[mpisgmedia] FW: OPEN LETTER TO THE MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT AND FORESTS


OPEN LETTER TO THE MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT AND FORESTS
3 September, 2004


Why is the Government Systematically Undermining the Environment?


As people?s groups, NGOs, and mass movements, we are deeply concerned and
anguished at the way governments over the last few years have severely
undermined the importance of environmental issues in decision-making. In
particular, the role of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) seems
increasingly to be that of simply a clearing agency for unsustainable and
destructive economic and commercial activities. To make matters worse, the
MoEF appears to be systematically undermining the participation of citizens
in its decision-making process, and has become more and more closed in its
functioning. Lack of transparency not only reduces public participation, it
is also a way to avoid serious scientific scrutiny. These trends seem to
have become worse in the last few years, such that the lay person is left
wondering: is the mandate of the MoEF to help industries and ?developers?
by-pass or get over environmental regulations, rather than safeguard the
country?s environment?


Several actions of the MoEF (and of GOI in general) point to the following
broad trends:



1.. Severe reduction in opportunities available to citizens to input into
MoEF (and GOI) decisions, and in the seriousness with which MoEF considers
such inputs;


2.. Decline in the ability and willingness of MoEF to ensure that
?development? processes and projects (e.g. in hydro-power and
infrastructure) are oriented towards integrating environmental and social
concerns.


3.. Declining emphasis on improving regulation and regulatory mechanisms,
and instead pushing for ?voluntary? and ?market based? instruments.


Examples of the above (which have been clearly pointed out to the
government) include:



a.. The notification of the Biological Diversity Rules 2004: These Rules
notified under the Biological Diversity Act 2002, are scientifically
unsound, considerably undermine the role of local communities in
safeguarding biodiversity and traditional knowledge, and have completely
ignored the very many sound inputs provided by NGOs and activists when the
draft Rules were first put out by MoEF. These Rules actually dilute the
spirit and letter of the Act, which in any case was not fully adequate in
its provisions regarding conservation, sustainable use, and equity.


b.. The dilution of notifications under the Environment Protection Act:
Over the last few years MoEF has considerably reduced the scope and weakened
the provisions of various notifications and rules under the Environment
Protection Act 1986. The promulgation of this comprehensive Act had in 1986
indicated that the government was committed to environmental conservation,
and towards making development projects sustainable. However, a series of
dilutions (about 30 in all!) have considerably weakened various
notifications under the Act. The dilutions include: (in the case of the
Environment Impact Assessment notification) public hearings being dropped
for projects such as the widening of highways and mining leases for major
minerals under 25 ha.; (in the case of Coastal Regulation Zone notification)
allowing Special Economic Zones, effluent treatment plants, industrial salt
pans, and the mining of atomic minerals in coastal areas. These dilutions
have significant impacts. For instance, in the case of the mining projects,
Indian Bureau of Mines data shows that almost 50% of the mining leases for
major minerals are below 25 ha (and they add up to tremendous environmental
and social destruction).

Simultaneous to these dilutions, regulatory norms are being eased for
developmental projects and industries. A MoEF press release in June this
year on "good practices" to be adopted to facilitate ?expeditious decision
making? stated that no application (for clearance) will be rejected on
procedural grounds alone. This could mean that applicants could get
clearance even when they provide incomplete and inadequate information.


c.. The clearance of ?development? projects without adequate assessment:
There are many shocking instances where MoEF has given clearance to dams,
mining, roads, ports, industries, and other projects, without an adequate
environmental impact assessment or without ensuring that environmental
safeguards are built into the project. This is not surprising because
increasingly members of various environmental clearance expert committees of
MoEF, have little or no independent environmental record or credibility.
NGOs and community groups have frequently pointed out such faulty
decision-making, and have provided strong evidence of the dangers posed by
such projects, but have been consistently ignored. Examples of this abound:
Lower Subansiri hydro power project (Arunachal Pradesh), Allain Duhangan H-E
project (Himachal), Teesta Low Dam (W. Bengal), Bodh Ghat project
(Chhattisgarh), Raoghat Bauxite project (Chhattisgarh), and many others.
Some of these projects even threaten many areas that governments have
themselves declared protected for wildlife.


d.. Reluctance to insist that environmental conditionalities are followed
by project proponents: A large number of development projects cleared by
MoEF do not fulfil the conditions under which they were cleared, yet MoEF
has taken action on hardly any of them.


e.. Waste of capacity building funds: A huge loan was received by MoEF
some years ago, for "Environmental Management Capacity Building Programme"
which essentially required: a) A comprehensive review of the Environmental
Clearance Mechanism ; b) Preparation of Manuals for Environment Impact
Assessment ; c) Development of an Environmental Information Centre and d)
Environmental Law Capacity Building both for the Ministry and for other
agencies. Yet this process has been developed with meager consultation, and
despite the debt incurred, the results do not seem to have resulted in any
significant improvement inthe functioning of the MoEF.


f.. The framing of a National Environment Policy without public
participation: Having heard that MoEF is drafting a National Environment
Policy, some of us have repeatedly asked for details on how this is
happening and how citizens can make inputs. A draft was put up on the MoEF
website on 21st August, for comments. There has been no other process of
reaching out to the citizens of India for inputs to the Policy, in
particular to local communities who do not access websites or read English.
Moreoever, what is the guarantee that this Policy will not be pushed through
like the Biodiversity Rules 2004, completely ignoring public inputs?


g.. The delaying of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan
(NBSAP): Despite itself facilitating a uniquely consultative process over
four years, to prepare the NBSAP, MoEF is now delaying its final approval,
publication, and release. The reasons being given are that even as a final
technical report, the draft needs to go through Cabinet approval, and that
it needs to wait for the National Environment Policy to be finalised (though
the process of framing this Policy began over three years after NBSAP did).
We understand the need for the final NBSAP to get political (cabinet)
approval, but there is no justification for delaying the printing and public
release of the final technical report. MoEF is neither respecting the effort
and time put into this process by tens of thousands of people, nor its
contractual obligation to the Global Environment Facility and United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP) who funded the process.


h.. Siding with the building lobby: Rather than help conserve natural
ecosystems against unchecked urban growth, MoEF has often tried to make the
way easier for the building lobby. For example, instead of supporting
people's groups to protect some of the last remaining forest areas in the
highly polluted city of Delhi, including parts of the Delhi ridge, MoEF has
favoured the lobby that wants to promote the construction of five star
hotels and shopping malls in this area. This is also despite the fact that
these are critical water catchments and their destruction would result in
the
further lowering of an already very low water table in Delhi.


i.. Ignoring Supreme Court orders on A&N Islands: In violation of Supreme
Court orders, the MoEF has refused to close down the Andaman and Nicobar
Islands Forest and Plantation Development Corporation that has been
destroying the forests and the habitat of the tribals in the islands. Orders
to control mining of sand from the beaches of the islands and deal with
inappropriate tourism too have not been satisfactorily complied with. In
fact, the MoEF even tried to initiate an exercise to study 'some of the
environmental issues related to forestry and wildlife in the islands', which
appeared more an attempt to solicit "expert" opinion that could be used to
circumvent the concerned orders.


j.. Lack of public discussion and transparency on genetic engineering:
Another example of the increasing opaqueness of functioning in the
government is the lack of public participation in decisions regarding
genetic engineering. This risky technology is being pushed through with no
long-term safety tests, and almost no independent scientific or public
inputs.


These are only a few of the many examples where MoEF in particular and the
GOI in general, have undermined environmental issues and ignored public
inputs. In almost all such cases NGOs and affected people have protested,
pointed to violations and destructive implications, and often even offered
alternatives, yet all this has been systematically ignored. Indeed,
resistance to the trends by sensitive government officials themselves has
been largely sidelined. Worse, there is no accessible platform on which MoEF
(and GOI in general) can be made accountable to the public. It is not
surprising therefore that citizens have had to take recourse to the courts
to obtain justice.


These trends have occurred within the context of both the previous
government and the current one, providing almost no serious consideration to
the environment. The previous government systematically undid many of the
gains of growing ecological awareness and standards of the earlier decades.
The current governments in its Common Minimum Programme has almost nothing
on the environment. Nor has there been acknowledgement of the fact that tens
of millions of people in India continue to depend directly on natural
resources for their survival, livelihood, health, and future development
with dignity. Indeed many of the decisions taken by MoEF have further
reduced the access and rights of communities to livelihood resources and
supported ?development? projects that impinge on community lands and
resources.


We do believe, however, that the new government has the opportunity to
reverse this trend. It needs to take at least the following steps:



1.. Providing a legally mandated and explicit role for citizens
(especially local communities) in the decision-making process within MoEF
(and GOI in general). This can be done by including independent and credible
representatives of communities and civil society in the various expert
committees; ensuring that citizens? inputs in draft notifications and
legislation are considered through a transparent process; strengthening the
public hearing process for ?development? projects; constituting an
independent monitoring and evaluation agency to assess compliance of
environmental conditions and regulations; and other such measures.


2.. Considerably strengthen the mandate and functioning of the Ministry of
Environment and Forests, e.g. by increasing the number of technical experts
and officials who are known for their commitment to the environment.


3.. Centrally integrate environmental considerations across the entire
decision-making process, right from the planning and design stage of
economic sectors and projects and not only at the final stage of clearance.
This includes, the strengthening of the EIA, clearance, and monitoring
procedures.


4.. Reviewing the Common Minimum Programme and its implementation from the
environmental perspective, including through a serious consideration of
environmental issues in forums such as the National Advisory Council (NAC).
The NAC is a step towards more public participation in decision-making, but
needs a greater integration of environmental concerns in its deliberations.


We urge the government to draw up a concrete action plan on how to take the
above and other steps, to significantly improve the manner in which
decisions are taken on environmental issues. This should include the setting
up of an independent monitoring and evaluation body, comprised of community
and civil society representatives, that can ensure environmental sensitivity
in decision-making. While drawing up such an action plan, there should be
active and meaningful participation of community organisations, people?s
movements, NGOs, and other civil society organisations.


Signed/-


Ashish Kothari, Ravi Agarwal, Shekhar Singh

Kalpavriksh, Toxics Link, Centre for Equity Studies




On behalf of:



1.. Samir Acharya, Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, Port Blair,
A&N Islands


2.. Ravi Agarwal, Toxics Link, Delhi


3.. Sunderlal Bahuguna, Save Himalaya Movement, Tehri


4.. Gautam Bandopadhyay, People?s Allaince for Livelihood Rights, Raipur,
Chhatisgarh


5.. Jayanta Bandopadhyay, Environmental Expert, Kolkata


6.. Amitabh Behar, National Centre for Advocacy Studies, Pune


7.. Erach Bharucha, Bharatiya Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment
Education and Research, Pune


8.. Seema Bhatt, Biodiversity Consultant, Delhi


9.. Prashant Bhushan, Advocate, Supreme Court, Delhi


10.. Sripad Dharmadhikary, Manthan, Badwani, Madhya Pradesh


11.. Debi Goenka, Bombay Environment Action Group, Mumbai


12.. Colin Gonsalves, Socio-Legal Information Centre, Delhi


13.. Pandurang Hegde, Appiko/Prakruti, Sirsi, Karnataka


14.. Ramaswamy Iyer, Former Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Delhi


15.. Asmita Kabra, Samrakshan Trust, Delhi/Madhya Pradesh


16.. Smitu Kothari, Lokayan, Delhi


17.. Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group, Pune/Delhi


18.. Ashok Kumar, Wildlife Trust of India, Delhi


19.. Souparna Lahiri, Delhi Forum, Delhi


20.. Harsh Mander, Delhi


21.. Thomas Mathew , South Asian Conservation Foundation


22.. Kisan Mehta, Save Bombay Committee, Mumbai


23.. Fr. Victor Moses, St. Xavier?s Social Service Society, Ahmedabad


24.. Somnath Nayak, Nagarika Seva Trust, Gurvayankere, Karnataka


25.. Satheesh P.V., Deccan Development Society, Pastapur, Andhra Pradesh


26.. Rekha Panigrahi, Vasundhara, Bhubaneshwar, Orissa


27.. Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Narmada Valley


28.. Sujit Patwardhan, Parisar, Pune


29.. M.K. Prasad, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat, Cochi, Kerala


30.. Asad Rahmani, Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai


31.. Sreedhar Ramamurthy, mines, minerals and People/ Academy of Mountain
Environics, Dehradun, Uttaranchal


32.. Suman Sahai, Gene Campaign, Delhi


33.. Bittu Sahgal, Sanctuary Magazine, Mumbai


34.. Salam Rajesh, Manipur Nature Society, Imphal, Manipur


35.. Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group, Bangalore, Karnataka


36.. Priya Salvi, Prakruti, Mumbai


37.. John Samuel, National Social Watch Coalition, Pune


38.. Madhu Sarin, Independent consultant, Chandigarh


39.. Devinder Sharma, Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, Delhi


40.. Gam Shimray, All India Coordinating Forum of Adivasi/Indigenous
Peoples, Delhi


41.. Samar Singh, Samarpan Foundation, Delhi


42.. Shekhar Singh, Centre for Equity Studies, Delhi


43.. Indu Prakash Singh, Activist/Researcher, Delhi


44.. Neera Singh, Independent Researcher, Bhubaneshwar


45.. Aarthi Sridhar, Independent Researcher, Bangalore, Karnataka


46.. Bibhab Talukdar, Environmental Activist, Guwahati, Assam


47.. Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network of Dams, River and People, Delhi


48.. David Thangliana, Editor, Newslink English Daily, Aizawl, Mizoram


49.. Malavika Vartak, Housing and Land Rights Network, Delhi


50.. A.C. Zonunmawia, Centre for Environment Protection, Aizwal, Mizoram

C/o Kalpavriksh
Apt. 5, Sri Dutta Krupa,
908 Deccan Gymkhana,
Pune 411004
India
Tel: + 91 20 25654239 / 25675450
Fax: 25654239
Email: [email protected]

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