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Green-lighting ecological decimation amidst a pandemic

  • IASbaba
  • July 9, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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ENVIRONMENT/ GOVERNANCE/ ECONOMY

Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment. 
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors

Green-lighting ecological decimation amidst a pandemic

Context: Projects in critical forest habitats are being considered or have been given clearance by the Environment Ministry endangering the ecological balance

Environment protection has become secondary to development process

  • Through the lockdown, ‘expert’ bodies of Union Environment Ministry have considered, and in many cases cleared, multiple industrial, mining and infrastructure proposals in critical wildlife habitats & forests. These include 
    • The Etalin Hydropower Project in the biodiversity-rich Dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh
    • A coal mine in Assam’s Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve
    • A diamond mining in the Panna forested belt
    • A coal mine with a coal-fired power plant in Odisha’s Talabira forests
    • A limestone mine in the Gir National Park
    • A geo-technical investigation in the Sharavathi Lion-Tailed Macaque Sanctuary in Karnataka
  • Authorities considered these projects via video-conferencing in contravention of environmental laws, and without all necessary documents or site inspections

Why 21st century has seen multiple lethal epidemics?

  • There has been an accelerated destruction of wild habitats, forests and diversified food systems for urbanisation, mining, and industry 
  • This means pathogens which were once largely confined to animals and plants in the wild are now better positioned to infect humans. 
  • The expansion of monoculture cropping and livestock farming systems, coupled with dense human settlements are eliminating the biodiversity and distance barriers that lent resilience to the human species 

Why government’s draft EIA is being criticised?

  • Undermining Public Participation
    • No meaningful public consultation can take place amidst a pandemic and repeated lockdowns. 
    • MoEFCC had given June 30 deadline for feedback on its draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, but it was extended through High Court Order to August 11
  • Subverting the spirit of EIA
    • As per the draft, starting a project before obtaining environmental approvals will no longer be a violation, and it can be regularised post-facto. 
  • Large Exemption Category
    • Instead of strengthening EIA process, the draft notification proposes to exempt a wider range of projects from public hearings, including those which authorities can arbitrarily designate as ‘strategic’. 
    • The draft even allows for a class of projects to secure clearance without putting out any information in the public domain.
  • Inadequate Focus on Monitoring
    • Despite demands from environmentalists, the draft notification says virtually nothing on improving monitoring & compliance with clearance conditions and safeguards.
  • Economic Agenda undermining Environmental safeguards
    • Green clearances for “seamless economic growth” seems to be the government’s agenda in order to revive economy which is facing slowdown in recent quarters

Consequences of the above actions

  • Further environmental degradation. 
  • Development-induced displacement. 
  • Disproportionate impact on poor & weak: The effects of these are overwhelmingly borne by Adivasi and other marginalised groups
  • Further endanger habitats and lives, 
  • Intensifies human’s vulnerability to infectious diseases and related socio-economic shocks.

Conclusion

These giant leaps backward (dilution of Environmental protection standards) will not make us atmanirbhar (self-reliant).

Connecting the dots:

  • Paris Climate Deal
  • Ease of Doing Business – Improvements by India

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