Combining Sustainable Development with Environmental Protection
How would you define the last 48 months of Transforming India under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi with regards to scale, speed and innovation?
The last 48 months of the Government have been defined by transparency, objectivity and innovative initiatives which have touched the lives of millions of the people in the country, particularly the downtrodden and under-privileged. The Aspirational District Program and Gram Swaraj Abhiyan are two major initiatives of the Government especially designed for least developed districts of India to provide focused attention and intervention. The schemes like Poshan, Indradhanush, Saubhagya, Ujala, Ujjwala, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana and others have been designed and are being implemented to ensure inclusive development following the principle of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. These schemes and programs have a far-reaching transformative impact on improving the local ecosystem and its services while providing new avenues of sustainable livelihoods to the local population. Far reaching changes have been brought about and more such transformations are planned for the year. The Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change which was seen as regulatory and controlling entity is now seen as a transparent and facilitating Ministry which combines sustainable development with environmental protection. The change in the speed of working of the Ministry can be gauged from the fact that the Environment Clearances which used to take over 600 days earlier, now take around 160 days. Moreover, the quality of clearances has improved and has become more participatory. There is constant desire to improve which is the hallmark of governance of the moment.
What are the most impactful initiatives and schemes of the Ministry/Ministries led by you?
(1) Streamlined the clearance processes for which the Ministry was a major issue / challenge before the Government. The Environmental Clearance, CRZ Clearance and the Forest clearance processes have been made online. The process is now transparent, speedy and efficient, which in earlier days was a major hurdle for developmental projects including the projects of national importance and strategic for national security. Also decentralized the powers to grant the clearances to the District Authorities, State Authorities and Regional Offices of the Ministry to bring in speed and accountability in the process. Average time taken is now around 160 days, down from over 600. This has been a major contribution towards ease of doing business and sustainable development in nation building process.
(2) Online monitoring of industrial pollution through 24×7 Continuous Emission/ Effluent has been established in over 2300 industries of 17 categories. Online monitoring of industrial pollution in River Ganga is also established in over 700 industries. Management of industrial pollution has improved in these industries as a result, problem of black liquor discharge and spent wash in Ganga has been controlled. Industrial pollution in Ganga has seen significant reduction, down from 131 tpd to around 67 tpd.
(3) India has established itself as a key player in environmental negotiations in the World and Hon’ble PM himself played a key role in Paris Agreement on Climate Change and setting up of International Solar Alliance to combat the menace of climate change. India has established itself as a responsible nation. We are now global host for the World Environment day. India has been specifically recognized as a front runner country in environmental protection in combating the climate change, phasing out of the ozone depleting substance, etc and received many accolades including an award to Late Shri Anil Madhav Dave, Hon’ble Minister of State for his leadership in Kigali Amendment to Montreal Protocol.
(4) Coastal Zone Management has been made transparent and free from subjectivity. The High Tide Line, Low Tide Line, Hazard Line, Eco-Sensitive Areas have been mapped out to remove the ambiguity and red-tappism to transform the coastal management without harming the environment, which will boost for the socio-economic development of coastal communities.
(5) Since launching of NAQI by Hon’ble PM, awareness about need to control air pollution has undergone a paradigm shift and is now geared to become a mass movement through Green Good Deeds. Air quality in Delhi had improved in the years 2017 and 2018 with reference to 2016 by adopting very scientific 42-point graded action plan for control of air pollution. Also prepared the National Clean Air Plan for improving the air quality in 100 non-attainment cities.
Pollution prevention and control is on top of the Ministry’s agenda. Since launching of NAQI by Hon’ble PM, awareness about need to control air pollution has undergone a paradigm shift and is now geared to become a mass movement through Green Good Deeds. Air quality in Delhi had improved in the years 2017 and 2018 with reference to 2016 by adopting very scientific 42-point graded action plan for control of air pollution. Also prepared the National Clean Air Plan for improving the air quality in 100 non-attainment cities at the cost of approx. Rs. 650 crore.
Further, the Ministry has amended the six major pollution control laws for achieving the real objectives for waste management. The committees have been constituted to oversee the implementation of these rules in different States and the State Governments have been sensitized of its provisions and need for timely implementation of these Rules.
(6) Indian Forest Act, 1927 has been amended to take bamboo out of the definition of “trees” with a view to encourage farmers to grow bamboo outside forests to enhance their income and give an impetus to bamboo-based industries. It took 70 years for the country to take such a simple step for boosting the income of the farmers and remove inspector raj in bamboo-based industries to flourish. Due to persuasion by the Ministry, 27 States /UTs have taken steps for exemption of commonly grown agroforestry species in their respective areas from the requirement of transit and felling permit. Farmers and all those who wish to harvest and transport bamboo grown on their private or non-forest land, will no longer need to obtain a permission, or authority letter from the Forest Department. They have been exempted from the legal and regulatory hardships being faced in the cultivation of bamboo in their agricultural fields and other private areas. About 20 million people are involved in bamboo related activities and 1 tonne of bamboo provides 350 man days of employment. Therefore, an enabling environment for bamboo cultivation will increase creation of job opportunities in the country. Bamboo dependent communities, artisans, forest dwellers and other weaker sections of the society ought to be employed in bamboo/handicraft industry
(7) As per reports of Forest Survey of India (FSI), Dehradun there has been considerable increase in forest cover in last four year. An increase of 7,843 km2 of forest and tree cover is recorded as per the FSI report of 2017 compared to that of 2015. Accordingly, the forest and tree cover in the country has reached 24.39% of geographic area. Area under forest and mangroves has increased, despite multiple challenges, brought out the Ministry from the phase of policy paralysis. Large amount collected as NPV as part of the forest diversion cases has been stuck in bank accounts due to non-availability of expenditure mechanism. This Government has enacted CAMPA Act and also issued the draft CAMPA Rules. The States will be able to utilize the funds for forestry activities for which it has been collected, which has paved the path to further increase the forest cover in country at a pace faster than before.
(8) There has been high focus on the wildlife conservation. A Comprehensive National Wildlife Action Plan 2017-2031 has been put in place. The Budgetary allocation under the Central share of “Centrally Sponsored Scheme – Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitat (IDWH)”, which was Rs. 66.78 crore during the FY 2013-14 has been increased to Rs. 165.00 crore for the FY 2018-19, which is an increase of 147% from the budgetary allocation of FY 2013-14. There has been specific attention given and the mechanism is strengthened to address and reduce the issues of human-wildlife conflicts. Increased the amount of ex-gratia compensation rate for human deaths for human-wildlife conflict management from Rs. 2.00 lakh per person to Rs. 5.00 lakh per person which is an increase of 150%. India has received international recognition and award for control of wildlife crime.
(9) The Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ) are being established by the Government around the Protected Areas like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to serve as buffer regions, ensuring balance between local economic growth and conservation imperatives. Till March 2018, ESZ for 459 PAs have been Notified as Draft/Final. During the period 2004 to 2014, only 24 Draft and 8 Final ESZ Notifications were published and during the period of four years 2014 to 2018, 299 Draft and 154 Final Notifications have been issued by adopting scientific approaches. Due to finalization of ESZ, the wildlife conservation and landscape planning has been resorted to in a more scientific manner while eliminating the uncertainties, ambiguities. The hassles that the local people used to face in the absence of final ESZ boundaries has been removed in these areas. This has also boosted the process of “Ease of Doing Business” outside the notified boundaries of the ESZ while ensuring adequate and scientific conservation of protected areas.
(10) The image of Ministry has been brought out merely from the regulatory body to more of forward looking, facilitative and progressive. Proved that environment is not only a regulatory affair only, it’s a sector of employment opportunity also. Prepared a very comprehensive “Green Skill Development Program” in association with the 70 ENVIS centres and the National Skill Development Mission. More than 30 skilling programs to be conducted during 2018-19, covering diverse fields – pollution monitoring (air/ water/ soil), STP/ ETP/ CETP operation, waste management, forest management, water budgeting & auditing, conservation of river dolphins, wildlife management, para taxonomy including People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs), mangroves conservation, bamboo management & livelihood generation in about 70 institutes across the country and it is estimated that around 5.6 lakh people will be skilled by 2020-21 under the GSDP. They are skilled through this program to get direct or indirect employment in industries, NGOs, academic institutes, Government and Semi-Government organizations, etc. Some of them will choose to become entrepreneurs in this sector.
How would you measure the success and reach of these initiatives and schemes?
The initiatives taken by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change play a significant role in facilitating economic growth which is environment-friendly, employment-oriented and sustainable. These initiatives ensure an overall improvement in the quality of life in the country. The programs/ schemes as well as special drives have been launched to ensure that the benefits reach to the poorest of the poor and leave no one behind. In so far as regulatory environment is concerned, the success can be measured in terms of productivity and transparency. It shall be fair to say that this has been largely achieved and seen as one of the significant achievements of this Ministry. The online monitoring of industrial pollution has triggered large scale improvements. The National Air Quality Index has succeeded in creating mass awareness as no other measure with respect to air pollution. Increase in forest and mangrove area amidst developmental pressures and challenges is a matter of immense satisfaction. The population of wildlife in the country has either stabilized or is on increase. The Ministry has made a number of successful initiatives in connecting people with Government Schemes and their benefits. The use of technology in management and monitoring has significantly enhanced with tremendous results. The Ministry has been successful in ensuring environment conservation while facilitating sustainable economic growth following a participative approach.
When you assumed office, what were the key challenges faced in the sector relevant to the Ministry/Ministries led by you? How did you overcome those challenges and achieve the goal of last mile delivery of governance?
The key challenges faced in the Ministry were:
- Creating Ease of Doing Business by bringing in transparency and speed in green clearances
- Pollution abatement
- Increase in green cover
- Successful and efficient wildlife management
- Sustainable Development
- Opening up avenues for eco-friendly employment generation
- Use of technology in environmental management
- Image building at international platform – to be able to better negotiate in national interest
- Building and strengthening public connect with Government Schemes/ Programs and their benefits
Significant progress has been made in each of the area as already described above.
You must have met with many citizens across the country who have largely benefited from the initiatives taken up by Ministry/Ministries led by you.... Could you detail some of the memorable experiences and untold stories shared by citizens?
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has a very wide canvas and deals with citizens in many ways. There are a number of memorable experiences, however, the Clean Air Campaign in Delhi, Harit Diwali campaign etc. were appreciated by large number of stakeholders and many people expressed desire to get connected and work closely with the Ministry for the overall objective of environmental well-being. I firmly believe that environment protection is a shared responsibility of the Government as well as the citizens of this country. Based on my several experiences with the people, I listed out Green Good Deeds as I firmly believe that every citizen of this country wants to contribute towards the nation building. If every citizen does one environment friendly activity a day, there would be 130 billion green activities every day and kind of transformative changes we shall see would help in achieving our goal. I have listened, interacted and encouraged a large number of students and youths from across the country and each of these interactions have been inspiring. It is this energy of our people that gives me hope in our collective endeavour to achieve better environment for our people which is the right as well as responsibility of every Indian.
Our achievements are significant however I feel that a lot more that needs to be done. We are committed to the cause of environment. Some of the important areas that we would like to work on include clean air campaign for 100 cities, creating more opportunities for livelihood of coastal communities, sustainable development and protection of coastal system, planting of billions of trees to add 2.5 to 3 billion carbon stock, National Forest Policy, finalization of 100 additional ESZ notifications and development of cost-effective technologies for pollution abatement, climate change and biodiversity conservation while positioning India as the Global Leader in the field of environment and sustainable development.