Interview

Compliance is mainstay of ministry: Prakash Javadekar

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar during a Interview with The Hindu in New Delhi on Sunday. Photo: R. V. Moorthy

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar during a Interview with The Hindu in New Delhi on Sunday. Photo: R. V. Moorthy  

Union Minister of State for Environment Prakash Javadekar has come in for a lot of flak since he took over last year but in an interview to The Hindu on Sunday he says the ministry is making compliance of norms the mainstay. It was absolutely untrue that the ministry was diluting environmental laws and pleasing the industry, he pointed out. On the contrary, it was doing what previous governments had not done. Excerpts from the interview:

There is a lot of criticism after your government has taken over that it is diluting environmental laws and there are so many laws that are proposed to be changed ? There is a feeling that you are pleasing the industry?

This is absolutely untrue, actually our government in last eight months has showcased that we care for nature more and we have made conditions of environment protection more stringent. Four things in proper perspective. First we have said and we have mandated that more than 3000 industries from 17 critically polluting industrial sectors are to have 24x7 pollution monitoring devices to be set up at effluent discharge points and chimney stacks- this is a big step-to make processes transparent otherwise when you go for inspection there is clean water in effluent treatment plants but on other days it is untreated. We won’t allow this. We are reviewing pollution preparedness in the first phase and we are planning to cover 100,000 polluting industries within next three years. This is a real environmentally friendly step. We are the second largest cement industry producer and we have tightened the emission norms for the industry –they will have to go in for a major revamp and everyone has started ordering new machinery. Cement is a big polluter and we are tackling that. Our mandate is simple-- clean water, clean air and energy and more greenery - these are the four things on which we are building our environment protection.

On clean air we have pre- launched the composite air quality index and now we are formally launching it in March wherein we will give one colour, one code, one description to indicate the status of health for each city and I want to build a public movement around this issue in 20 cities which are most polluted. Fresh air is my birthright will be our slogan.

We were a ministry of license- permit –quota- raj but we are converting it to a people centric ministry- we are launching a water literacy campaign. I have started showcasing my own environment ministry building and everyday four to five pm we show it to the public. We are initiating ideas from crowd sourcing for a green building logo which will be more popular. Green buildings are to be appreciated and a logo to be developed. The environment ministry will give that logo to buildings with gradation system of five stars, so that green buildings will be identified, incentivized, recognised and appreciated and become an attraction.

I have already launched two campaigns and tomorrow is the next one. The Swach Bharat abhiyan is also an environment friendly activity- it’s all about solid waste management, sewage treatment and river cleaning and so we are doing that as well. We will ensure that pollution doesn’t go into rivers and sewage water treatment happens everywhere. Even though these are done by different departments, we are in working in coordination- and we have a public movement woven into it.

These are all pro- environment steps we are taking. I am creating the movement of Urban Greens. Tomorrow in Ratnagiri 10,000 students will sing a song by Prasoon Joshi and Kailash Kher- on Swach Bharat- they will also be there- and they are launching a plastic waste free India. This is a trailer- I launched the campaign first in Shirur with 5000 students and they will go and clean-up waste. No plastic waste will remain in Ratnagiri after 12 o clock tomorrow. We are building a sense of belonging and public participation. These are the most environment friendly things we have done- and no one else has done it before us.

Is the environment ministry an obstacle to growth? And how are going to manage development without destruction?

There used to be delay in clearances and we are avoiding that- we are taking policy based decisions. We are making processes transparent and time bound but there is no compromise on environmental conditions they will remain as they are or even more stringent. There was no compliance- what we are going in for is 24x7 pollution monitoring – which is one such initiative. There are many more initiatives in store –we will make it public once it is final. Compliance will be the mainstay of our ministry

The High level committee (HLC) report is not yet accepted fully by the ministry? Yet you have advertised for a consultant?

This regulatory ministry does not have a single advocate and everyday there are hundreds of cases and so we have asked legal firms to join us to protect environment. The Parliamentary committee can look at the High level Committee on their own- it’s their right and we are happy as we need inputs. I am holding three chintan shibirs or brainstorming session with my officers on changes in laws and processes. In Bangalore it was a hit - 64 officers spoke and gave suggestions and they said this is the first time a minister was sitting with them on both days and I spoke last and I heard everyone. The next ones are in Bhopal and Guwahati.

We have advertised since we need time to appoint the consultant as well. But we will give the mandate for the laws- our brainstorming will be near completion by March and we will come up with final ideas of what is acceptable. The Budget session spills over to April as well- I am working on two or three contingency plans- if I can bring about all comprehensive changes in one go- that’s best case scenario but you can’t rush through it. Then there is plan B – and that is to take immediate steps. No ordinances- we are into session. It’s about bringing in some changes which are immediately necessary and comprehensive changes later, By March end the picture will be clear.

Is there a chance of a new environment policy?

It’s a suggestion for action and we could look into it, for instance the forest policy has not been revisited for a long time. Greening degraded forests should be a priority. We have already started urban greening. In Ahmadnagar in Maharashtra we identified land – some 80 acres on the boundary of the city and 20 acres in heart of the city. In cities people will pay money to plant trees in memory of their loved ones-we are creating a public participation in urban greening.

On GM crops what is the government stand and are you allowing field trials?

The BJP mandate is very clear on scientific evaluation and safe field trials are part of it. Already six field trials are on and it’s being done by agricultural universities. We are not going ahead with Bt brinjal- but we are going ahead with field trials. The Supreme Court can decide on the issue of field trials and we can’t force the Court. But you can’t stop science - what you must ensure as a government is that any scientific evaluation must be safe- enough safeguards are the key.

What is your comment on the accounts of NGOs being targeted and their accounts frozen and some of them not being allowed to travel abroad?

It’s nothing to do with the environment ministry – in democracy everybody has a right to express their views and we are true democrats and we don’t stifle voices. We have not prevented anyone but government has clarified more than enough on this issue and even if they are stopped from going abroad they are speaking on Skype. You can’t stop conversation.

One the crucial question of climate funding?

I met representatives from at least 15- 20 countries during the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit - I met UK and Germany now and they said that funding will be there for adaptation. You need international funding and national funding too. Wait till budget- last year for the first time a National Adaptation Fund was set up and we provided Rs 100 crore. This year we have put up demands for more money.

On Coal and Clean energy?

Why do countries export coal and earn profits and then lecture us on not using coal- that’s doublespeak. In India 30 per cent don’t have access to energy and fifty per cent don’t have enough energy. Poverty eradication, energy access and growth are also important and we will have cleaner practices. We have levied coal cess- and am sure we will evolve suitable technology- and we are focusing on Carbon Capture and Storage and Indians in UK are working on it too. Coal consumption will rise but also our energy efficiency will rise and renewable energy and that will be good mix.

What leadership role is India playing in climate negotiations?

The world has already got a changed image of India and you have seen in Lima, we were not negative and we always gave positive suggestions. We want the world to move ahead on the green path and as PM has said there is no pressure on us from other countries but there is the pressure of climate change and pressure of future generation. Therefore we are going ahead with our actions and our own convictions and we will continue to do so. This approach has been appreciated by world leaders and everyone wants India to play a lead role and we are ready to play that lead role and we are giving options to the world.

We have given solutions to various countries. On some issues where there are differing opinions, like common but differentiated responsibilities, finance, technology, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)s I have suggested that major countries should think about these issues and discuss them in the coming months and solve them or achieve a broad consensus before Paris so there is no last minute huddle in Paris and no Copenhagen type situation.

I am hoping collective wisdom will prevail.

On the Dehi election debacle?

It’s simple arithmetic. BJP retains its votes, Congress lost 15 per cent of its share but are the ones who gave the slogan of Congress free Bharat. The BJP vote bank has remained intact- the 15 per cent from Congress went to AAP- it’s simple and basic mathematics.

On a more cautious and humble note, every election gives many lessons to each party - we are a thinking party- we will analyse the defeat. In Assam two days after Delhi polls we won all the panchayat polls and by 2019 we will have 20 states in our belt- you will see we will get unexpectedly one more state.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 7:53:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/exclusive-interview-with-union-minister-of-state-for-environment-prakash-javadekar/article6898826.ece

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