Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Environment and India

"The interest in conservation is not a sentimental one, but the rediscovery of a truth well known to our ancient sages. The Indian tradition teaches us that all forms of life - human, animal and plant - are so closely interlinked that disturbance in one gives rise to imbalance in the other"
                                   - Indira Gandhi

The two ministries which have been in constant news in 2010 are the Home Ministry - due to the issues related to the Red Corridor’ and the Ministry of Environment and Forests [MOEF] - owing to its energetic leader Mr. Jairam Ramesh. Truly, in the recent years, environment has become a pressing issue in the national and international circuit. This is due to the increasing arm of the UN and its allied bodies, rise of 'biologically diverse’ countries like India, Brazil etc in the global arena and expanding role played by pressure groups like NGOs, activists, scientists and media.

Interestingly, the word making its entry in almost every discussion on environment is sustainable’ - a term used by the Brundtland Commission [1983] which means ‘meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of the future generation’. The three pillars of sustainable development thus, were identified as 'care and respect for People, Planet and Prosperity [ commercial activities ] '.

Sustainable development

Sustainable development in India now encompasses a variety of schemes in social, technological, environmental and human resources segment. As a result, it has caught the attention of central-state governments and also public-private sectors.

The MOEF is the nodal Ministry in the GOI for planning, promotion, co-ordination and overseeing the implementation of India's environmental and forestry policies and programmes. While implementing them, the Ministry is guided by the principle of sustainable development and enhancement of human well-being.

The Ministry is also the apex body in the country for the implementation of United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP] and all multilateral Environmental Agreements. Some of the important protocols/conventions to which India is a signatory are à

Ramsar Convention on wetlands - 1971
Vienna Convention for Protection of the Ozone Layer - 1985
Montreal protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer - 1987
Basel Convention on Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Substances - 1989
UN Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD]- 1992
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC]- 1992
UN Convention to combat Desertification - 1994
Kyoto Protocol - 1997
Rotterdam Convention on import of hazardous chemicals  – 1998
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety - safe transfer, handling and use of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) - 2000

MOEF in 2010 - a recap

The year started with the controversy on BT Brinjal, which led to the emergence of two distinct groups – one supporting and the other rejecting its introduction in Indian markets. Despite the recommendation of Genetic Engineering Approval Committee [GEAC], the MOEF called for public consultations across the country and finally imposed a moratorium on its release.

In February, Parambikulam became the 38th Tiger Reserve of India. Thereafter, in April, an expert group was constituted to examine the draft Plastic Rules, 2009 and make recommendations based on the comments received across the nation. The Green Action for National Dandi Heritage Initiative [GANDHI] Memorial Project was inaugurated in July, to commemorate the 80th year of Dandi March. This Rs 25 crore project is aimed at promoting Mahatma Gandhi's vision for sustainable development in Dandi and its surrounding villages.

In August, two major reports were published - one was a detailed assessment of the potential for reintroducing the Cheetah in India, mentioning potential sites for reintroduction; the other was 'Gajah', on securing the future for the Elephant in India laying out a comprehensive action agenda for protecting elephants in the wild and in captivity and for addressing human-elephant conflict.

The office of the Society of Integrated Coastal Management [SICOM] was inaugurated in September. This will be the nodal agency for the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project [ICZM] being implemented by the GOI. MOEF and the Defence Research and Development Organisation [DRDO] jointly launched a major new national initiative for seabuckthorn cultivation in the high altitude, cold desert ecosystems of the country. Sea buckthorn, also known as Leh Berry has traditionally been used as medicine, nutritional supplements, fire wood and fence shrub.

The Vedanta deal

The subject of ‘Forests’ was transferred from the State list to Concurrent list under the Constitution in 1976 and soon after the Forest [Conservation] Act, 1980 was formulated. It regulates the indiscriminate diversion of forest lands for non-forestry uses in wake of the rising industrialization attempts by states.

The N.C Saxena committee in August categorically rejected the proposed Bauxite mining in Orissa’s forested Niyamgiri hills by Vedanta Resources as it trampled over the rights of Primitive Tribal Groups [PTG] such as Dongria Khondhs residing in those areas, as well as the ecological fragility of Niyamgiri.

Finally, the MOEF refused to give clearance to Vedanta as it ignored the protection that Scheduled Tribes enjoy under Schedule V of the Constitution, Forest [Conservation] Act, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers [Recognition of Forest Rights] Act and Environment [Protection] Act. This was truly a momentous decision in the history of India’s environment litigation.

Biodiversity and threats

May 22 marked the International Day for Biodiversity, which denotes the variability of life forms on earth. India is one of the 12 mega-biodiversity centres in the world. Out of the Sixteen Biosphere Reserves designated nationally, 7 Biosphere Reserves have been included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves so far à

Nilgiri [Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu]
Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve [Uttarakhand]
Sundarbans national park [West Bengal]
Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve [Tamil Nadu]
Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve [Madhya Pradesh]
Nokrek Biosphere Reserve [Meghalaya]
Simlipal Biosphere Reserve [Orissa]

Global warming and Climate change pose threats to plant and animal species as many organisms are sensitive to carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere – it may lead to their disappearance. Pesticides, industrial pollutants also degrade natural ecosystems. Poaching is a cause of major concern as it leads to massive reduction in headcount of certain animals especially the Tiger, Elephant, Rhinoceros etc. In addition, India is also home to world’s two most ecologically threatened spots i.e. Eastern Himalayas and Western Ghats.

The Conference of Parties [COP] established under the CBD in 2002, will meet again in Nagoya, Japan in October this year. The COP-10 will review the progress made in biodiversity conservation targets and establish clearer rules. India being an Asian economic giant, with its active initiatives in the field of biodiversity conservation will have a very important role to play in upcoming meeting.

Climate Change and India

Climate Change is one of the most important global environmental problems. The Inter-governmental Panel on climate change [IPCC] has brought out the Fourth Assessment Report on climate Change in November 2007 which states that global warming will have a devastating impact on the climate of the earth and climate change can slow down the pace of progress towards sustainable development.

The Prime Minister of India released the National Action Plan on Climate Change [NAPCC] on 30th June, 2008. The Plan proposes to start 8 missions promoting deployment, innovation and basic research in renewable energy technologies. In alignment, the Union Budget 2010-11 announced the setting up of National Clean Energy Fund [NCEF] for funding R&D in clean technologies.

In the international field, the 15th COP of the UNFCCC at Copenhagen failed to achieve anything conclusive owing to differences between developed and developing countries on reduction in carbon emission rates. A follow up session at Bonn in June, also did not end with significant results. COP-16 scheduled to be held later in the year at Cancun, Mexico will again try to come up with an equity-based policy of ‘Common but differentiated responsibilities’ for rich and poor countries.

Legal progression

The National Green Tribunal Bill, 2010 was passed by the Lok Sabha in May, paving the way for establishment of a Green Tribunal for effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environment, conservation of forests and natural resources. This bill is meant to replace the National Environment Appellate Authority [NEAA] Act, 1997 and National Environmental Tribunal [NET] Act, 1995 which basically were set up to review administrative decisions on Environment Impact Assessment [EIA].

The tribunal will hear all disputes relating to Water Act of 1974, the Water Cess Act of 1977, the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, the Air Act of 1981, the Environment Protection Act of 1986, the Public Liability Insurance Act of 1991 and the Biological Diversity Act of 2002.

This is a historic step and is first of its kind in the world. With Public Interest Litigations [PILs] on environmental issues flooding the courts, the proposed legislation aims to take off the pressure by handling all the civil cases related to forestry and environment.


We all live on this little blue ball that tumbles through a space of unimaginable size, depth and complexity. The pressure on natural resources has increased in pace over the last decade especially for middle powers like India, China, and Brazil etc. India in particular, is a country which can boast of a rich and varied biodiversity from the sands of Rajasthan to the hills of Assam, from the snow-clad mountains of Uttarakhand to the lagoons of Kerala. And as citizens of India, it is our Moral Duty to preserve it.

With increase in environmental awareness, threats to ecosystem and in wake of efforts to protect our ‘national treasure, the GOI and the Indian populace have started playing a positive role. However, we need to find newer ways to shrink overdraft living style which at times unnecessarily wastes resources.

We must look at every possible means to reduce our energy consumption by small ways like using resources judiciously. Projecting our environment, wildlife and rich biodiversity and promoting initiatives as individuals, as organizations and as a country is very important. It is attainable by most of us without much effort. It requires adjustment, not a radical change to ones’ lifestyle.

Indira Mukherjee is a Computer Engineer and works in a reputed IT consulting company in Kolkata. She takes keen interest in India's history, foreign policy and domestic issues. She is passionate about quizzing as well. She may be contacted at indianpolicy2010@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. a very informative article as well as an eye opener for many who still under estimate the need of getting more cautious about the greatest danger faced by our dear Earth...the carelesness of her own children.The language used by the author is quite good as expected.Her emphasis on 'adjustment' rather than'a radical change' betrays her maturity and establishes her more than just a dreamer.Congratulations.
    Champak Dyuti Majumder