In a job that has been always seen as anti-industry and sluggish while clearing projects, union environment minister Prakash Javadekar has a tough balancing act to perform. He has to ensure the protection of environment without slowing down the pace of growth. Moreover with the date set for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change to create a legally binding universal agreement in Paris from November 30th to December 11th, Javadekar has already travelled to more international capitals (than a foreign minister) to make sure that India is globally on the right track on this front. In a frank interview with Anil Sharma, sitting in his office at the Paryavaran Bhawan he covers the entire gamut of issues with the skill of an experienced spokesperson, reflecting the years he spent at the party headquarters through changing political seasons. The keywords for him are implement the laws and strike the right balance.
Q: It is almost a year, since you have come to this office. What are the changes that have come about since then?
Javadekar: The first thing that we have done in our ministry is that we have increased public participation in every programme. Earlier, the general public could not even enter the ministry. Not just that even officers could not meet the minister. Now we have made it all open. People come to visit the Paryavaran Bhawan. It is a green environment friendly building and I also make it a point to meet these people visiting the Paryavaran Bhawan, when I am around. I especially like to meet the student groups. For me this makes a big difference. This is the essence of a democratic government. This is what a change in government is all about.
Q: Isn’t it this just symbolic? In the sense how does it change the situation on the ground?
Javadekar: Sure this is symbolic, but then it conveys quite a lot. Basically, it shows the change in the attitude of the government. We held a two day conference of the ministers of environment and forests from the states and other officers concerned with environment and development issues. Such an interaction had not been held for the last six years. Moreover, this conference came as the culmination of the almost year long exercise we conducted across the country. We held three chintan shivirs. These were not covered by the media, because I decided to keep the media out deliberately. Or else there would be different stories altogether. But one shivir was held in Bangalore, the second in Bhopal, and the last in Guwahati. About twenty officers from the each of the concerned states in that region participated. It was a proper mix of young and experienced decision making officers.
Q: What is the net outcome?
Javadekar: We have a unanimous resolution among the states on the way forward in a spirit of mutual cooperation. So, at this conference we shared the best practices from all states and also passed a unanimous resolution. This came about as at the two-day national level conference we had all the decision makers from different states. We told them that our mission is Clean India, Green India, and you the 400 key officers and 34 are Team India that are going to realise this dream of Clean India.
Q: What is Clean India all about?
Javadekar: Now for us Clean India implies eliminating industrial pollution, air pollution, water pollution and the over pollution in the ambience. So, it involves solid waste management, and industrial disposal- to keep the entire environment clean-Swachh Bharat.
Q: What about Green India?
Javadekar: Now Green India means more afforestation. For instance in Maharashtra we have a scheme to plant 10 million fruit bearing trees every year, and this is going on since 1990. The government covers the cost of everything right from digging the pit to maintain it for three years. This scheme has had a beneficial impact and at least 200 million new trees have been planted in the last 25 years. This added to the greenery of the environment and the farmer has also prospered. We want similar positive schemes to succeed.
Q: What about the fate of the tribal population in all this? Isn”t the tribal Adivasi losing out amid all the developmental activity?
Javadekar: There are three fundamental tribal rights. He can stay where he stays, he can farm where he farms and he has the right to minor produce from the forest and we are not taking away any of these rights-we will make forests more green, we will increase the forest cover, we will improve degraded forests. We in Maharashtra BJP have fought for these tribal rights and shall not compromise on this issue.
Q: What do you propose to do about the threat from plastic waste?
Javadekar: More than 15,000 tonnes plastic waste comes out in the country every day and of this about 9,000 tonnes is collected. Thus 6,000 tonnes remains dispersed all over. Now just as carbon dioxide remains hanging in the air for more than 100 years, so this plastic also remains on the earth and does not degrade. So, we shall reach a stage where people shall be using these huge heaps of plastic as landmarks even in rural areas and say: “I live behind that huge plastic heap.”
Q: This is the problem. What about the solution?
Javadekar: Now we have a provision that plastic below 40 microns should not be used. We are going to strengthen the law. However, the basic problem in our country is that we have laws, with no implementation. We are going to get tough on this. Our new government has a firm resolve. Every law shall be implemented in letter and spirit without any compromise. Nothing doing. Factories will be shut down, seals would be put in place. Everything will happen.
Q: Doesn’t it sound a bit harsh, without seeking people”s cooperation?
Javadekar: Of course we will seek people”s cooperation as well. Like we want that instead of using plastic carry bags, the people should go back to the practice of our childhood days, when we used to carry a small cloth bag while going to the market. We have grown-up in a non-plastic environment using such cloth bags, and it is only lately that shopkeepers have started giving out plastic bags. The milk packets are made of plastic above 50 microns and this stuff can be recycled.
Q; So what makes these plastic waste heaps come up?
Javadekar: There is lot of stuff like the pouches for Gutka etc ( basically no one should eat such stuff) and the bags from the shopkeepers are all below 40 microns and cause enormous pollution. We gave to ensure that in plastic only above 50 micron is used and that this law is implemented strictly. I once spoke to a rag picker in Mumbai as to why don”t they pick up this plastic. He told me that sahib, there are two things. The first is that it fetches less price in the market, and the second is that you have to pick-up 400 such bags to collect a kilo of garbage. So, one has to bend four hundred times and that”s the problem.
Q: Any pilot projects with people”s participation?
Javadekar: Yes, I have launched a “Plastic Waste free India” campaign and five thousand school going children in Shirur and 21,000 school children from Ratnagiri participated in it. They all sang songs creating awareness about plastic waste and then went through the city in different groups to pick-up this waste. This was a successful pilot project and we shall take it up in a big way on June 5th as a drive for people”s participation.
Q: At the ministry level what have been your initiatives?
Javadekar: You see when we took over there three problems. But the main problem was image. Unfortunately, this ministry was perceived as return of the licence quota permit raj. Actually, Dr Manmohan Singh when he was the finance minister in the earlier Narasimha Rao government demolished the licence quota permit raj. But the same Dr Manmohan Singh being the prime minister under Sonia Gandhi in a way was helpless to see this ministry become the licence quota permit raj.
Q: What were the other two problems?
Javadekar: First there was also the issue of quid pro quo, and second was that your files would not move as the ministry would work as a speed breaker and it will also be a road block ministry. Some of the leaders earlier even gave an ideological twist to these delays and camouflaged it as due diligence. But then due diligence is something and road blocks are something else. The first challenge was to undo this, and we did it by going the online way.
Q: How did you do this?
Javadekar: We introduced on line process of application so that the first interaction of the people would be through computers and they can track the movement files on line. This is a revolutionary thing. Now today 2200 proposals are being processed on line. We are also asking the states to process files online and do due diligence of their proposals in a time bound manner online, otherwise all this will still go haywire.
Q: What are the other measures?
Javadekar: The second revolution that we have brought is taking policy decisions. Now we are deciding on policies. So, if I receive a memorandum I write on it that we have to take policy decision. Thus we are deciding policy after policy. Even the housing projects used to come to us, we have done away with that half the work load is over and we have also decentralized the process. Everything need not come here.
Q: How have things changed?
Javadekar: First we took a policy decision on defence. There were many projects that were pending for many years. We decided on a simple policy. The environment would be saved only if the country is saved. So as a matter of policy we decided that all strategic infrastructure within hundred kilometers from the borders and all border roads about 6,000 kilometres have been given general approval. Their files need not come to us, but they have to follow the standardized procedures without compromising on environmental protection. No specific project will come to us for clearance, and the policy decision is that we must protect the environment first and also have development without any delay. The impact has been tremendous. People do not have to come to us for clearances and I have not seen the faces of those whose projects get cleared.
Q: What about the regulatory front?
Javadekar: We have also taken tremendous action on the environment front. For instance, we have made the norms of emission for the cement industry more stringent, and the industry has accepted it. It is huge relief for pollution because cement is the worst polluting industry. We have also identified 17 critical polluting sectors and there are 3206 units working in those sectors. We have mandated for these industries that as you are heavily polluting ones you have to install 24×7 monitoring equipment for your effluent discharge and pollution points and chimney. This is an environment friendly decision. This is how you protect environment. Only through monitoring. So, air will be clean, water be clean. Today only the inspector goes and that day the water is clean and the air is clean. Now this will ensure 24×7 pollution control. This is a major change because the industry has accepted it, the technology has been tested all over the world, and we have put a June 30th deadline.
Q: Is that all, do we have just 3206 polluting units?
Javadekar: No, no this is the first step and now we shall move to the next stage. Now industrial pollution will be under control and would not go into rivers. For distilleries we have decided that there would be zero discharge. No slurry going into water, no discharge, no polluted water going into groundwater, no spent wash discharge. This is a major achievement. On paper industry we have a plan for two years, about what they should do in the first year and then in the second year. We are doing it scientifically. We are also working for zero liquid discharge for Kanpur tanneries as well. Here were are giving 40 percent assistance. The state government is also assisting and the rest of the cost the industry has to bear. They will reuse the water, and fresh water would be saved. These are major steps.
Q: But what about funds for green environment?
Javadekar: There is no shortage of ideas or funds. We have the urban green movement of having carbon sinks in the city where there are forests with public participation. We have Rs 38,000 crores unspent because of court matters and we have plans to release these funds for afforestation. We have a law on cards and the plan is to release these funds to states in a phased manner in three years where they have to spend the money as per the approved plans. So, once they give us the user certificate we shall release the next installment.
Q: What about your Paris 2105 agenda?
Javadekar: We are going to the world bodies very confidently. We are flagging four issues. First we are showcasing our achievements and actions. Our actions which are pre-2020 in a way and which we are not mandated to take in any way because it was decided in Kyoto that annexe 1 parties will take action and non-annexe -1 parties will not action. But we are taking huge actions. 100,000 MW of solar power, 60,000 MW of wind power, 10,000 MW of nuclear, 10,000 MW of biomass and 5,000 MW small hydel and this makes it 185,000 MW of clean non-polluting power means 350 million tonnes of carbon emission saved per year. It is huge contribution from India. We are not restricted to just renewable energy. We are taking actions in all walks of life, so we are going with a very proud record before the IDCs, we can tell them we are doing our bit now you walk the talk. We are performing our duty, now it is your turn. You have occupied the carbon space, now vacate this carbon space and we are coming.
Q: What are the other issues at the international level?
Javadekar: Who is responsible for the pollution? Is it the consumer country or the producing country? This is a new debate. The consumer country is also responsible for pollution. Ultimately, consumption is the issue. We have been born and brought up in aparigraha- so mass consumerism is something that we are also flagging.
Q: How do you resolve the challenge of technology in greening the environment?
Javadekar: This is third issue that we are raising and our argument is that the developed countries should share technology instead of seeking returns on their intellectual property rights in these respects. They are the biggest polluters, and they must share the cost of mitigation.
Q: So what is next?
Javadekar: We are focusing on implementation. We now have rules for e-waste, industrial waste and are taking policy decisions. We have to ensure these decisions are implemented.
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With 500 human deaths a year, we pay a heavy price: Prakash Javadekar
So long the public discourse in the context of the man-animal conflict has been tilted in favour of the animal. Man has been accused of killing the animals, and rendering them endangered species. But with the Indian wildlife numbers booming-Tigers going up by forty percent, rhinos multiplying ( from to 200 to 2400 in 15 years under rhino protection programme ), and elephants threatening human habitat, union environment minister Prakash Javadekar is all for restoring the sense of balance. “Have a heart, we are now in a situation where we lose more than 500 human lives due to this conflict. Can we ignore this? How can we be insensitive to this issue, and tell me which country would allow such a situation. We need to have a sense of balance and proportion,” he said while discussing the contours of the problem.
He argues that when his ministry allows the military to construct border roads in the Rann of Kutch, and the ”pro-animalists” cry foul that the flamingos are threatened the concern is misplaced. “There is 15 kilometre distance between the flamingo sanctuary and between the proposed road, and the so-called threat to the flamingos has to be seen in the context of nation”s defence needs. The roads are required for the BSF to keep the supply lines going for its posts on the borders that have to check infiltration from Pakistan,” he said. Moreover, even if the military gets clearance for these roads there is no relaxation in so far as the environmental norms are concerned.
“So for instance when we clear the doubling of the national highway or the railway line in a tiger corridor we have to strike a balance. We cannot have a situation where a 2000 kilometre long highway is blocked for a 50 kilometre stretch, and people are dying in road accidents. We have data from the forests department to show that no animal has died in that stretch, but people are dying in road accidents,” asserted the minister.
The minister also observed that whenever such projects in tiger corridors or other animal habitats are cleared care is taken to ensure that all the mitigating measures that are suggested by the Wildlife Institute are fully implemented. Even in the case of Kanha and Pench when we have allowed such expansion of railways line or national highway we are prepared to implement these measures,” he asserted.
The minister asserted that among all the developing and developed nations, India is among the few countries that have taken some steps to actually reduce the carbon emission. “Our emphasis on solar, wind energy in the coming years and the nuclear route for power generation is a proof of our commitment to clean power, even though the capital costs are higher,” he added.