PM Narendra Modi
File photo of PM Narendra Modi | Praveen Jain/ThePrint
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Climate change, pollution and biodiversity destruction are some of the most urgent challenges, and a new-generation of revolutionary activists are fighting them.

But most political leaders in the world remain lethargic in taking action. And then there are some leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi who have started an all-out war against environment in the last five years.

This is also the most under-reported failure of the Modi government. The opposition parties have raised issues like unemployment and farmer crisis, but not environment. The previous UPA government didn’t have much of a stellar record on environment anyway, but what has happened in past five years is unprecedented, which I have mentioned in my Facebook post as well.

The biggest statistical evidence for this lies in the Environmental Performance Index, where India was ranked the fourth-worst country (177) in the world out of 180 countries last year. Five years ago, India was ranked 155th.

Also read: Why covering the environment is one of the most hazardous beats in journalism

The assault began as soon as the Modi government took over in 2014 with the promise of speeding business decisions and removing hurdles to investment. In June 2014, the environment ministry used a bureaucratic shortcoming to remove the ban on setting up of factories in eight ‘critically-polluted’ industrial belts, which was reported in Business Standard.

Environment clearances were eased to allow mid-sized polluting industries to operate within 5-km of eco-sensitive areas, as against the earlier limit of 10 km. Norms for coal tar processing, sand mining, paper pulp industries were also eased.

In August 2014, the number of independent members in National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) was reduced from 15 to just three. More government members in this board meant more government influence – a decision that many say was key to the environmental damage that was to follow. The new NBWL was a mere puppet of the government. Five years later we saw the result – NBWL approved 99.82 per cent of all industrial projects, giving them environmental clearance. A total of 682 projects were allowed from the 687 projects it had to examine. In contrast, under UPA-2, only 80 per cent of the projects got clearance – 260 were allowed out of 328 projects.

The next assault came on 11 December 2017 when Central Pollution Control Board wrote to over 400 thermal power units in the country, allowing them to release pollutants in violation of the 2015 limits set by the government, which were to be followed till another five years. It also wanted newer thermal power plants to follow the new norms of clean technologies set by the government. But as Scroll reported, “even the 16 new power stations that became operational in 2017 had failed to install clean technologies”.

It comes as no surprise that by 2018, 15 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities were in India.

In July 2017, the government tried to undermine the independence of India’s environmental watchdog – the National Green Tribunal. In the past, NGT has often raised pointed questions about anti-environment projects. It is able to do so only because of the autonomy it enjoys. It can only be headed by a former Supreme Court judge or the Chief Justice of a High Court. But the Modi government, through the provision of a money bill, tweaked the rules, allowing a five-member committee, wherein four members could be from the government, to choose the chairperson of NGT. Under the new rules, anyone with ‘at least 25 years of experience in law’ could head the NGT.

Fortunately, this disastrous move was stayed by the Supreme Court.

Also read: Computers, the environment & lunar mining — how well Isaac Asimov predicted 2019

Laws were changed systematically across the states and at the Centre. Modi government declassified salt pans as wetlands. This move threatens to open up vast lands of salt pans near Mumbai for housing projects.

In BJP-ruled Goa, the state government classified the coconut tree as a grass so that it can be cut without taking permission – a move, many suspected, would benefit the real estate sector. Fortunately, the decision was overturned in 2017.

In 2018, the environment ministry proposed major changes to the National Forest Policy, announced a draft Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification and came up with new rules for plastic waste management. All three moves, seen as benefitting the industry, were criticised by environmental activists.

The fight in Gurgaon to save the Aravali and the fight in Mumbai to save Aarey have been documented by the media. These are the last frontiers in this war because these bio-diversity sites are the last remaining green areas in the two cities.

Acts of environmental destruction are being committed across India. A wildlife sanctuary is about to be erased from the face of the earth. In September 2018, Uttar Pradesh government submitted a proposal to the Modi government asking for the ‘Kachhua’ (turtle) wildlife sanctuary in Varanasi to be ‘denotified’. If this proposal is cleared, this wildlife sanctuary will be the first to be erased since the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 was introduced.

In Madhya Pradesh, the proposed Ken-Betwa river linking project threatens to destroy 4000+ hectare of Panna tiger reserve, a home to critically endangered Gharial species.

In Maharashtra, 53,000 precious mangrove trees will be cut for the famous bullet train project. In Uttarakhand, another environmental disaster took place as 25,000 trees were cut in an ecologically sensitive area for building highways to Hindu pilgrimage sites. This drastically increased the threat of landslides in an already vulnerable region.

In Chhattisgarh, one of the most pristine and dense forests of India is about to be eliminated as the government has given permission for coal mining.

I can go on and on. One ecologically sensitive area after another has been destroyed while laws have been twisted and turned, again and again.

Also read: The biggest environmental threat to people’s lives is now the air

The new BJP manifesto for 2019 elections provides no respite from this ongoing assault. Under the forest and environment section, it boasts of ‘speed and effectiveness in issuing forest and environmental clearances’. This is a catchy euphemism for prioritising construction and industry over ecology and biodiversity. After all, this goes with the ‘ease of doing business’ achievements and voters can be convinced that this is a good thing. There isn’t much on biodiversity protection; there is no commitment towards making India’s environmental institutions more independent and laws more effective.

Our voice is key in the environment debate. More of us need to be champions of the planet.

The author is an activist and YouTuber. The views are personal.

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12 Comments Share Your Views


  1. It is okay to remove unnecessary restrictions on development provided environmental concerns are addressed. But the area where Modi needs to concentrate is in ensuring that there is zero discharge of effluents from industries and urban areas. All wastes, solid as well as liquid must be recycled 100%. Burning of trash in the open must be banned and the govt. needs to move faster towards electrical vehicles. Recycling of used water and ground water recharge are two important things being glossed over. That needs to change.

  2. Informative article. As always, Mr. Rathee has raised a very pertinent issue – environment protection and whose call is it anyway? We can keep on shifting the blame from NDA to UPA and vice-versa but ultimately common men and women will be (are) the sufferers. The burden of polluted air will be borne by generations to come. One point I want to make is that crony capitalism is at the root of this problem. Real estate and mining lords provide major chunk of money to the political parties so is it not but obvious that these parties will collect its pound of flesh in return.

  3. Yes, solar is widely publicized..but to take care of defunct solar panels which will be thousands a year how many haz waste mgmt units your country have? Have you ever considered the impacts of such solar on your Waterford, children?
    Which city has a good waste mgmt system? We claim we have achieved good milestones but all are afterall burdening the environment

  4. I made a mistake of not reading a name of the author before reading the article. Had I done that, I would not have read the article.That is the reputation of author.😀😀😀


  6. The recent storms / rain / hail in parts of northern India that have claimed lives and damaged ripening crops; one more reminder that climate change is hitting us hard. My vote is always for development, but tempered with the need to do it in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner. We cannot afford to retrace China’s development trajectory, the damage to air and water which they are now working hard and spending large sums of money to undo.

  7. Can u also add that solving Delhi’s pollution problem was Kejriwal’s responsibility but we know who gives you 💰. #dalal

  8. Hello, it is this govt that has brought forward Euro VI norms adoption for vehicles by atleast 3-4 years and will be implemented beginning April 2020. It is this govt that has added record solar power capacity in five years, reducing our dependence on non renewals. It is this govt that is giving an unrelenting push for the adoption of electric vehicles in the country.
    Mr. Author carry your political bias elsewhere..


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