Saturday, July 4, 2009

Surely you are joking Mr. Ramesh…

Our honorable union minister of environment and forests Jairam Ramesh is in news since he has taken charge of the ministry. He has been meeting NGOs all over the country working on various environmental issues. Be it an issue of Genetically Modified crops, of climate change, of tiger conservation, of mining or that of reformation of regulatory system for implementation of environmental law of the state; name the issue and you’ll find a couple of his statements reported in national media. Seems to be a considerate environment minister? media-friendly and accessible… Some activists, some NGOs must be flattered. Well, beware those who are flattered, here is a glitch…

This looks like a ‘Yes… But’ game. It means whenever there is a ‘but’ in a statement that starts with ‘yes’, one must take a special note of the second half of a statement, and it usually indicates unwillingness to act. Let’s evaluate a few of Mr. Ramesh’s statements from this ‘Yes… But’ point of view.

Bt brinjal can wait, says Jairam Ramesh. Yes he said so; “There is no great urgency to launch bt brinjal, [but] I see a very strong case for bt cotton. Country needs GM crops.” He also assured that GM foods will not enter the Indian market immediately and the system for labeling imported food needs to be introduced.

He announced that the country will have a monitoring agency for strict implementation of environment law. Agency will be funded by the union government, and the amount is quite handsome, Rs. 2000 crore… to save environment?! [But] this amount is generated through the conversion of forest lands for non-forest purpose!

The chairman of an expert appraisal committee (EAC) for river-valley projects is also on the directorial boards of at least six companies those are interested in building large hydro power projects. The EAC plays a crucial role in decision making process of environment ministry. Therefore, NGOs opposing large dams and hydro power projects have taken objection to this ‘conflict of interest’. They approached the union ministry of environment and forest and demanded an immediate action on this issue. Environment minister was quick to react, “People playing double role will be ejected,” he declared. His declaration made front page news; rather a headline in a Delhi newspaper, [but] the next meeting of the EAC was conducted with the same person as the chairman.

And, here is last one. He said that environmental standards will neither be diluted nor any laws will be by-passed, [but] at the same time environmental issues would not be allowed to become stumbling blocks to economic growth.
Now, how will you make this possible Mr. Ramesh?

- Reshma