Environment

We will discuss access to technology and finance at COP26: Environment Minister

Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Bhupendra Yadav during an interview with the The Hindu at his office in New Delhi on October 28, 2021.   | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Ahead of his departure to Glasgow, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav outlined India’s key concerns at the COP negotiations and said his ministry’s policy was to balance the challenges posed by infrastructure development in forests. Edited excerpts:

You’ve been Union Environment Minister for three months. What do you think are two-three of the most important environmental challenges you’d like to solve, or at least address, on priority?

We are all working to realise Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision. In the last seven years, forest cover has increased by 13,000 square km. 14 tiger reserves have got world accreditation, our lakes have been included in the Ramsar convention, 10 beaches have got a Blue Flag accreditation. Challenges such as stubble burning in Delhi, or addressing the challenges in the Western Ghats, we’ve done well. We’ve working in a way to ensure development as well as giving importance to the rights of tribals as well as protecting the forest.

 

In your experiences as a lawyer and public figure — and you have authored a book on Forest conservation — do you feel that environmental laws may impede people from getting access to basic services, basic education and jobs? Could you relate a few instances?

As a lawyer, I’ve been involved in environmental litigation and written on forest laws. Following the advent of PM Modi, our thrust has been increase transparency and accountability. The biggest example of this is the Parivesh portal (which allows files on the progress of an industrial project requiring environmental clearance to be tracked) that increases transparency. The Environment Ministry is the trustee of the environment and that brings in both responsibilities and obligations. To bring consonance between both in a balanced way.

Environment Ministry is working on modifying legislation, such as Forest Conservation Act, that seems to make it more convenient for industries and industrial projects to use forest land for non-forestry purposes. On the other hand, we continue to see agitation in Chhattisgarh, especially around coal mining blocks in Hasdeo Arand forests because people don’t want to give up their land for mining. On whose side is the Environment Ministry? The Environment Ministry no longer uses the word “penalty or fine” but “environmental compensation”

When we come out with a draft, it is to solicit the opinion of the people. That’s not a bad thing, right? So we’ve not yet actually made any legislation. But consider this: Say a tribal with some land wants to make a provision for drinking water, do you want him to come all the way to Delhi for permission?

But it’s the tribals themselves who are agitating for their land?

As far private mining is concerned; we have not made any concessions. The existing laws apply. But for providing basic amenities to tribals, or helping infrastructure projects of organisations such as the Railways the policy is restricted to such purposes. There is no change in the Act. This follows from the demands of several States, tribal communities. We will first have several rounds of consultations with States, follow parliamentary process and we’ve even given notices in vernacular languages and have given a month.

Comment | Why India shouldn’t sign on to net zero

This is your first experience as a minister who’ll be leading some crucial negotiations in Glasgow...

I’m grateful to PM Modi for entrusting me with this responsibility. He has authored a book as well as developed a climate division in his days as Chief Miniser. The Paris Agreement of 2015 has important aspects of climate justice that follow from his vision. Globally climate shouldn’t be just about negotiations but also action. That is why we have the International Solar Alliance, International Disaster Resilience Forum that the PM led.

India is progressing well on achieving its Nationally Determined Contributions. We have an ambitious target of installing 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030. In the coming COP 26, to implement the adaption and mitigation measures from increased global temperatures, we will be discussing access to technology and finance with the developed countries. We demand a transparent framework and all this will be part of our discussions.

Explained | What are India’s expectations from COP26?

India’s challenge in COP discussions has always been that while we are not responsible for the climate crisis, we are the victims of it and we are already seeing intense heatwaves and unseasonal torrential rains. Is there a case, that at least for our own sake, we should be doing much more, and much faster in transitioning to non-fossil fuel sources?

Having a 450 GW renewable energy target, an electric vehicle policy, increasing the forest cover, having an International Solar Alliance, a national mission for hydrogen are all part of our steps and these are the points that we are consistently raising and discussing.

You’re also one of the BJP’s key election strategists. What will be your party’s approach to the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls? Also why is your party against a caste census?

We’ve done good work in Uttar Pradesh particularly in vaccination. We’ve delivered consistent development and we shall ask for votes in the name of consistency and continuity and U.P. is at this point with the BJP. One of our most avowed aims is working towards an egalitarian society. All sections of society must benefit. The amount of work that this government has done for the OBC (Other Backward Classes) no one else has. Whether it was admissions for students in Kendriya Vidyalayas, an Act for University Professors, Reservations for OBC students in NEET examinations. We desire development for all under Constitutional provisions.

Explained | Why is it difficult for India to get to net zero?

The E-Shram portal for unorganised workers that was launched in August has about 5 crore registrations so far. Are you satisfied with the pace and how long do you think it will take to cover all the unorganised sector workers in the country?

We have received good support from people in two months already. We are about to increase the number of trades recorded in the portal from about 160 to 400. I believe what we had thought initially that we will be create the largest-ever database of unorganised workers, we will achieve it. Earlier, our registrations were 10 lakh per day. We have increased the capacity to 25 lakh per day. We are working on taking this forward.

Is there a timeline?

No, it is a continuous and evolving process. Slowly, it will be updated and upgraded. The number of migrant workers is very large. Updates will continue in order to increase the capacity in the future and to connect the data with planning. It is an ongoing process.

From the data seen so far, we can see that women workers make up about 50%. Caste data has also come out. What can be learnt from the data so far?

We haven’t asked for castes; we have asked for trade and occupation. Along with this, there are two other employment surveys of the government that are underway — the institution-based survey in the non-agricultural sector and the area-based. There is also a survey of unorganised sector. These tell us that compared to data from Economic Census 2013-2014, in all sectors, apart from trade and manufacturing, there has been an increase. These surveys will also be done quarterly now. In the four new labour codes, we have focused on social security. We are working on giving benefits of this to the unorganised sector. Since we are talking of extending social security to a large section of workers, we are working on capacity-building of ESIC and EPFO.

 

What is the reason for the labour codes, which were passed in 2019 and 2020, not being implemented so far?

Different States are in the process of making the rules. The work is complete in about 90% of the States and the consensus is being built. Such major codes need infrastructure also. I have already said that a very large section of unorganised sector is being given the benefits of social security.

But, what about a timeline for the implementation?

The government will complete it in the appropriate time.

 

It was announced last year that ₹1,000 crore would be given for migrant welfare from the PM CARES fund. How has it been used?

A lot of work has been done. The Pradhan Mantri Rozgar Yojana is under Atmanirbhar Yojana. Work has been done to increase the employment opportunities for workers. The most important is that ESIC has come up with two schemes — to give life-long pension to the families of those ESIC beneficiaries who died of COVID-19 and aid to those who lost their jobs for 90 days.

As a senior lawyer, how do you see the Supreme Court’s recent order to form a committee to look into Pegasus? Does your government see it as embarrassing that the Supreme Court would rather have its own committee than have a government appointed committee investigate?

 

The government had very transparently made a statement in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on this. Unfortunately, the opposition didn’t let Parliament function and so didn’t merit questions.

But the SC was not satisfied with the government’s statement...

The matter is subjudice and government’s Solicitor General will place his views to the Court.


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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 11:14:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/environment-minister-bhupendra-yadav-interview-we-will-discuss-access-to-technology-and-finance-at-cop26/article37220141.ece

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