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

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Choosing Speed over Diligence

Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, is a man in a hurry. He is fond of boasting about his ministry’s achievements. In the two years that he has headed this important ministry, it is the speed with which projects have been cleared that Javadekar claims as his principal achievement. He was recently reported saying that his ministry had cleared over 2,000 projects in two years, including 349 mining proposals. He said that the waiting period for a project to be cleared had been reduced from 600 days to 190 days and that he aimed to reduce this further to 100 days. Calling this a “revolution,” he went on to boast that this would result in the creation of millions of jobs and spur India’s economic growth.

Apart from the fact that many of such claims made by the Modi government after two years in office have been shown to be short on credible facts and high on bombast, Javadekar’s boasts are reason for alarm, not applause. Either he has forgotten, or has chosen to forget, that the idea behind environmental clearances was to protect the environment, not make way for its destruction. Even under existing rules, most environmental clearances are suspect. They rely on data provided by project proponents, there are direct conflicts of interest, the prerequisite public hearing is often stage-managed, and the process is opaque. This was one of the important observations of the Supreme Court-appointed expert committee on hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand after the June 2013 devastating floods. The committee emphasised that hydro projects in ecologically-fragile areas like the Himalayas could not be viewed individually; they had to be assessed in terms of their cumulative impact on the region. It also noted that the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) of the hydro projects it had reviewed, were unreliable and that many of them had been done on the basis of false information provided by project proponents. It urged that future EIAs ought to be done by an independent agency.

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