It will be a major improvement over current system, says Jairam Ramesh

The Union government is in the process of setting up a National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA) as part of efforts to bring in institutional reforms and improve environmental governance, Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said here on Tuesday.

The Minister was delivering the second Lawrence Dana Pinkham Memorial Lecture at the convocation ceremony of the Class of 2011 of the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ).

Mr. Ramesh said that as a professional, science-based and autonomous entity tasked with environmental appraisals and monitoring of compliance, NEAMA would mark a major improvement over the current system wherein the Ministry did appraisal and approval of projects.

While NEAMA would be more effective in addressing conflict of interest issues through separation of the processes of appraisal and approval, the appraised projects would require his final approval to ensure the principle of executive accountability, he said.

In his lecture that drew metaphors from essayist Isaiah Berlin's reference to the Greek poet Archilochus — “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing” — Mr. Ramesh argued that India needed to be liberated both from the “high GDP growth hedgehogs” and the “conservation-at-all-costs hedgehogs.”

Striking a balance

Espousing need to work the balance between the worldviews of hedgehogs and foxes, he said, “India needs to straddle both worlds at the same time — the world of high GDP growth and the world of meaningful ecological security.”

Mr. Ramesh said, “Towards helping strike this balance between rapid growth and conservation, an expert group — chaired by Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University — is being set up to develop a roadmap for India to be able to report ‘green' national accounts by the year 2015.”

Market-friendly move

The Minister said a beginning was being made to move to a market-friendly system of regulation with the launch of a pilot project in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra to implement regulations for air pollutants.

Providing some insight into his decision-making processes, Mr. Ramesh put forth two of his specific innovations through which he wanted to “make the trade-offs explicit and make the choice in full public glare” — the practice of “speaking orders” to communicate to the public the contours of the middle path in debated issues such as Bt-brinjal, Vedanta and most recently Posco, and the other, the system of public consultations exemplified by the redrafting exercise of CRZ Notification of 1991.

Presents diplomas

Reverting to his hedgehog-fox metaphor, Mr. Ramesh urged the students to “be hedgehoggy but develop the traits of a fox.”

He would also add the caveat that too much flexibility may lead only to survival of no enduring value—“being a fox should not degenerate into behaving like a chameleon.”

The Minister later presented diplomas to 200 graduates.

Intriguing situation, says N. Ram

In his introductory remarks, N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu and Media Development Foundation Trustee, pointed to the “intriguing situation” in India, and most developing countries, where the news media was in growth mode even while some of the international trends that led to decline of the media in mature markets waited to catch up.

“The Indian media is also in a congenial situation where it has the time to make adjustments and avoid the mistakes made elsewhere in terms of planning media growth to the extent it can be planned,” Mr. Ram said.

Media Development Foundation Chairman Sashi Kumar said though 10 years was too short a period for an institution like the ACJ to lay claim to a legacy, its alumni were making a difference to the practice of journalism in the country.