New Delhi: 2014 saw India playing a crucial role in protecting the interests of developing nations at the UN climate talks in Lima where negotiators prepared a way for a new ambitious and binding deal to be signed in Paris next year to combat global warming.
During the year, the Environment Ministry, headed by Prakash Javadekar, also sought to exorcise the image of “roadblock” it had gained during the days of the previous UPA government and bringing down timelines for environmental and forest clearances processes.
The year also saw a study released by WHO describing Delhi as the most polluted city in the world while a controversy erupted over an Intelligence Bureau report alleging that Greenpeace and other NGOs were using anti-nuclear, anti-genetic modified food and anti-coal agitations to negatively impact GDP growth in the country.
Soon after coming to power, the Narendra Modi government changed the nomenclature of the Environment Ministry by adding “Climate change” to it apparently to send across a message that India was serious on the issue of global warming.
“In Lima, we fought battle not for us. We fought battle for all least developed countries, for all island countries, for all developing world,” Javadekar said about the steps taken by India at the UN Climate Conference to protect the developing nations’ interest while reaching the deal — dubbed the Lima Call for Climate Action.
According to the deal, developed world will have to take responsibility for action in technology and capacity building and to that end they will have to provide resources to developing and developed world.
Environmentalists, however, were not too enthusiastic about the deal, saying India has not gained or lost anything in the short term from climate talks, but will lose in the longer term as the draft deal reached would lead to a much weaker agreement in Paris.
Leading Indian advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said the outcome of the Lima conference will not result in an effective climate deal in Paris.
Javadekar, who assumed office in May, took several steps to speed up green clearances processes, particularly for long delayed ‘public purpose projects’ in sectors like highways, ports and railways as also defence projects.
The ministry has accorded environment clearances to 241 projects during the tenure of the present government.
Javadekar said his ministry has ensured greater transparency by initiating online submission of applications for environment and forest clearances.
Another important step taken by the Ministry during this period was to constitute a high-level committee to review various environment laws in order to bring them in line with “current requirements”.
Set up in the backdrop of government taking serious measures to fasten the environment clearance process for achieving economic growth without compromising green issues, the four-member committee headed by former Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramanian has submitted its report. It reviewed five key green laws concerning protection and conservation of environment, forest, wildlife, water and air among others.
The year also saw Modi re-constituting a high-level advisory group on climate change, days ahead of the crucial UN meet on global warming in Peru. While TERI chairperson R K Pachauri, Nitin Desai and retired diplomat Chandrasekhar Dasgupta were retained as the non-government members of the 18-member ‘Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change’, environmentalist and director general of CSE Sunita Narain and industrialist Ratan Tata were dropped.
During this period, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) recommended field trials of certain varieties of Genetically Modified (GM) crops.
Clearing the air on the issue, Javadekar informed Lok Sabha that government is of the view that research in GM and confined field trials for generating bio-safety data with all due precautions should be allowed to continue in national interest. His announcement came notwithstanding two RSS-linked outfits seeking a ban on field trials of GM crops.
The WHO study, released in May, described Delhi as having the highest concentration of PM2.5 — particulate matters less than 2.5 microns– form of air pollution, which is considered most serious.
After the IB report on NGOs, the agency in a second report submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Security Adviser, recommended cancellation of the permission given to Greenpeace for collecting funds abroad besides calling for a reassessment of its tax compliance.
Hit by the IB’s reports over its activities in India, NGO Greenpeace India alleged that a “nexus between industry and government” was at work against it.