Unease over environment clearances (Issue of the week, November Week 4 (2005))
This news analysis report appeared in The Hindu.
THE MINISTRY of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has for some time now been under attack, accused of a lack of commitment to what it is supposed to safeguard. On Monday, November 14, about 150 environmental activists managed to enter the Ministry premises in
New Delhi and stage a sit-in, protesting against its draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification. That day was also the deadline for objections to the draft notification.
The draft, released on September 15, was a dilution of the original 1994 EIA notification, activists said. The protest action followed a public hearing a day earlier in the capital where about 25 affected groups from across the country made representations.
A "death certificate" to the EIA was issued during the protest action.
The yet-to-be-released National Environment Policy has been criticised for its lack of consultation with communities and as being economic growth driven, with the idea of promoting private-public partnerships. The draft EIA notification seeks further dilutions.
In the past 11 years, there had been 13 amendments to the EIA notification of 1994. The 13th amendment of July 4, 2005, relaxes the requirement for major projects to get prior environmental clearance. Instead, it says that the MoEF may, after satisfying itself,
grant temporary working permission to major projects. This effectively does away with the main reason for environmental clearance, which is to ensure that projects do not result in ecological disasters.
The Govindrajan committee on reforming investment approval and implementation procedures (October 2004) observed that environmental clearance perhaps takes the longest time and causes maximum delays to projects. It seems that its observations have found their
way into the draft EIA notification as it proposes that environmental clearance can be given without public hearings, if it is justified, "depending on local conditions." Also, the validity of environment clearance has been extended to 15 and 10 years in case
of river valley and other projects respectively, (earlier it was five years from commencement of the project).
Kalpavriksh, the Environmental Action Group that coordinated the three-year biodiversity action plan supported by the MoEF, was reduced to releasing "Securing India's Future," the final technical report of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan
(NBSAP), on its own last month. The MoEF is critical of the report for various reasons. In a press release on October 5, the Ministry said the NBSAP submitted by Kalpavriksh was rejected. The NBSAP was reviewed by a group of scientists appointed by the Ministry,
the note explained. They concluded that the report was, for the major part, scientifically invalid. Hence, the Ministry also said that it had started the process of developing the National Bio-diversity Action Plan afresh. Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh claims
what may be irking the MoEF is not the 15 or 20 so-called factual errors or the scientific flaws that were detected by a three-member committee appointed last year, but the recommendations of the Plan, which are quite radical.
It has to be emphasised that it was the MoEF that initiated the three-year process of preparing the NBSAP from 2000 onwards and 50,000 people all over the country were involved in it in a massive consultative process. Over 100 documents were produced in the
process and the final report was submitted to the Ministry in 2003. Many scientific institutions were also involved in the process, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The report has a wealth
of information and action plans, which many States such as Maharashtra, Sikkim, and Karnataka have already started to implement.
The NBSAP report comes at a time when the country is losing nearly half its forests, 40 per cent of mangroves and substantial portions of its wetlands. Agricultural biodiversity was also under threat and this directly impinged on the nutrition levels of people.
Mr. Kothari said the biggest threat to areas rich in biodiversity was the threat of development projects. One of the major recommendations the NBSAP makes is to re-orient the development process. Projects will have to conduct what impact they will have on
biodiversity in future, before they are approved. It also recommended a National Land Use plan that would ensure that development processes respect the sanctity of regions rich in biodiversity. Apart from this, the report also demands localised planning and
India's richness in biodiversity needs to be protected at all costs, not merely to satisfy the requirements of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), under which the country has to have a national biodiversity action plan ready by 2006.
Apple latest victim of nature (November Week 4 (2005))
Despite a bumper apple crop ahead, the apple-cart has been upset by nature, reports The Economic times. With apples dropping to the ground on a large scale from tall trees, the damages have been huge. Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir account for over
90% of the country’s total apple crop. Like last year this year too the country is headed for a bumper production. But luscious apples in large quantities drop from trees and get damaged on the ground.
Although the reason behind the large scale dropping is still unknown, experts feel this could be due to a fungal disease that spread in early July when Himachal Pradesh witnessed heavy showers. The state has witnessed the wettest July in many years.
Lack of Will killing big cats (November Week 4 (2005))
Is funds crunch killing tigers. Not really. It’s lack of will, says Sunita Narain, Director, CSE. Speaking at the annual congress of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists, which opened along with “Vatavaran Film Festival in New Delhi,
she said both Sariska and Ranthambhore were spending heavily on tigers from the Government kitty, but were not able to stem the decline.
This proves that funding the forest department as a whole will not work. A strategy for each reserve has to be formulated in consultation with local residents and implemented, Narain said. Expressing concern over the increasing hostility of local villagers
towards the big cats, she said,” The largest number of tiger deaths has resulted from poisoning by local people. In spite of all the talk about relocation, only 10% of the affected villages have been shifted.”
She also said 150 of the country’s poorest districts are located in the richest forest belts-also home to tigers. As a result, the impoverished villagers often fall back on the big cats for livelihood.
Her prescription was adding teeth to the Wildlife Act. Ministry of Environment nad Forest officials said the government was in the process of constituting wildlife crime cells.
Kaziranga crammed, Manas to make room for rhinos. (November Week 4 (2005))
To give the one-horned rhino more space, the Assam Forest Department has drawn up an ambitious plan to shift many of them to other protected areas in the state, reports The Indian Express.
A training cum pilot project in this regard will begin at Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary in November next, and the first batch of 20 rhinos would be shifted to Manas National Park in the beginning of 2007. The move is in accordance with recommendations a Task
Force had made in the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 document prepared in the wake of the centenary celebrations of Kaziranga early this year.
Right now, 85% of Assam’s rhino population is literally jostling for space in 430 sq.km in Kaziranga, with environmentalist repeatedly warning of stochastic catastrophes. Manas National park has been ravaged by armed militancy for over a decade. While the last
count had recorded 80 rhinos in Manas, there is not a single rhino there now.
Since normalcy has been restored and a massive recovery programme taken up, Manas will soon have rhinos relocated from Kaziranga.
Save the Chiru (November Week 4 (2005))
THE international craze for shawls made of Shahtoosh, “the wool of kings”, will make the Chiru (Tibetan Antelope) extinct in a few years, says an editorial in The Tribune. The Supreme Court’s directive to the J&K government to ban the manufacture and trade
of Shahtoosh products has thus come not a day too soon. In effect, a ban already exists – it is a question of enforcement. The J&K government in 2002 had amended its wildlife act to include the Chiru in Schedule I, thus prohibiting hunting of the animal and
trade of its parts. The Wildlife (Protection) Act of India (1972) also protects the Chiru under Schedule I.
This week Times of India reported that 21 shawls were seized by CBI in raids conducted in Delhi. Five Kashmiri Traders were arrested.
The availability of these shawls in the market place continues, giving impetus to the trade. It is reported that the clientele in India includes the expatriate community and embassy officials besides society women.
The Chiru is mostly found in the Tibetan Plateau, often straying into Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Its gossamer wool, extremely fine and warm at the same time, is far superior even to the famed Pashmina. The shawls are sold at rates ranging from $1000
to $15,000. The Chiru’s wool cannot be shorn like in sheep. The animal has to be killed, and three to five animals are slaughtered to make enough wool for one shawl.
The Wildlife Trust of India, which moved the PIL in 2003 resulting in the Supreme Court directive earlier this week, has estimated that 1000 to 2000 shawls are available for sale in New Delhi on any given day. A worldwide campaign has been started to educate
people about the source of the Shahtoosh shawl, on the lines of the anti-ivory and anti-fur campaigns, so that the demand is reduced. The trade has flourished even when the Chiru is protected not only by national laws in India, China and Nepal, but by international
treaties. The J&K government should act now to cut a key link in the trade. For weavers and buyers, there is always Pashmina.
Environmentalists storm Ministry office (Issue of the week, November Week 3 (2005))
The Hindu reported in detail the demand by environmentalists for an independent evaluation of the performance of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).
Agitated over the Centre’s proposed notification relating to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and clearance for development projects, scores of environmentalists from across the country – under the banner of Campaign for Environmental Justice-India-“stormed”
the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) office. They sought an independent evaluation of the performance of EIA and environmental clearance procedures and creation of an independent authority, mandated to ensure that relevant laws were followed
to ensure conservation of environment.
“Our analysis, built on ground level experience of several hundred projects that have been cleared or are in the process of being cleared, is that procedures are already significantly flawed. The proposed changes to the existing process will bring in further
weakness,” a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister said.
The activists included representatives of project affected communities from across the country such as the Sethusamudram ship canal and Sterlite Industries from Tamil Nadu, Polavaram Dam in Andhra Pradesh, Vedanta Alumina refinery and bauxite mining in Orissa
and those displaced due to the construction of dams in N-E states. The activists, seeking a meeting with Union Environment and Forest Secretary quoted him as saying that the changes had been made in consultation with the World Bank, and not Parliament or any
other elected body.