1st December, 2023: Congress MP Jairam Ramesh stated, that Maximum Global Talk, Minimum Local Walk — is the principle followed by the Prime Minister. In Dubai, he claimed that India has “struck a great balance between ecology and economy.” This is yet another of his trademark falsehoods. Here’s the reality:
1. Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has been made completely hollow with a 2023 amendment. It does away with provisions for the consent of forest communities and with requirements for forest clearance in vast areas. It removes protections for 25% of India’s forest cover, in violation of the 1996 TN Godavarman Supreme Court order. It is paving the way for the Modi Government to exploit forests and hand them over to a select few chosen corporates.
2. The Forest Rights Act of 2006, a historic legislation protecting the traditional rights of Adivasis and forest-dwelling communities, has been weakened with a 2022 notification. Forests can now be cleared without consulting those who live there, and consent from gram sabhas is no longer needed to use forest land.
3. The National Biodiversity Act, 2002 has been massively diluted to allow private companies easier access to forests without benefit-sharing with communities. It does away with any criminal offence provisions, allowing the PM’s crony capitalist friends and others who destroy biodiversity to get away scot-free. The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), formerly an independent body able to keep a check on the government, has been completely put under the control of the Environment Ministry.
Our statement on the Prime Minister’s Maximum Global Talk, Minimum Local Walk in Dubai at the Conference of the Parties(COP) 28 given his disastrous track record on environment in India. pic.twitter.com/BLfZ1IOBEc
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) December 1, 2023
4. When the entire world was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Modi government passed 39 amendments to rules under the Environment Protection Act. Illegal and regressive changes were made to relax environmental protections — pollution control measures were removed, penalties for violations were lowered, criminal prosecutions were stripped, and public notice requirements were waived.
5. The Environmental Impact Assessment norms have been continuously weakened since 2020. Timelines for hydro and mining project clearances have been arbitrarily extended, major project types have been removed from central government clearance, public hearings and participation have been skipped. In eco-sensitive areas like the Himalayan region, the Modi government has illegally bypassed the need for Environmental Impact Assessment by splitting large projects into small segments. The Silkyara tunnel disaster is only a symptom of the larger malaise.
6. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been consistently weakened since 2014. Vacancies have been left open for years, reaching 70% overall in 2018 and leading to the shutdown of the Chennai NGT bench. The Madras High Court had to step in in 2019 and instruct the Union Government to fill vacancies. Bureaucrats, rather than scientific experts, are being appointed to key posts.
7. Lastly, and most importantly, air pollution has turned into a grave public health crisis under the Modi government, becoming a major threat to life expectancy. From 2015 to 2020 alone, the share of Indians exposed to PM2.5 above 100 has doubled, reversing improvements over the previous years. The Modi government has not only been ineffective in dealing with worsening air pollution across the country, but it relaxed norms for coal transportation and emissions scrubbing.
How can anyone take what the Prime Minister says globally on environment seriously in light of his disastrous track record in India?