Parvesh: App Towards Environmental Developmentby Opinion Express September 18, 2018 0 comments
The Environment Ministry launched the PARVESH app to show their commitment towards achieving goals, especially development. However, challenges still remain.
Licence raj for industries came to an end in 1991 after the economic reforms kicked in. Business enterprises heaved a sigh of relief and results were evident soon. However, at present, various business communities and development planners have termed the functioning of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change akin to the old licence raj. Environmentalists, on the other hand, have dubbed the Ministry as ineffective and have blamed it for bartering away forestlands and promoting polluters. The truth, however, lies in between.
A review of the environmental policies and programmes of the present NDA regime will make us believe that things have changed for good. Laws governing the environment and forest conservation were generally treated as irritants. Initially, most violations were condoned, especially for the release of forest lands and polluting industries on grounds of ignorance of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and Environment Protection Act, 1986. After the Supreme Court’s intervention in 1996, the scenario for the enforcement of regulatory laws completely changed. The Ministry was blamed by both the proponents of development and environmentalists for arbitrariness in decision-making, inefficiency, delay, corruption and absence of transparency. This writer has worked for a long time in the Ministry and is a witness to its growth and follies. It will, hence, be interesting to examine the performance of the Modi Government in the last four years.
One of the best policy decisions towards ensuring transparency, professionalism and to ward off any criticism of delays and arbitrariness in decision-making was taken by the Ministry with the Prime Minister Modi’s launch of PARIVESH portal on August 10. The Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub (PARIVESH), for online submission, monitoring and management of proposals, will allow the project proponent as well as the common man to track the entire approval process under the Central and State Government for all four clearances viz, environment, forest, wildlife and coastal regulation zone. One of the highlights of the portal is the auto-generation of minutes of the meetings which will remove any scope for backroom modifications by expert bodies. This has been a regular feature in the past 10 years before 2014. In one stroke, real-time decision-making process will be in the public domain. This is the best thing that has happened in the Ministry. This has far-reaching consequences and it would benefit the country’s developmental process without compromising on environment. This has also opened the first door for e-governance. If implemented sincerely, it can ensure timely clearances and quick decision-making.
The Ministry has also for long been blamed for prevaricating on delays in finalising the declaration of eco-sensitive zones near national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The Supreme Court in 2002-2003 had asked the Government to declare these zones, and till then, in a radius of 10 km, most of the developmental activities were forbidden by the Court. During the period of 2004 to 2014, only eight proposals were finalised and 24 were in the draft stage. In the last four years, the Ministry finalised 284 cases and 202 are still in their draft stage, which have been fast-tracked. The portal will also ensure development of stalled projects and protection of wildlife areas. A report titled, ‘India State of Forest Report 2017’ by the Forest Survey of India revealed that India’s total forest and tree cover area increased to over 8,021 sq km, which is one per cent increase from 2015. This is in line with meeting India’s Paris climate commitment. The country now is sequestering 49.50 million tonnes of carbon annually and India is also one of the frontline leaders in the world in mitigating strategy deployment.
However, everything is not hunky-dory in the Ministry’s working, considering the emerging challenges, especially the fund position is critical. The country is facing serious threats from climate change, which is now visible in the form of devastating floods/landslides, like the ones we witnessed in Kerala this year and Tamil Nadu last year. Floods and cloudburst in Himalayas, recurrent droughts and intense heat waves and scarcity of water, are going to severely affect livelihoods of a large section of people. Dense forests of more than 40 per cent crown density are not in good shape as they lack adequate regeneration. Vegetation in major forest types has changed due to temperature and rainfall pattern changes substantially, as revealed by the task force of Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE).
Agriculture and water supply is going to be severely impacted if we do not put money into the management of catchments of major rivers. This loss of water deprives locals of drinking water and is also leading to the migration of people to urban areas, where the problem gets further compounded. According to a recent study by Kumaun University and Australian National University, due to the interference of man, water sources in the Himalayas are getting dry. The region is losing 65 per cent of the rain water, leading to disasters like drying up of water sources, flash floods and landslides in the region, and floods in the plain areas. There is a constant reduction in river flow in the tributaries of Yamuna in Himachal, Ganga and Kosi in Uttarakhand and Teesta in Sikkim. The reduction in stream flow varies from 38 per cent to 45 per cent in these rivers. The net result of this has prevented irrigation in over 20 per cent of the land in plain areas and 15 per cent reduction in agriculture productivity. The current available annual Budget of the Ministry is around Rs 2,600 crore. Compared to the needs of today, this is very less.
The Prime Minister must take a review and sanction at least Rs 1,000 crore annually for watershed activities in the recorded forest areas for the next five years. This must be complemented with cultural and regeneration of forests and sufficient fund flow for research and lands vested with tribals. This will improve the forest and non-forestland hydrology, and the landscape will adapt to the climatic changes. The forestry sector needs institutional reforms. The ICFRE’s autonomy is half-done if it is brought back to the Government as an attached office as forestry institutions cannot be expected to earn revenue to sustain them. The joint forest management programme needs second generation reforms. Well-planned activities can solve much of the threats posed by pollution as the technologies are available. What is needed is a far sight and a will to do things in a coordinated manner.
(The writer is a retired civil servant)
Writer: V. K. Bahuguna
Courtesy: The Pioneer