The Union environment ministry grappled with controversies triggered by its notification banning sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter and a recommendation for commercial use of GM mustard besides high air pollution levels during 2017.
The ministry, which saw Harsh Vardhan taking over its charge in May from Anil Dave who died in office, also steered itself through the controversy that erupted when Tamil Nadu insisted on holding the jallikattu (bull-taming) event against opposition by animal rights activists.
Tamil Nadu was brought to a standstill for almost a week in January due to protest by students, youths and other sections demanding immediate staging of jallikattu in Alanganallur, epicentre of the sport, and other places.
Decks were finally cleared for an ordinance on jallikattu and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 finally received presidential assent on January 31.
In May, and the ministry was again hit by another controversy when it banned the sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter. It also prohibited practices cruel to animals including painting of horns and putting ornaments or decorative materials on them.
The environment ministry notified the stringent Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Amid growing protests, Harsh Vardhan said the new rules are very “specific” and aim to regulate animal markets and sale of cattle.
Reacting to the ban, the CPI(M)-led LDF government and the Congress-led UDF opposition in Kerala, where beef is consumed widely, attacked the Centre with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan saying it is “not right that a government decides the choice of food of the people”.
He also said that the Centre was destroying a sector which employees thousands of people while Mohammed Saleem, vice president of All India Jamiat-ul-Quresh said if the government brought this law, they won’t follow it.
Amid these protests, the government finally said that it was “considering” making certain changes to the notification to make it more “acceptable” but animal rights body PETA termed it a “dark day” for animals.
The year gone by also witnessed large-scale protests from anti-genetically modified crop activists after India’s GM crop regulator recommended the commercial use of GM mustard in a submission to the environment ministry.
In its submission, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal regulator for Genetically Modified (GM) crop, has given a “positive” recommendation but “with certain conditions”.
RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) criticised the move saying allowing the commercial use of GM mustard would impact allied agri-activities while some other anti-GM activists asserted that in okaying the commercial use of GM mustard, the GEAC has “yet again proved” to be “unscientific and uncaring” to the health of citizens.
The Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP), Delhi University South Campus, had submitted an application to the GEAC for the environmental release of GM mustard (Brassica juncea) hybrid DMH-11 and the use of parental events (varuna bn 3.6 and EH2 mod bs 2.99) for the development of a new generation of hybrids.
After widespread protests, the ministry said that it was open to suggestions.
On the climate change front, India also took part in the Conference of Parties -23 at Bonn in Germany which took place under the shadow of the announcement of US withdrawal from the “historic” Paris agreement, which was agreed by more than 190 nations.
President Donald Trump last year had announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change and renegotiate the deal arguing that countries like China and India are benefiting the most.
However, despite the US’s exit from the Paris agreement, India said that it is committed to the deal “irrespective” of the stand taken by any other country.
At the Bonn climate change conference, India called for early time-bound ratification of second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP II) by developed countries to ensure the highest possible mitigation efforts under the UN Convention by all countries.
India also said that it considers climate change a “major threat” and will play a “constructive” role in combating it.
Air pollution also played its bit in keeping the environment ministry busy this year. Delhi was faced with a complex set of meteorological factors in early November, when pollution levels peaked, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Air pollutants touched calamitous levels in Delhi, as a thick grey smog hung low across the region, prompting the government to declare schools closed till Sunday, halt construction activity and ban the entry of trucks in the city.
A high-level task force headed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal secretary formulated a draft air action plan and invited suggestions to make it more “effective and practical”.
Coordinated action to combat stubble burning, commissioning studies and launch of a hotline and an app to report violations are some of the measures suggested in the 12-point draft plan.