not handled properly, can contaminate ground and surface water,” CSE director general Sunita Narain said.

Commenting on the ‘Namami Gange’ programme for cleaning and rejuvenating Ganga, Narain said despite an outlay of Rs 20,000 crore for five years till 2019 for cleaning the Ganga, and several promising plans, on-ground action for cleaning and rejuvenating the river remains “far from satisfactory”.

According to the CSE analysis, so far, the government has met only three of its 13-point agenda for cleaning the river – these are cleaning the river surface and ghats, creation of a Ganga task force and creation of Ganga grams (model villages) along the main stem of the river.

“In addition to this, none of the 21 proposals sanctioned since July 2014 for cleaning the river (according to the National Mission for Clean Ganga) have been implemented,” it said.

“The undermining of people’s participation in green clearances is also worrisome. The NDA government continues to dilute the public hearing process,” Narain said.

Noting that forests remain a key focus of the reform initiatives of the government, CSE said that these these initiatives however seems “restrictive” in comprehensively addressing the issue of forest management. “There is a suggestive trend of shifting from a people-centric to a more industry-centric and technocratic approach,” Bhushan said.

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