ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Environmental Hypocrisy

All governments somehow fi nd ways to subvert laws they enact.

The real controversy surrounding former Minister of State for Environment and Forests in the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Jayanthi Natarajan’s explosive letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, was not just her naming Rahul Gandhi in a manner more direct than any other member of her party had ever done, but the admission that decision-making was not governed by law or cabinet consultations but by “requests” from persons outside government. The Natarajan “letter bomb” of 30 January revealed that on crucial environmental decisions, such as denying Vedanta environmental clearance to mine bauxite in Niyamgiri, Odisha, the minister was merely conceding to a “request” from Rahul Gandhi. In other words, although her government had passed a law giving forest dwellers the right to decide whether the forests in which they live can be cleared for other purposes, she conceded this right only because a non-cabinet minister asked her to do so.

This admission lies at the heart of the hypocrisy that surrounds so much environmental legislation in India. Laws are brought in with much fanfare and promises. And then those tasked with implementation find ways to either subvert the law, or to implement it only if there are overwhelming political reasons to do so. The implicit reasons for enacting a law, particularly an environmental law, are virtually forgotten.

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