The job of the Environment Minister is to protect the environment and not look at it from the perspective of Ease of Doing Business, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said during a discussion on climate change in Rajya Sabha on Thursday. With Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar present in House, Ramesh, who had the independent charge of the ministry between 2009 and 2011, said the “Environment Minister must stand up and say that climate change is more important than Ease of Doing Business”.
The discussion took place after SP’s Revati Raman Singh called the House’s attention to the situation arising out of climate change and steps taken by the government about it.
Ramesh was one of the 18 members of the House who spoke on the topic. He wondered how the government could “be serious on climate change if you are going to liberalise all your environmental policies”. He also alleged that the government is “weakening The Forest (Conservation) Act” and “neglecting The Forest Rights Act”. The government, he said, had also “liberalised the Coastal Regulation Zone”.
“You are looking at environmental laws from the perspective of Ease of Doing Business,” he said to treasury benches. He said that “we have an Environment Minister who every day says” that he has “cleared a thousand projects” and the ministry “is no longer a bottleneck to industrial expansion”.
The Environment Minister’s job, he said, “is not to clear projects” but “to protect the environment”. If “you are going to deal with climate change, you have to take some hard decisions,” Ramesh said to the government, and added, “those hard decisions, I am afraid, are going to clash sometimes with Ease of Doing Business”.
No country is more “vulnerable” to climate change than India, said Ramesh. The Environment Ministry, he stressed, “must stand out and must say with a bold voice that environmental laws will not be weakened and that environmental laws will be enforced without fear or favour”.
Several other leaders, too, accused the government of diluting environment safeguards for the sake of development. K K Ragesh of the CPM said the current model of development was “destroying the ecosystem”.
Ram Gopal Yadav of the SP urged the Environment Minister to not “come under the pressure of developed nations” when it comes to negotiating on climate change deals. CPI leader D Raja said there is a “tendency in the world that developed nations try to blame it on developing nations and the most populous nations like China and India for causing global warming for pollution in the world”. He asked the government to rebut such arguments and accused countries like the US of behaving like a “bully” at international climate negotiations.
BJP’s Bhupender Yadav defended the government and congratulated it for leading the developing nations during the Paris Agreement talks in 2016.
Javadekar listed the number of projects India has launched to tackle climate change. He said it is true that 70 per cent of the historical greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to developed nations, and India still accounts for just 3 per cent, and yet “geographically, socially, economically, we have the status that our poor and vulnerable sections have to suffer the burden”.
He denied Ramesh’s charge and said he has never said that “we will clear projects”, but that his first sentence was that “we will ensure development while protecting the environment”.
Emission and pollution norms for industries, he said, have been tightened, and the industry will also not be given more time to follow the new waste management rules. Trees will be planted along the highways and railway tracks, he said. He told the House that there is no “switch” for the problem at hand and the solution was a “continuous process”. People too, he said, have to participate in this and “environment will be protected, there will be development, poverty will be eradicated and the country will prosper”.