New Delhi: In the five years of its rule, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has failed to establish an efficient system to clear projects under the clean development mechanism (CDM) that seeks to contain climate change, an official said.
Under scanner: A file photo of trees being cut for widening of roads leading to the new airport in Bangalore. The govt has faced sharp criticism for its casual approach in tackling the environmental issues during its tenure. Hemant Mishra / Mint
The government has also been lax in evaluating environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports that are required by law before a development or an industrial project is given a go-ahead, an expert said.
CDM is an arrangement under the Kyoto Protocol, allowing industrialized countries to invest in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries, as an alternative, to more expensive emission reductions in their own backyards.
The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that seeks to cap greenhouse gas emmissions which lead to climate change.
Proposed CDM projects are first cleared by a national agency called Designated National Authority (DNA) and sent for final clearance to a United Nations body set up for the purpose.
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“Getting approvals for such arrangements is a complicated process and the government was frequently ill-equipped to facilitate the approval procedure,” said a bureaucrat who declined being named.
“On one hand, there were too many projects to be handled by a small circle of advisers. On the other, there were frequent cases of projects getting cleared based on suspect documentation,” he said, defending such approvals as part of a “learning curve”.
Industry lobby group Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) said in a recent report that DNA lacked transparency and consistency. “Apparent political interferences in the decision-making bodies at the highest level weigh down the credibility of the CDM process,” the Ficci report said.
The Congress party-led coalition government has also come under sharp attack from environmentalists for laxity. For instance, the ministry of environment and forests had cleared a bauxite mining project in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, to be operated by Ashapura Minechem Ltd. But it was revealed that the EIA report, on the basis of which a federal expert group gave its approval, was based on data simply copied from a Russian bauxite mine report that had nothing to do with Ratnagiri’s vegetation or ecology, as reported by Mint on 27 December 2007.
“In the few years that we have started challenging faulty EIAs, we were clear that bulk of the EIA reports by even the most reputed organizations are a cut-and-paste job, based on secondary data,” said Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer and convenor of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, a New Delhi-based non-profit agency that obtained the information on the Ratnagiri project through the Right to Information Act.
However, the government in January, to its credit, made it compulsory for the big-ticket project developers, to not only conduct but also publicize the results of public hearings for their projects. The decision came in barely 10 weeks before the national polls in April-May.
In January, the government also withdrew mandatory environmental clearances for modernization of airports and ports, a move welcomed by companies but strongly opposed by activists.
During its term, the government also failed to contain rampant poaching of wildlife, headlined by the fall in tiger numbers.
India’s tiger population has touched a record low of 1,411 since Project Tiger—an initiative to protect tiger habitats and ecosystems—was launched in 1972.
Meanwhile, India saw an exponential rise in the use of transgenic cotton cultivation in the past five years, even as the agency that clears genetically modified crops in the country—the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC)—was criticized for not adequately evaluating its long-term impact on biodiversity.
Pushpa Bhargava, former head of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, said: “The GEAC is merely a signing-off body. It rarely analyses reports and the views of independent scientists.” Bhargava is a Supreme Court-appointed observer of GEAC.
Compared with 400,000ha in 2004, 8 million ha of India’s farms currently cultivate genetically modified cotton, according to official data.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar/ Mint