As the Indian Express reported, the minister sent out an intra-ministry letter on July 16 asking bureaucrats to replace the term “diversion” of forest land with “reforestation” in their communications. When asked about this, Javadekar told the Express: “For every diversion of forest land for a project… compensatory afforestation on equal area of non-forest land is a must. So ultimately, it is reforestation only. This is all about thinking positive and using the right expression.”
A new report has warned that premature deaths due to emissions from thermal power projects (TPPs) will rise two-three times as India’s reliance on thermal power increases. The report by Urban Emissions. Info, an independent research group working on India’s air quality, and Mumbai-based NGO Conservation Action Trust, expects India’s thermal power generation to rise from 159 gigawatts in 2014 to 450 GW in 2030. Coal consumption is expected to rise proportionately, trebling from the current 660 million tons/year to 1800 million tonnes. The impact of all this on India’s air quality will be predictable.
The TSR Subramanian Committee’s report on overhauling environmental governance in India is a puzzling document. It correctly identifies environmental crises facing India and the lacunae in environmental regulations, monitoring and enforcement responsible. And goes on to outline a new architecture for clearing, monitoring and resolving disputes around projects. The report also makes, however, a set of standalone observations. Some of these are valid — like audits by independent experts to vet the forest department’s work. Others don’t seem to hold up. For instance, it says laws should be amended to ensure customs such as Nag Panchami, where cobras are caught and fed milk, are no longer prosecutable.
A high-level committee headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian has, among other things, proposed a radical overhaul of how India ensures compliance with environmental clearances. Arguing that the present system, built around physical inspection by government employees, has created a rent-seeking ‘inspector raj’, the committee — which was set up by the government to review environment-related laws — has proposed an “utmost good faith clause”… In both environmental and industry circles, there is scepticism about the proposal.
The good faith clause is built on the assumption that industry will provide data which might be used against it. In this story, I argue the system will, ergo, get gamed.
In May this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that Delhi’s air quality is the worst in the world. In the months that followed this perception about Delhi’s air has strengthened further as winter smog set in the capital. This perception, however, could be incorrect. Air quality of other Indian cities and towns could be worse than Delhi’s. That is because the air quality information being generated by the state and central pollution control boards is badly flawed, and we don’t have credible information about air quality in any place other than the capital.
Belying the pessimism which surrounded its formation, a committee set up by the environment ministry has submitted a hard-hitting report. Among other things, the committee, headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian, has recommended that project approvals should be granted not by the environment ministry but by a new National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). It has also proposed that state pollution control boards (SPCBs) be merged into state-level equivalents of the NEMA and that, most importantly, they be made accountable to the Union government.
As India celebrated Diwali on Thursday, the environment ministry’s efforts to capture changes in air quality were spotty at best – with the information either inadequate or simply outdated. Given such lapses in data gathering, it’s anyone’s guess what kind of air most Indians were sucking into their lungs. In Delhi, at about 10 pm, the “real time” air quality data on the website of the Central Pollution Control Board was anything but real time. Its station at Civil Lines in north Delhi, for instance, reported air quality numbers captured on September 12, 2013. It’s not clear why the system failed to provide updated numbers.