National Green Tribunal Bill to come before Parliament

Cautioning against “environmental propaganda” Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh told journalists here on Saturday that the West was using the science of climate change for political gains.

Mr. Ramesh was on a visit to the Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay), where he met heads and faculty of all the seven IITs to discuss the formation of a pan-IIT network to research environment issues.

In response to a question on the climate change talks to be held in Mexico later this year, Mr. Ramesh said, “It's too early to say, but I am not very optimistic simply because the United States will not be in a position to deliver climate change legislation because of their domestic political compulsions. A lot of western politicians like to use the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] reports for political purposes. We believe in the IPCC as a scientific body and not a political body. We must distinguish climate evangelism from climate science. We support climate science. There is no doubt in my mind that many western countries have distorted and misused IPCC reports to suit political purposes. This, India will never accept. The issue of glaciers is one example.”

In terms of a judicial reform in the area of environment, Mr. Ramesh said, the National Green Tribunal Bill would come before Parliament next week. The Bill would empower citizens to go to courts and claim civil damages resulting from flouting of environmental norms by industries and any other body. The Union Cabinet cleared the bill in December 2009, after the Standing Committee examined it and submitted its recommendations in November last.

In his address to the faculty and students of IIT, he stressed the need for indigenous research on the impact of climate change on India, because “you will always have motivated reports,” he said. He went back to an instance where a U.S. report in the 90s stated that methane emissions from Indian wet paddy cultivation was 38 million tonnes per year, resulting in tremendous international pressure on India. However, with the intervention and research of the late Dr. A.P. Mitra it was proved that the emissions were between two to six million tonnes, Mr. Ramesh said.

He said because of the dependence on the monsoons for agriculture and demographics, the nation's vulnerability to climate change was the highest in the world.

By May this year his Ministry would be releasing an emissions inventory for 2007, to be updated every two years.

“The last data on emissions dates back to 1994,” he said. In November this year the Ministry is set to come up with a 4/4 assessment report on the impact of climate change. The report would look at four sectors, agriculture, health, water and forests and four regions, the Himalayan ecosystems, the Western Ghats, the North East and the coastal areas.

The Ministry also proposed to set up the National Environment Protection Authority (NEPA), on the lines of the Environmental Protection Authority of the U.S. with a view to strengthening the regulatory framework and improving the environmental governance. A study has been awarded to the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, to work out the scope and configuration of the proposed NEPA.

Institutional collaboration

Mr. Ramesh identified four areas for institutional collaboration, namely, water, cleaner coal, solar energy and Co2 capture and sequestration. The Minister announced the institution of post-doctoral fellowships by September this year to further research in environment sciences. He invited proposals from the IITs on the subject of cleaning the heavily polluted Ganges.

In the light of the controversy over Bt brinjal, the Minister called for “an interface of science and society.” He said, while a scientific approach to environment was needed, issues “had political and social ramifications. It is impossible to look at scientific issues in isolation. In climate change, science has come into dispute. The distinction between advocacy and science has got blurred.”

Mr. Ramesh advocated a middle path taking into account the nation's aims of achieving high levels of growth and well as the health of our environment. “Growth fundamentalism is as bad as ecological fundamentalism. Environment is not a luxury, it's a day-to-day concern,” he said.