Mr Modi, Wish us a Happy Environment Day

Sunita Narain                                                                

modiEVERY NEW GOVERNMENT comes with baggage and opportunity. The problem is since the government is new, it wants to undo what has been done in the past, make new schemes and start again on the learning curve. The opportunity is that there is a new drive to do more, to deliver and to push for change.

Keeping these two facts in mind, we are presenting the Environment and Development Agenda for the BJP government that took charge on May 26, 2014, ahead of the World Environment Day.

First, what we do not want the new government to do. One, in the name of development it must not brush aside the idea that the environment, forest and wildlife concerns are critical. This does not mean we believe the current environment and forest clearance system is working. We want a drastic reform of the system so that it works for environmental protection. This requires reducing multiplicity of clearances, removing archaic laws and strengthening regulatory processes. The new government must not be bullied by the Supreme Court into creating an additional environmental regulator. This will only add to the institutional mess.

Two, we do not want the new government to discard old schemes which were introduced for inclusive growth. All the schemes for rural employment, water and sanitation, housing, nutrition and education are crucial. Without these, there is no idea of India.

But again, we want a change. We want delivery so that people have access to clean water, sanitation, employment, food and education. We have lost too much time making schemes on paper and then fiddling to make them even better, without ever focusing on delivery.

It is our belief that delivery requires good old-fashioned governance systems, which need constant monitoring and attention to detail. The delivery of schemes does require states to get more autonomy and control over funds and programme design. In the current system the Centre makes the plan, provides the money, but it is the state that has to operationalise the system of implementation. There is a huge disconnect. It is the state chief minister who should be accountable for delivery; it is he or she who should get the brickbats or the credit.

It is also our belief that people's aspirations have changed. They want more. They should get more. They should not be short-changed, once again, in the name of development, which benefits only some.

The new prime minister has famously and rightly said that toilets are more important than temples. This is the real agenda for the new government.


First, clean the air

Summon political will to meet clean air standards, enforce stringent emission norms and promote public transport

             Anumita Roychowdhury

clean the airJUST AS the Bharatiya Janata Party was getting ready to form the new government, India hit an all time low on the WHO list of polluted cities. Its report, released in May, noted that 13 of the 20 worst polluted cities across the world are in India. Air pollution has also emerged as the fifth largest killer in the country. Though shocking, the findings do not come as a surprise.

Particulate matter pollution exacts a health

cost of 3% of India’s GDP

Indian cities are bursting at the seams with cars, two-wheelers and a large number of diesel-powered vehicles that belch toxic fumes. At the same time, the share of public transport, walking and cycling is drastically declining. Worsening air pollution has also exacted a significant toll on the country’s economy. A recent estimate by the World Bank shows that the health cost of particulate matter pollution (particulate matter less than 10 microns, or PM10, can penetrate deep into the lungs) accounts for 3 per cent of the country’s GDP. Clearly, the new government faces a daunting task of curbing air pollution. It will be able to turn the tide only with hard decisions and determination. Here are a few words of advice:

1. Implement national clean air action plan to ensure that all cities meet clean air standards by 2020-21. Strengthen air quality monitoring systems in all states and issue daily air quality alerts with health advisory for people to take precaution.

2. Introduce stringent emission standards. To begin with, enforce Bharat Stage (BS) IV emission standards across the country. Cars should meet BS V standards by 2016 and the country should leapfrog to BS VI by 2020-21. Only BS VI norms can effectively curb diesel emissions, which WHO classifies as class one carcinogen for its strong association with lung cancer. Restrict the number of diesel cars and SUVs using fiscal measures like additional excise duty. India cannot afford to motorise based on technologies that are nine to 14 years behind those used in Europe.

3. Implement favourable taxation policy for promoting clean fuels like CNG. Only an effective differential between CNG and diesel prices can incentivise CNG. Encourage advanced clean vehicle technologies like electric vehicles with fiscal incentives.

4. Increase Central funding substantially to scale up affordable modes of public transport system in cities. Use reform-based funding to integrate these systems and to install safe and well-designed walking and cycling infrastructure and paratransit systems. At least 80 per cent of daily travel trips in cities must be met by public transport by 2020-21. Reform Central taxes and state road taxes to eliminate burden on public transport and recover the revenue loss by imposing higher taxes on cars. Create a dedicated urban transport fund. Promote urban design that allows people to live closer to jobs, education, recreation and other services.

5. Restrict use of personal vehicles. City authorities must eliminate free parking, organise and limit parking and charge parking fees to recover the cost of valuable public land and environmental impact.


Healthy rivers are crucial

This will require innovative sewage treatment and tough enforcement of pollution norms

             Sunita Narain

clean the airTHE BJP-LED government has said it is serious about cleaning the Ganga. It must know that every river in India is like the Ganga. Every river is either dying or already dead. This is because cities take water from them and return sewage, and industries discharge effluents into them.

Rural sanitation needs obsession for delivery.
Sanitation programme must link toilets to water
and sewage disposal

The river-cleaning model has as yet depended on building sewage treatment plants. This strategy is inadequate. Nearly 84 per cent of Varanasi city is without the sewage network. So is 71 per cent of Allahabad. Engineers will tell the government that they will build the network. This is a pipe dream. Even as they deal with the backlog, there is more that needs to be built or repaired. Cities do not even have funds to run sewage treatment plants. All in all, the game of catch-up does not work. Change is possible with the following strategy:

1. Make ecological flow mandatory in all stretches of the river. In upper stretches, where the requirement is for critical ecological functions as well as societal needs, it should be mandated at 50 per cent for the lean season and 30 per cent for other seasons. In urbanised stretches, it will be mandated based on the quantum of wastewater released into the river and calculated using a factor of 10 for dilution.

2. Accept that urban areas cannot build conventional sewage networks at a required pace. So intercept sewage in open drains and take it to treatment plants. Ensure that all new developments treat sewage locally using decentralised systems.

3. Ensure treated effluent is reused or discharged directly into rivers for dilution.

4. Go for affordable water and sanitation solutions. Today, the Centre provides subsidy for building and running sewage treatment plants. Cities do not provide water and sanitation for all. They get expensive water from farther away, losing some of it in distribution. This is not practical. Cities must reduce water use, pay for water and invest in sewage treatment that is affordable. Central funds must subsidise only those systems that provide for all, not some.

5. Design a garbage disposal system to segregate waste and make a resource out of it.

6. Learn that controlling industrial pollution demands effective enforcement of laws and appropriate technologies for small-scale industries. The Central Pollution Control Board estimates 500 million litres of industrial discharge flows into the Ganga every day. Crackdown on non-compliance and incentivise pollution-control technologies.

7. Recognise lack of sanitation is a national shame. Implement the current programme with obsession. Make this the national mission that counts.


Time for reform

India needs to reinvent the way it manages green clearances

             Srestha Banerjee

clean the airON MAY 16, as India was anticipating a new government the stock market hit a record high. The unbridled optimism of industry that the BJP-led government will rev up the economy is apparent. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India has already prepared an agenda for the new government to achieve 10 per cent economic growth. Chandrajit Banerjee, director-general of the Confede- ration of Indian Industry, indicated in an article that the government should re-start stalled projects.

It’s a myth that environmental clearances are
impeding growth

Industry lobby portrays green clearances as impediments to growth. But facts wspeak otherwise. The government had planned to increase the country’s thermal power capacity by 78,700 MW during the 11th Five Year Plan that ended in 2012, but only 53,000 MW was installed. This is when the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) cleared plants of 217,794 MW. The 12th Plan, ending 2017, promises another 88,000 MW to cater to the future demand. While the target can be met without further clearances, MoEF has cleared an additional 36,000 MW since April 2012

Similar is the case with coal. India’s current production of coal is 557.7 million tonnes per annum (MTPA). By 2017, coal demand will rise to 980.50 MT, which can be met by realising the 589 MTPA potential of mines cleared during the 11th Plan period. Yet MoEF has cleared additional 67 projects with capacity of 216 MTPA since 2012

The fact is very few projects get rejected on environmental grounds. In fact, projects are cleared with full knowledge that the government has little capacity to monitor whether developers are complying with environment clearance conditions. This allows developers to pollute. Protests against such projects make clearances contentious. This affects industries. Clearly, the current system is not working. The new government must reform and strengthen the environment management system and green clearances to safeguard people’s concerns

1. Consolidate all green clearances, be it related to environment, forests, wildlife or coastal zone, so that decisions can be taken understanding the overall impact of projects.

2. Instead of several regulators, set up an independent body to grant all green clearances. The body should be given enough power and resources to do proper assessment and impose fines and sanctions. It must be transparent and accountable and encourage public participation in green clearances

3. State pollution control boards (SPCBs), the country’s largest environment regulators, monitor projects for compliance under environmental laws. MoEF should utilise the resources of SPCBs to monitor compliance with clearance conditions.

4. The government must provide resources, build capacity and reform institutions for better implementation of regulations. It must urgently strengthen SPCBs as they are the regulators on the ground.

5. All information related to green clearances should be put in the public domain. The process of public hearings must be strengthened and made more transparent.


Of the people, for the people

Harness the development potential of the Forest Rights Act

             Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava

clean the airWHEN THE FOREST Rights Act (FRA) was enacted in 2006 it was supposed to reform the forest regime that continued since the colonial era and denied tribals and other forest-dwelling communities the rights over their ancestral land and forest resources. Ensuring livelihood and food security of the poorest of the poor is at the core of this legislation. Seven years on, the Act is yet to live up to expectations.

Ensuring livelihood and food security of the poorest of the poor is at the core of the Act

People’s anguish became clear during this general election when the ruling Congress party at the Centre faced rout in most tribal constituencies that had been its traditional strongholds. Political analysts lay the blame for the debacle of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government on its inability to tap FRA’ s development potential. The new government must implement FRA in letter and spirit and include it in its key development agenda if it wants to continue attracting tribal votes.

1. As per FRA, forest villages must be converted into revenue villages. Without this, the village cannot benefit from development programmes of the government. The change in status also keeps villages out of the administrative control of forest departments. But no state has speeded up this legal requirement. The Union tribal affairs ministry must pursue the matter as a priority so that the law’s development potential is realised.

2. FRA is an attempt to humanise forest management. According to its rules, village communities must have rights over their forests. But in a blatant violation of the rules, forest departments tactically resist granting such rights. Small wonder that community forest titles account for about two per cent of the total FRA titles. The government should implement the next phase of FRA focusing on community forest rights in a time-bound manner.

3. FRA, for the first time, defines minor forest produce (MFP) and places valuable produces like bamboo and tendu under its ambit. It also grants forest dwelling communities the right over MFPs to ensure their livelihood and increase their income. Though there has been a sharp increase in demand for the right, the forest department is reluctant to cede authority over forest produce. The new government should bring in more clarity on the roles of forest department and introduce minimum support price for all minor forest produce.

4. FRA aims at reinventing the colonial forest regime. But it cannot be implemented properly until the forest department undergoes similar reforms. The new government should immediately reform forest governance on lines of the Administrative Reforms Commission.


Tap renewable energy

This is a must to ensure energy access and energy security

             Nayanjyoti Goswami

clean the airINDIA IS SUFFERING from acute energy poverty. Per capita electricity consumption of the country is one of the lowest in the world with 778 kiloWatt-hour (kWh) per year against the global average of 2,600 kWh per year. About 306 million people, mostly those in rural areas, do not have access to electricity. Worse, 818 million people depend on traditional biomass for cooking. In 2013, India ranked 136th on the human development index of UNDP.

India must choose its energy carefully because it is vulnerable to climate change impacts

Clearly, energy access issues need to be urgently addressed. While doing so India needs to be cautious as it is vulnerable to climate change impacts. At present, coal-based power generation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the country. These emissions will increase significantly if the growing number of coal-fired power stations are not checked

The country’s dependency on hydro carbon-based fuel is also increasing by the year. At present, it meets 30 per cent of the primary energy requirement through imports. The new government must strike a balance between energy security and its impact on health and climate

1. The government must achieve the goals of Rural Electrification Policy and provide at least one unit of electricity per day to every rural household by 2019. Renewable energy-based mini-grids have emerged as the solution for energy access. They must be promoted through effective policy and financial mechanisms. The government must also provide clean cooking fuel in rural India through LPG cylinders, piped biogas or improved cookstoves.

2. India needs to harness the full potential of renewable sources. The government must frame policies so that the share of renewable energy increases from marginal to mainstream in the total energy mix. The 12th Plan allocates `10,94,938 crore for the energy sector, of which 3 per cent is for renewable energy. This should increase to 25 per cent.

3. According to the Ministry of Power, about 25,000 MW can be saved through efficient use of energy. This can also help reduce the demand-supply gap by minimal investment. The new government should ensure that energy efficiency is embedded in all kinds of energy uses.

4. Current energy policies are fragmented and handled by five separate ministries. The government must consolidate these policies and bring coherence among ministries by instituting an umbrella organisation that will have a holistic view of India’s energy mix model.

5. Even renewable energy can be detrimental to the environment if adequate measures are not taken. The new government must ensure that the environment is protected.


Target delivery

Programmes for rural development are in place. Ensure they reach each of the intended beneficiaries

             Richard Mahapatra

clean the airTHE NEW GOVERNMENT has two tough challenges in the rural development sector. The first challenge is to match the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA’s) rural development budget of more than one lakh crore rupees a year. The second is to fix the shortcomings in the delivery of development benefits to the right people. Deficiencies in delivery in many ways spelt the doom for UPA despite its unequivocal focus on rural budget. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, feted for his impeccable delivery skill, will be closely monitored on this agenda. The three steps he must take:

Now is the time to take up a community driven plan to use village assets like ponds to regenerate rural ecology and environment

1. Retain the rural development budget. All recent government surveys point at the revival of rural consumption as well as overall economy. This is because of the enormous sums of money pumped into rural development in the last one decade. Rural growth is also helping national economy to grow at whatever slow pace it is growing. The new government should not downsize flagship programmes like the national rural employment scheme and the rural health mission that are directly linked to the well-being of the rural work force.

2. Reform the job programme. The new government should take up the much-needed reform in design and delivery of rural development programmes. It should start with MGNREGA that is on decline. It should be revived as a core programme that provides a major source of funding for village development schemes. Villages already have millions of productive assets like ponds and tanks. Now is the time to take up a community-driven plan to use these assets to regenerate the village ecology and economy. Instead of the non-negotiable list of works under the Act, the government should mandatorily fund a village’s plan to sustain the assets already built.

3. Decide on the direct benefit transfer. The buzz about sending the monetary value of development benefits directly to the accounts of the beneficiaries is fizzling out. This has more to do with the way India rolled out the ambitious programme. The government should first prepare a must-do list to make this programme successful. It needs a verifiable long-term commitment to expand the formal banking system to rural areas. Secondly, the system of identifying the beneficiary has to be clear and objective. To start with, the government must end the confusion over who is poor in India by quickly taking into account the findings of the recently finished caste and economic census. The purpose of the census was to gauge who is backward.

target delivery


Develop with care

Economic growth is possible only if people are healthy. Disease prevention should, therefore, be the mantra of development

             Vibha Varshney

clean the airMODI'S MANTRA of development was crucial in the victory of Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But careless development could cost people their health. This significantly hampers economic growth.

Diseases make people infirm or kill them in the prime of their working lives. This hampers economic growth

The latest World Health Statistics released by the World Health Organization show that for every 100,000 people, India lost 13,613 years of life due to non-communicable diseases and 14,186 years of life due to communicable diseases in 2012. “Years of life lost” is a measure of premature death.

Many times, diseases kill people in the prime of their working lives. Economic impact of these deaths is high. A WHO estimate suggests that India could lose between $23 billion and $53 billion a year in national income due to deaths from heart diseases, strokes and diabetes between 2005 and 2015. There is no estimate for losses due to communicable diseases.

Despite the growing burden of diseases, the United Progressive Alliance government allocated a meagre 1.3 per cent of the GDP for healthcare in the 12th Plan. The new government will have to increase the budget. But it should not focus only on curative care.

Prevention of diseases will, however, be a challenge for the government. For example, to prevent exposure to chemicals in food products the government will have to check the use of colourants, artificial sweeteners and trans fats. This will significantly affect the food industry, which uses the additives to lure customers. Similarly, to protect people from harmful impacts of particulate matter pollution in the air, the government will have to limit private cars and promote public transport that run on clean fuel.

Healthcare has been one of the most neglected aspects of governance in India since Independence.

As BJP starts its innings at the Centre, it must heed a few words of advice.

1. Invest in health. Estimates show total healthcare expenditure by the Indians is 3.9 per cent of the GDP. Most of it is borne by the sick. This often pushes people to poverty. To ensure healthcare for all, the government must spend at least 5 per cent of the GDP.

2. Prevention is crucial. So the government must ensure access to safe water, air, food and areas for physical activity.

3. Give priority to health impacts during the environmental impact assessment of projects. Polluting industries should be allowed only if they adopt adequate environment protection measures.

4. Improve public healthcare services. If development can reach rural areas, so can healthcare.

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