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Home > 2023 > The Environmental Holocaust In India | Kobad Ghandy

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 35-36 August 26 & September 2, 2023

The Environmental Holocaust In India | Kobad Ghandy

Friday 25 August 2023, by Kobad Ghandy


The media in the last month have been full of the havoc caused due to excessive rain, flooding, landslides, etc In fact as Modi was delivering his address from the ramparts of the Red Fort a cloud burst washed away the Shiv Rawadi temple in Shimla — in an upmarket area — taking the lives of at least 12 people including children On that day Shimla witnessed landslides at two places — the other at Fagli, in which too at least 5 lives were lost.

Meanwhile the Indian Express (Aug 16) reported that fresh landslides were reported in the Lalpania area where four houses have collapsed. In fact over 50 people have been killed in Himachal Pradesh — an Independence day gift to the people of the state. Simultaneously the PM roared that “India unstoppable”. In neighbouring Uttarakhand where the CM had been busy instigating communal riots over 77 people have been killed due to flash floods; hundreds of houses damaged and the Chardham Yatra suspended for two days. (Indian Express Aug.15). And the havoc continues ... August 17 Indian express reported that the toll across Uttarakhand has crossed 64, while in Punjab the Pong Dam released its waters as it filled above capacity washing asway numerous villages in Jalandhar. In fact in Punjab while one area is flooding just a neighbouring area faces drought — although water levels in the Harrike headworks saw massive reduction in water levels, just 70 kms away, the Sutlej continued to flood 20 villages in both Ferozepur and Faziilka disticts.

Not only in the Himalayas in our very own Maharashtra where the western ghats have been heavily encroached on and hills/forests destroyed in mid-July an entire village, Irshalwadi, in Raigad district, disappeared after a massive landslide hit it. Officially 44 houses were destroyed and 84 killed. Every member of the family lost at least one member. No figures of those injured. Beside this village, landslides wreaked havoc in many other areas of Raigad. Even a major city like Mumbai has 299 landslide-prone areas with huge slums perched on precarious slopes.

A few days back, Himachal govt declared the massive damage caused by heavy rains as a state calamity. The entire hill state has been declared as a “natural calamity affected area” Meanwhile with the recovery of three more bodies the toll in the rain-battered state has risen to 77.

Deforestation has led to imbalance in rainfall. Floods and droughts go on simultaneously. So, for example, deficient Maharashtra the state still has 351 tankers being deployed, compared to only 8 in 2022. As per data from the Water and Sanitation Dept in the week that ended Aug 14 a total of 329 villages and 1,273 hamlets in the state are being supplied water by the 48 govt and 303 pvt tankers. As per data from the Agricultural dept of Maharashtra, Mumbai recorded only 5% of average August rain so far resulting in a surge in prolonged monsoon infections.

But even while this havoc was being wrecked and the government silent on the issue, in other parts of the country the speed to cut forests for corporate/mining interests continued unabated. The Odisha government stated that the concept “deemed forest” has been removed in accordance with the amended Forest Conservation Act (2023) — that is a massive 2,839 sq kms of forest land opened up to corporates and mining interests. Though this has been temporarily put on hold, given the powerful mining interests in the state it is only a matter of time when it comes into force. In Maharashtra the deputy CM, Fadnavis personally went to the thick forests of Gadchirolli to inaugurate mega-mining projects in the mineral-rich district — including the Rs.20,000 crore iron and steel plant of the Lloyds Metal Energy Ltd (being eyed by this company for 3 decades, and stopped by naxals and tribals locally); a Rs.1,520 crore project of Varad Ferro Alloys and a Rs.20,000 crore coal gasification unit of the Newera Clintec Solutions Pvt Ltd in neighbouring Chandrapur. Clintec operates in 50 countries of the world and has dubious links.

This summer we have witnessed record levels of heat, pushing hundreds (official) to their death. Every year there is devastation due to floods, landslides, and numerous infectious diseases that crop up with the heat cum humidity. Even our top cities are not immune to floods like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. This year it was Delhi; earlier it was Chennai and Bangalore, and Mumbai in 2005 and again on Aug 29 2017. At the time of the flooding much is written about how the water bodies have been encroached by real estate and govt; but after that there is total silence. The same happened this time during the Delhi floods. The elite couldn’t care less; they have their ACs but the poor are being pushed to sickness, heat stroke/exhaustion and even death. Even the middle classes are in despair, unable to pay the high electricity bills now dominated by Adani and Ambani.
This year the IMD itself says that “more heat waves, intense cyclones and other extreme weather events have increased ...... maximum is seeing much rise. This means we have more threat from heat conditions ..... heat waves have even increased in the southern peninsular which is not a heat core zone”. Simultaneously it was again just reported that a landslide hit the Kedernath trek route resulting in the death of 3 with 17 missing. This would be a conservative figure; the actual numbers would be much higher. In spite of these losses continuing tree felling and soil destruction is taking place at breakneck speed.

In spite of this waiting holocaust, what has particularly attracted attention recently is how the government has rushed in a slew of amendments in the current session of parliament (and even outside it) to existing environment laws, defacto removing all controls on ecological protection. This, in spite of the damage already done.

And this, after India has already been ranked at the bottom in a list of 180 countries that were judged for their environmental performances in the 2022 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). But then the government and even much of the left argue should we worry about environment in a backward country, where development is the main issue. The problem is not just pitting one against the other — the real problem is the very model of development that exists here only favours the big corporates and destroys the environment and masses. Besides, even with environmental devastation we have one of the highest levels of poverty in the world — according to the government itself 81 crore people are on the dole. And today conditions are going from bad to worse with no jobs, and even what is available, they are all on contract. So both environment and people are being destroyed.

Yesterday I went to my SBI bank to withdraw money; there was virtually no staff, though it was a major branch. ONE QUEUE FOR ALL SERVICES — withdrawals, deposits, complaints, anything. When I enquired from the lady behind the counter she said that for the last many years thousands have retired but there has not been a single recruitment. What of the future I asked? She said there is a plan to outsource all tasks!! Incidentally SBI Q1 profits for this year nearly tripled to an all-time high of Rs16,884 crores for the 3-month period ending June 30 2023. Such is the model of development seen in all sectors. In fact, we have seen all corporate profits surge recently. But for the people there is no employment and massive price hikes of food items and other necessities, making survival itself difficult.

The environment be damned; live in luxury and rush to the hills as tourists in the summers — the life of the elite. These same tourists are destroying the hills, mountains, rivers and even the landscape. For them and the Trump-like right wing there is no climate change, what is happening is ‘natural’ and part of the evolutionary process.

In this article, we are talking not of the model of development (will deal with that some other time) but the destruction of the environment with its devastating impact on not only the poor/middle-classes people but also the flora and fauna of the country. It is all very well for the elitist conspiracy theorists to deny global warming, living in their AC apartments and offices, but for the ordinary people and even middle classes the heat has not only become unbearable but also the source of much illness and even deaths. Forget those living in the crowded slums even in the one-room tenements of the lower middle classes’ life has become a hell.

Ofcourse, not for the upper middle classes whose numbers increased just last year by over 50% (official figures of those filing IT returns of over Rs.1 crore). In the year 2022-23 there were 5 crore people who filed IT returns on income up to Rs.5 crore; and another 2.2 crore people who filed returns on income in excess of Rs.5 crore. And this is only the white money, the black economy which is huge is not accounted for here. There will therefore be a population of about 50 crore (if we consider 5 to a family — ie 10 crore families if we include roughly 3 crore extra black money holders) that comprise this upper middle class at a conservative estimate. That still leaves a 90-crore eking out a living.

 And it is sustaining this model that is the primary cause for the destruction of both the environment as well as lives of the people.

It is a well-accepted fact that climate change and other major disturbances is a result of environmental destruction — land, forests, water bodies, even the air and, in fact, the veritable pollution of all the resources of our earth. In India we are one of the most polluted countries in the world. Not that the rest of the world is much better; in fact, just this July, China lost $5.7 bn to typhoons. But that doesn’t stop China from destroying its forests being the biggest consumer of paper in the world using 132.7 million metric tons worth in 2021. This was roughly the combined quantity of paper consumed in the United States, Japan, Germany, India, and Italy, and accounted for 32 percent of global paper consumption that year. Witness any Amazon packing to see the massive waste of paper In India the destruction is endemic, year in and year out. Only major calamities get reported. There may be a passing mention and then silence.

In this article, though there is much recorded on the recent devastations I will first cover the massive ecological damage. Next, I will outline the govt’s policies which will only further damage the environment on a massive scale. Finally, I will look at the alternatives being presented and the real solution — both long-term and immediate.



Here I will look at three spheres of the destruction: (a) Himalayas, (b) water bodies and (c) forests.


On 10/8/21 over 60 citizens of our nation wrote to the PM expressing utmost concern over the decision of the Government of India to restart seven under-construction hydroelectric projects (HEPs) on the Ganga, in the Himalayan basin. The signatories represented a wide spectrum of the public, with prominent scientists, politicians, lawyers, social activists, field experts, villagers and members of reputed environmental organizations, all with a long experience and ground knowledge of the issues, raising their voice.

No cognisance was taken of this letter, on the contrary more projects have been built notwithstanding the devastations of 2013 and 2021. The disappearance of the Ganga into tunnels through bumper-to-bumper projects has destroyed the river from its very source. The project to clean the Ganga has consumed thousands of crores but remains as polluted as ever.

In an article in the Indian Express (Aug 16), Krishna Kumar says “All major tourist destinations In Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are facing intermittent distress and closure........Landslides on highways and washed away bridges have made little impact on economic planning in the two states.... Rivers are the ultimate drainage: nature’s gift to engineers and contractors......”

In fact, the Yamuna River in the Delhi region is so polluted it is classified as dead. Now even the first 100 kilometres of the Yamuna’s journey through the mountains, rich in biodiversity, is also being destroyed.

A number of large hydropower projects are underway; arresting the river, forcing it through tunnels, thrusting it forward through barrages. The Yamuna basin has at least 12 operating hydropower projects with installed capacity of 495 megawatts (MW). At least another five are under construction, and 31 more are proposed, according to Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).

Standing out in this slew of hydro projects is Lakhwar — a dam that was given the go-ahead by India’s National Board for Wildlife in April 2020. The Lakhwar Multipurpose Project (300 MW) is a power station proposed on the Yamuna near Lohari village in the district of Dehradun in Uttarakhand. It is being developed by Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (UJVN Ltd) Using a clearance given in 1987, the project proponents asked for construction on the project to be started again. For this project over 3 lakh trees will be felled on 768 hectares of land.

Let us now turn to Joshimath the epi-centre of the Himalayan blunder It is a town and a municipal board in Chamoli District in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Located at a height of 6,150 feet (1,875 m), It is a gateway to several Himalayan mountain climbing expeditions, trekking trails and pilgrim centres like Badrinath. It is home to one of the four cardinal pīthas established by Adi Shankara.

Since 7 February 2021, the area was severely affected by the 2021 Uttarakhand flood and its aftermath. The town is confirmed to be sinking due to its geographic location being along a running ridge and cracks have developed in all the houses and hotels. So far, 561 houses have developed cracks in Wards 1-10 of the town. Also, two hotels in Ward 4 have been evacuated due to the cracks. Atul Sati, convenor of Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, claimed that a tunnel that is part of the Tapovan-Vishnugad project has hollowed the ground from inside. Sati noted that fears had been expressed as far back as 2013, that tunnels that were part of hydropower projects could cause disasters in the state. Not just Joshimath, there have been reports of land subsidence in the entire Niti Valley since the Chamoli disaster of February 7, 2021.

According to Himanshu Thakkar The Tapovan Vishnugad NTPC project is at the heart of the Joshimath crisis. The Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant is a 520 MW run-of-river hydroelectric project being constructed on Dhauliganga River in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand, India. The dam, whilst still being under construction, was severely damaged on 7 February 2021 due to a flash flood caused by the Uttarakhand glacier burst; the avalanche lead to large amounts of water mixed with sand & stone rushing into the Dhauliganga River, which caused severe damage to the NTPC Tapowan project. 140 workers at the construction site died or went missing as a result of the disaster But the govt and NTPC are denying any responsibility.

Next, is the Char Dham project inaugurated by the PM in 2016 which has seriously impacted the Tota Ghati area of Tehri district. The Char Dham Project inaugurated by the PM, Modi, in 2016, aims to widen roads in India’s Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. However, the study of rocks in a key area where blasting was underway shows that the project was responsible for many of the landslides that have been occurring recently.

In fact the entire Himalayas are in danger with numerous hydroelectric projects, big dams, network of roads etc. But unconcerned, the government continues construction greedy for profits not to mention the huge income through corruption and contracts. The upper-class elite enjoy the wonders in 5-star hotels and roads, occasionally preying to the gods as a recreation. It has become a favourite haunt for tourists, religious bigots, trekkers, and thereby given social sanction, both local and foreign.

But it was the government itself that sounded the warning bell as far back as 2019, well before the 2021 calamity. The Indian Express of August 18 2023 reported: As heavy rains and landslides continue to ravage hill states in the country, a 2019 strategy document by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) shows that concerns related to poor urban planning, lack of comprehensive land use policy, lack enforcement of construction laws and excessive tourism in these regions had been flagged then too. It added that the document, National Landslide Risk Management Strategystated further that : the widespread property losses during recent landslides and related hazards like cloudbursts and flash floods have shown that most of the construction plans are ill-conceived and do not follow standard norms. The design codes are generally not followed even by the government depts. This has created an alarming situation where a large number of unsafe building stock is added each year to the already huge number of existing unsafe buildings in hostile climate, fragile environment and tectonically active unstable hilly terrain. ......The cities of the Himalayas are growing and beginning to turn into mountains of garbage and plastic, untreated sewage, chronic water shortages, unplanned urban growth and even local air pollutions because of vehicles. These towns need to be planned particularly keeping in mind the rush of summer tourists. 

 So there is much double-speak. Inspite of this extensive government report the destructive construction projects continued unabated. And all this has proceeded without the passing of the new amendments to the environmental laws. One can imagine what will happen now.


Here we will not go into the details on how all major cities and towns have had their water bodies encroached on, but merely focus on a few major projects that have caused havoc. Like the Ken-Betwa River Link Project in MP & UP and the DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation) Dams and the Farraka Barrage in the east (objected to even by the CMs of West Bengal and Bihar).

The Ken-Betwa River Link Project (KBRLP) is one of the most disputed river projects of India. It involves the two states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, This project involves the construction of a dam and a 230 km canal, largely (but not entirely) in Bundelkhand region of these two states, to take the water of the Ken River to the Betwa river. This is the first of the around 30 projects of the larger, and highly contentious, river inter-linking project. This has been persistently promoted at high levels by the government, despite being criticized repeatedly by several independent experts. What is more, this criticism by independent experts, activists and local people has been backed by what is stated in several reports having official sanction, such as the report of the Central Powered Committee of the Supreme Court of India.

The Planning commission as far back as 2008 had said there is no surplus water in the Ken basin to transfer to the Betwa river. Even what exists has been further badly depleted due to illegal sand mining and drying of tributaries. This tuglakian scheme would entail the felling of 2 million trees in addition, causing further havoc to rain precipitation. Inspite of all these concerns, the Union Cabinet, in December 2021 approved the funding and implementation of Ken-Betwa inter-linking of rivers project with a total cost of Rs 44,605 crore. The project is planned to be completed in eight years.

Now let us turn to the DVC and Farakka Barrage Projects. Two years back the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee had written a detailed letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding the man-made floods created in her state due to excessive water discharge from the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) Dams. In particular she had criticized the discharge of about 10 lakh acre-feet of water between September 30 and October 2 2021 which caused serious devastation in the lower Damodar region before the festival season. Earlier the Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, had raised questions about the Farakka Barrage aggravating the flood situation in some parts of the state and elsewhere too.

Earlier too in many places, floods have been created by the release of waters from big dams like the Ukai dam in 2006 which inundated Surat and the bakhra dam (on the Sutlej river). The 1988 floods in September that year, was the result of the Bakhra-Beas Board opening the dam’s floodgates without warning after a freak cloudburst. An Indian Today story from that time reported entire villages were washed away in a matter of hours, and placed the death toll at 1500 with another 500 missing. More recently, the 2018 floods in Kerala revived the debate over dam management, when the release of water from the Mullaperiyar dam is believed to have significantly exacerbated flood damage in the state.

The biggest damage, though, takes place when a dam collapses, such as the collapse of Machu dam which proved extremely destructive for the Morvi town in Gujarat. There have been around 50 dam collapses during the last 65 years in India, including Kaddam, Chikahole, Dantwada, Aran Khadakwasla. Here again Uttarakhand (as well some downstream areas of other states) is placed in the more vulnerable situation due to the construction of the highly hazardous Tehri dam project (biggest in the country) constructed against expert advice on the Himalayan reach of the Ganga River. In this context again it was an officially constituted River Valley Projects Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment, which had warned of the most terrible consequences for the downstream thickly populated cities like Rishikesh and Haridwar if something happens to this gigantic structure. At the same time this committee as well as other committees and experts have argued in detail about the extremely hazardous characteristics of this project and threats to its safety.

It was in this background that the DVC dams and Farraka Barrage issues came up. The latter has continuously been opposed by both West Bengal and Bihar govts for aggravating the flood situation. In fact, the former Chief Engineer of West Bengal, Kapil Bhattacharya, had strongly opposed the Farakka Project at the planning stage itself. Instead of heeding his advice he was victimized and lost his job. Not only that it has been the major cause of disturbing relations with Bangladesh. Bangladesh of course has all along been opposed to the Farakka project due to the adverse impacts on water availability in the country.

The chaotic story started much before the Farakka Project with the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) dams. These projects failed to take into account flood-tides and tide-silts. A lot of silt and sand accumulates in the lower reach of the Hooghly river, the branch of the Ganga which moves towards W. Bengal (the other branch which moves towards Bangladesh is called the Padma). This was earlier flushed into the sea by the normal floods of the Damodar and Rupnarayan rivers. But this natural process was disrupted by the DVC dams. The silt deposits accumulated, reducing the water-carrying capacity of the river and causing destructive floods. The navigability of the Hooghly River was threatened, endangering the future of Calcutta Port.

So, in spite of evidence to the contrary such projects continue apace. But not only has India destroyed its rivers, it has also depleted it groundwater. By annually drawing 251 bcm (billion cubic meters) of groundwater, India tops the list of the top 10 groundwater-extracting countries and is the largest user of the precious liquid from the bowels of the earth. This is inspite of having one of the largest river systems in the world! Vast tracts of lland are being desertified and 1000 blocks face water stress.


In the August 8, 2023 issue of the Indian Express it was reported that the Union Environment Minister, Yadav, informed the Lok Sabha, on the previous day, that over 3 lakh hectares forest land have been diverted in the last 15 years — of which 34% has gone to mining (58,282 hectares), 45,326 hectares to roads, 36,620 hectares to irrigation, 24,337 hectares to defence and 9,307 hectares to railways. Over and above these 514 hectares of land has been encroached upon he said. This, though, is the mere tip of the iceberg; the bulk of the destruction/encroachment goes unrecorded.

While tribals have been agitating against the encroachment of their forests and government continue to bypass the 5th Schedule of the Constitution, the earlier Karnataka BJP government had de-notified two-thirds of the forest coverage of the state and the BMC in Mumbai proposed to cut 2000 mangroves to construct 6 bridges at a cost of Rs.1,000 crores in the Andheri, Malad, Marve Manori region. Besides, India has the worst air pollution in the world resulting primarily from forest and tree denudation. In a recent report, India tops in air pollution deaths in the world. Air pollution alone was responsible for 16.7 lakh deaths in India in 2019.

While India lost 384,000 hectares of forests between 1990 and 2000, the figure rose to 668,400 hectares between 2015 and 2020. This is the highest rise in the world. Let us now look at some specific examples of this destruction:

In Buxwaha’s (120 kms from Khajurao in MP) diamond rich forests, locals are fighting to save 2.15 lakh trees. It is estimated that diamond deposits here at a whopping 34.2 million carats. The trees have to be cut for an open cast diamond mine. But the forests are in the water starved Bundelkhand region. There is a cluster of 15 villages with a population of 8,000 that are opposing the mining. Records show that the state govt granted mining rights to Australian Rio Tinto in 2006. Over the next decade RT failed to make much headway before exiting the project. In 2019 Essel Mining and Industries Ltd, the mining arm of the Aditya Birla Group, won the auction for contract to mine in 364 hectares (about 40% that Rio Tinto had). The company promised to employ 400 people, mostly from the villages. But it faced stiff resistance in 2021.

Then again forest fires in Goa in early March this year impacted 4 sq km. there were 74 fire incidents — 32 of which affected wildlife sanctuaries. A total of 418 hectares were affected including more than 320 hectares of forest land. The forest fires at 11 different hills of Western Ghats in Goa continued to rage for a week after the first blaze was reported at a location within Satrem village of Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary— even as state forest minister Vishwajit Rane said the department was doing “everything it takes to extinguish the fire.” In addition to the fire at the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, simultaneous fires erupted in other sanctuaries including the Mollem and Netravali Wildlife sanctuaries, people in the know of the matter said. (HT)

No one is clear how these fires started but the fires have reduced large tracts of the Western Ghats forests to ashes and damaged acres of cashew plantations at a time when farmers were gearing up to harvest the crop.

Despite the department taking the help of the navy, the Airforce and local volunteers to help douse the flames, the fire continued to rage on.

According to the forest department, a total of 48 fires had been reported since 5 March in the government forests, private lands, comunidade (common lands) areas, and private forests. Strange that forest fires seem to be breaking out in all parts of the world.

Then, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has granted an in-principle (Stage 1) clearance for the diversion of 130.75 sq km of forest in Great Nicobar Island for the mega ₹72,000-crore project that includes a transshipment port, an airport, a power plant and a greenfield township. The project implementation agency is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO). This massive Rs.72,000 crore Great Nicobar Project plans to fell 9.64 lakh trees and not the 8.5 lakh earlier projected, to enable the construction, according to Minister of state (environment) Aswani Kumar Coubey in the Rajya Sabha. Details of the project have not been made public on the advice of the Home Ministry saying it is sensitive.

The area is nearly 15% of the thickly forested Great Nicobar Island that is spread over 900 sq km. This is one of the largest single such forest diversions in recent times: it is nearly a quarter of all the forest land diverted in the past three years across the country (554 sq km as per information provided in the Lok Sabha in July ) and 65% of the 203 sq km of forest. The island, mostly covered by forests, has not witnessed large-scale human activity so far. The project is to be implemented in phases over the next 30 years.

And so the destruction of forests and trees continues apace and will be speeded up with the changes that have been brought in the environmental laws, details of which can be seen in the next section.



Ever since they came to power in 2014 the PM and Prakash Javdekar have been working aggressively to dilute the environmental laws. Not only that, they have destructively been seeking to amend local laws to facilitate urban builders and the real estate mafia.

On August 29, 2014, immediately after the BJP came to power, the environment ministry under Javadekar set up a “High Level Committee” of six experts led by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian to review the implementation of, and possible amendments to, India’s five most significant green laws: The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. Subsequently, in September that year, the Indian Forests Act, 1927, was further added to this list.

The Subramanian Committee report, submitted a month late in November 2014, listed 55 significant recommendations amounting to a whole scale overhaul of the current environmental framework. One particular suggestion — to dispense with village-level Gram Sabha consent for granting clearance to linear projects — attracted much criticism from tribals and organisations working amongst them. Linear projects include projects like roads, railway lines, transmission lines, and pipelines.

The government, in the current sessions of the LOK Sabha and Rajya Sabha have pushed through environmental amendments at breakneck speed, on a scale never seen before — mostly in line with the 2014 Commission Report. These will result in further devastation and destruction of our environment and natural resources giving a bonanza to big business, speculators and politicians

In December 2016 Javdekar pushed through a change in local rules as well. A key change was that now builders could get both the building plan approvals and environment clearances for their large-scale construction projects approved from their respective local municipal corporations, rather than from two state-level authorities.

Further, on November 14 and 15, 2018, the Environment Ministry issued two notifications. According to the notifications, building construction projects with a built-up area of 50, 000 square metres and below no longer required to seek prior environment clearance from the union environment ministry’s bodies, local bodies like municipal corporations or even District Panchayats could perform the same function now. Studies show these buildings form a majority of the planned projects.

HuffPost India reported in February 2019 the detrimental impact of the December 2016 notification in substantial detail. In a nutshell, the new provisions in the notification risked the health of millions of Indians by overturning vital checks and balances on the environmental impact of the construction sector which emits 22 percent of India’s total annual carbon-dioxide (CO2) emission, and contributes to construction dust which is a key cause of air pollution in urban areas.

A key change was that now builders could get both the building plan approvals and environment clearances for their large-scale construction projects approved from their respective local municipal corporations, rather than from two state-level authorities: the State Expert Appraisal Committee and State Environment Impact Assessment Authority.

In addition, the government seemed to be in a hurry to demolish all existing controls on environmental protection:

In June 2022 the government amended The Forest Conservation (FC) Rules to propose a mechanism to allow development to raise plantations "over land on which the FC Act is not applicable" and to sap such plots with against subsequent requirements of compensatory afforestation. The proposed amendments are key to the working of this scheme.

Once the FC Act is no longer applicable on land, it can be used to raise plantations and compensate for an equivalent area of diverted forest land. This will incentivise building private land banks of plantations and streamline the forest clearance process.

On March 29th 2023 the govt introduced the Forest Conservation Amendment BILL 2023 in the Lok Sabha to make changes in the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. The predominant idea is to build forest carbon stocks by raising plantations. The Bill also seeks to make land available to developers to meet their legal obligation towards compensatory afforestation in lieu of land diverted for development projects. The Bill tries to achieve these objectives by restricting the applicability of the FR Act, and freeing up land that is currently locked up in unrecorded forests.

Next, the current session of the Lok Sabha passed a new Bill to deciminalise biodiversity offences. The Biodiversity law was introduced in the year 2002. The environment minister said the Bill will help ease of doing business. He claimed that “we have provided relief for those working in the Ayush sector by decrimanalising biodiversity offences. These amendments come in view of the Nagoya Protocol, which said the benefits of the resources must go to the local people. Some states have taken wrong advantage of it. Eg Jarkhand closed all its sawmills. Similarly, Chattisgarh suddenly realised that coal is a biodiversity product. Pharma companies were being harassed by officials.” BJP member Sanjay Jaiswal added that “Indian companies can now manufacture their products by simply registering themselves”.

The amended bill was drafted in response to complaints by the AYUSH lobby, the seed sector, industry and researchers that the Act imposed a heavy “compliance burden”. Environmental organisations such as LIFE and CSE said that the new law would only benefit industry and pave the way for bio-piracy.

The Upper House also passed, in its current session, the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 which exempt land within 100 kms of India’s borders from the purview of the conservation laws and permits the setting up of zoos, safaris, and eco-tourism facilities in forest areas. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on July 26. Exempted forest land includes land within 100 kms of the LOC and is proposed to be used for the construction of strategic projects. It also exempts land up to 10 hectares proposed to be used for constructing security-related infrastructure, defence-related projects, or para-military forces camps in left-wing extremism areas.

The Rajya Sabha also cleared a Bill that seeks to allow the private sector to mine six out of 12 atomic minerals, including lithium, and deep-seated minerals such as gold and silver. The Union Coal and Mines, Pralhad Joshi moved the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2023 and it was passed by the Upper house.

As though all these were not sufficient, even at local levels new laws and regulations were being introduced. The National Board Of Wildlife has given permission for the 71kms of highway passing through forest on the 260 km Bangalore Chennai highway. Passing through reserved forests and wildlife sanctuaries

There will be numerous more such local initiatives; all of which will wreak havoc.



First, is the approach of the UN and their agencies to push the corporate agenda of reducing greenhouse gasses in abstract terms. This I have dealt with at length in my previous article in Mainstream that appeared in the June 4th issue last year. In that issue I also dealt with the Monthly Review approach that seeks to raise the environmental issue to such a high pitch that instead of a socio-political revolution they talk of an ecological revolution. As mentioned in my earlier article, the problem with this approach is that it does not target the real enemies in the billionaire club and the cabal that leads them. It is a vague non-class concept. Though they may say capitalism is the root cause of environmental destruction it is meaningless without pin-pointing the main perpetrators and therefore targets. Though MR may give us a lot of facts which could be useful, their approach diverts from the issue of tackling the problem realistically — whether long term or short term.

Then let us look at the other major approach to counter the environmental destruction — organic farming, popular amongst NGOs and many idealistic people and a fad with the rich. In this approach they seek change at a micro and personal level rather than at a socio-economic plane. These people, mostly well-funded NGOs, promote organic farming as the key for solving the environmental destruction and the prevention of climate change. These farms when done individually are only possible when there are large funds invested (either by the NGO or the individual). Besides, in the present set-up, most are unviable as the cost of production is excessive and so their produce is only available to the small upper middle-class population.

Yet again, this is not that easy to introduce, as if neighbouring farms do not adopt similar methods all insects will gather in the organic farm from neighbouring farms when sprayed. This is an idealist and self-centred alternative which, at best can give the family — not society - organic and relatively safe foods. We see many ex-naxals now into this activity, which gives them the impression that they are countering ecological damage, pushing them to a cocoon-like existence away from struggle against the perpetrators of this ecological disaster — the corporates (Indian and foreign), real estate and politicians.

 Besides, even if changes are to be brought within the system of agriculture, they must be at the macro level and not through such micro efforts. Rather than individual farms, cooperatives need to be formed of organic crop growers. Some such attempts initiated in Punjab, like all4organics, have unfortunately collapsed and absorbed into the NGO — the Kheti Virasat Mission. Partly this was due to the individualistic nature of those involved, partly because such effort was not subsidised by the govt to make it viable.

They say that in Punjab the trend is that the small farmers are renting out their land to big farmers and the latter are not interested in organic farming as it is not considered economically viable. In addition, though the capitalist farmers are highly individualistic, I was told this is combined with a feudal mindset making any progressive/cooperative effort extremely difficult.

Without a change in mindset no cooperative effort is possible. Besides, it must be either viable or subsidised by the government and local bodies. Organic farming may help one opt out of the system, but not change it.

For environmental protection and restoration, rather than personalised effort at the micro level we need to call for action at the macro level. A wholistic approach is necessary to the entire land question and not just farming. In this, cooperative organic farming should be combined with massive campaigns for afforestation, extensive water harvesting; as also prevention of felling of trees, and prevention of water pollution through proper treatment plants, promotion of MSMEs and marketing of their produce (with govt subsidies) to counter the corporates, besides a change in life-style, like boycotting use of tissues, companies like Amazon (which use massive and unnecessary quantities of paper, besides destroying the neighbourhood shops), etc etc. Infact all small steps to change the existing model of development through mass campaigns are far more effective socially than micro, self-centred and individual organic projects.

No doubt effective protection of the environment in the long run, is possible only by a change in the system, but one cannot just wait for that without taking concrete steps today in the direction outlined above and in my June 2022 article; as also opposing the real estate, mining and political mafia from encroachment and pushing them off already encroached/forest/fertile land. We need to act now before it is too late. As a first step all the amendments to the environmental law must immediately be reversed and new projects stopped forthwith. Is Jairam Ramesh and the opposition listening.

August 23, 2023

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