New Delhi: On the eve of World Environment Day, Jairam Ramesh, the newly appointed head of ministry of environment and forests, talks about the next environmental challenges for India, the fine balance between environment and development and India’s role in climate change. Edited excerpts:
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What’s your agenda for the first 100 days?
There is no such thing like 100 days. This is a long-term assignment I have here. You can’t reduce environment and forests to 100 days. And it requires a lot of careful thought, assessment and considered action. I don’t have any bullets for 100 days except to listen, travel and to respond sensitively to ecological concerns that are being raised.
How will you balance development and environment?
The Congress manifesto says that balance is key. I think ecological security is of paramount importance. Ecological security in a framework that promotes economic growth is what the country is looking for. In some cases, the toss of the coin will favour economic growth and in many, many cases, it will favour environmental control. I think with the use of modern technology and modern management techniques, it is possible to bring about this balance, to make explicit the trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth.
I increasingly have come to this view that there is no trade-off because economic growth that is environmentally not benign, growth that is ecologically not secure, is not sustainable. So, there is really no trade-off in my view.
Domestic perspective: Environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh says climate change is not an issue for India because of some international forum, but due to local development imperatives and dimensions. PTI
We have a large framework of environmental laws, norms, standards and those have to be enforced and complied with. We have huge challenges of climate change, which we have to respond to creatively. We must also move in the next 10 years to ensure that at least one-third of our geographical area is under forest and tree cover.
Environment is an area where civil society is very active. In fact, perhaps more active than the government feels comfortable with. Sure, many civil society organizations are activists; it’s in their nature to be activists and they can’t always agree with what the government does. But I think it’s possible to identify common ground.
Is India doing enough on climate change?
I think we should not respond to climate change because there is Copenhagen or just because the Americans are telling us to respond to it or there is Kyoto. I come to climate change from a local developmental perspective. The Himalayan glaciers are receding, agricultural yields are stagnating, dry days have increased, patterns of monsoon have become more unpredictable. So, we are seeing the effects. The fact is, for a country like India, climate change is not an issue because of some international forum, but because there are domestic development imperatives and dimensions.
We need a massive effort at using coal more efficiently. Coal is going to be a more important energy resource. To my mind, these two are fundamental to any response to climate change. How efficiently we are going to use coal, how quickly we are going to expand nuclear energy in our country, on the energy front and on the greening front, how quickly we can go from 23% to 33% forest and tree cover.
Is energy security another face of climate change?
I would say that a country that’s growing at about 8% a year will require its energy consumption to grow at 6.5-7% a year even after we do all our energy efficiency improvements. We are producing about 450 million tonnes of coal. In the next 8-10 years, we will be producing a billion tonnes of coal. In the next five years, we will add about 13,000MW (of power) per year. Question is with what efficiency and with what effect on climate change.
There is a business as usual scenario and there is a climate change sensitive scenario. We should move on the climate change sensitive scenario, which means clean coal, efficient coal, more hydel power, more nuclear, more renewables, more energy efficiency in terms of buildings, lighting and public transportation. We have a national action plan on climate change. You have to translate that plan into concrete, specific nuts and blots.
So much time and money spent on river cleaning without effect... what is the problem?
We have spent over Rs1,000 crore on the cleaning of the Ganga over the last 20 years and it doesn’t appear to be any cleaner. If you take all of India, less than 20% of sewage gets treated. And in a city like Delhi, where you have the capacity, it is not being utilized.
The biggest problem of river cleaning is that we have spread our resources too thin. We are spending close to Rs350 crore on river cleaning every year over 164 towns, which is about Rs2 crore a town. What can you do? For instance, I got a proposal today (Thursday) from Gorakhpur, which wants to take up a major lake cleaning programme, which will cost Rs100 crore. We need to focus our resources pointedly. We need to bring in more resources. There is no reason why we can’t clean the Dal Lake in the next three years. Let’s take it up as a challenge.