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Modi government’s love for corporates is destroying our environment

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By Harshmeet Singh

It isn’t easy to control your greed when you have a bag full of gold in front of you. All the talks of ‘leaving it for the next generation’ remain on paper and the lust takes over your senses. Our environmental resources are one such bag of gold. They seem abundant at first sight, but before you realise, your ambitions sweep them off and all you are left with is regret.

If the UPA government was at fault for mishandling the environment related issues in the country, the Modi Government has only done worse. Interestingly, while the Government has been boisterous about its handful of achievements and other controversial debates, it has conveniently maintained silence over its ruthless approach in overriding environmental laws and authorities in the name of development. And before we realise, we would neither be left with forests nor the so-called development that was promised.

Prakash Javadekar, the Union Environment minister is working overtime to ensure that the Government’s ‘friends’ don’t have a tough time fighting the environmental laws. One of his first decisions was to ensure that the coal mines that produce below 16 million tonnes of coal per year and are willing to increase their production by half can do so easily without the need of holding a public hearing.

Diluting Forests Right Act – Done!

Next was the dilution of the Forests Right Act. The Government ordered that the companies need not hold any consultations with the Gram Sabhas before diverting the land for industrial uses. The other changes in the Act give companies the freedom to inspect forest lands for minerals without the consent of Gram Sabha. This move is in violation of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, or PESA which gave Gram Sabhas the authority to self govern their natural resources.

Additionally, Irrigation projects which require less than 2000HA would not need to take environmental clearance while the projects concerning less than 10000 HA can now be given assent by State Governments. Did these changes catch anyone’s eye? The Government made sure it didn’t!

Weakening NGT? Done!

In August last year, a number of media reports pointed towards the Government’s attempts to dilute the powers of the National Green Tribunal. The significance of the NGT can be understood from the fact that appeals against the orders of the NGT can only be made in the Supreme Court. The Tribunal has often run into the Government on a number of issues in the past. The Government is now planning to convert it into an administrative body under the control of the environment ministry itself. Furthermore, the Government is contemplating changing criminal offences for violations of environmental laws into civil penalties. Government’s apathy towards NGT is evident from the fact that since its formation in 2010, the NGT has never had the full strength of its benches.

“Laws are always changing” – Javadekar

Last year, when Narendra Modi took the centre stage at the historic Madison Square Garden in the USA, he talked about ‘dismantling old laws’ to bring about a change. A couple of months later, TSR Subramanian committee on environmental laws came up with its report, which said that “the environmental laws need to be streamlined to match with the growth objectives”. The report favoured amending the laws to fast-track the process of giving environmental clearances to industrial projects. It was hard not to see Modi’s imprints in the report.

Over-ruling Supreme Court’s orders? Done!

According to a 2012 order of the honourable Supreme Court, an area coming in the radius of up to 10 km around all the National Parks and Sanctuaries must be notified as an ESZ (eco-sensitive zone). This meant that all the hotels and tourist resorts coming inside such zones shall be regulated according to an approved master plan to ensure that the natural habitat of wildlife is not restricted. It also banned establishment of mid-sized polluting industries in this region. The Modi Government wasted little time in reducing this limit to 5km and flouting the directions of the Supreme Court.

With an aim of further strengthening its control over environmental authorities, the Government realigned the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and reduced the number of independent members to three from the earlier 15! This move of the Government is under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court that has directed the Government that “any decision taken by it (NBWL) shall not be given effect to till further orders”.

Some of the other ambitious plans of the Government include a new legal definition of the forests in the country. This definition would exclude all such forests that are not classified in government records. Once the definition comes into force, all such areas, including some forest patches in the famous Aravalli hills could be chopped off without any forest clearance.

The recent flash floods in Uttarakhand that claimed over 5,000 lives were attributed to rampant deforestation and flouting of environmental norms in the state. Yet, instead of learning a lesson, the Government has conveniently ignored such warnings from the environmentalists, which would only prepare the ground for the next disaster to hit us anytime.

Prime Minister’s desire to enhance the ‘ease of doing business’ isn’t hidden from anyone and neither are his cosy relations with corporate honchos. If the current trend is anything to go by, we could see major changes in the environmental laws of the country in the coming days. It is now up to the civil society, environmentalists and social activists to highlight these issues which the Government and the media overlook ever so conveniently. It would be such a pity if BJP’s payback to its corporate friends comes at such a high cost to the country.

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India’s President ‘Ram Nath Kovind’ Designates ‘Narendra Modi’ as PM for Second Term

The Election Commission announced that the BJP won 303 out of 542 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament

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Newly elected lawmakers from India's ruling alliance led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party raise their hands in support of Narendra Modi's election as their leader in New Delhi, May 25, 2019. VOA

India’s president on Saturday appointed Narendra Modi as the prime minister soon after newly elected lawmakers from the ruling alliance, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, elected him as their leader following a thunderous victory in national elections.

President Ram Nath Kovind said in a tweet that he also asked Modi to forward the names of those to be appointed as ministers in his government and the date for the swearing-in for his second five-year term as prime minister. Modi and some leaders of his alliance met the president on Saturday.

Media reports said Modi was likely to be sworn in by Kovind on Thursday.

BJP president Amit Shah announced Modi’s name as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance in a meeting of the lawmakers in the Central Hall of Parliament in New Delhi.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, second right, hugs senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader M.M. Joshi as L.K. Advani, left, watches after Modi’s election as ruling alliance leader, in New Delhi, May 25, 2019. VOA

The Election Commission announced that the BJP won 303 out of 542 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, after the official vote count from the six-week-long election was completed on Friday. That is well beyond the simple majority a party in India needs to form a government.

The BJP’s top rival, the Indian National Congress led by Rahul Gandhi, won 52 seats, and the All India Trinamool Congress led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee won 22.

Unity movement

Critics say Modi and his party have applied divisive policies and used a Hindu-first strategy. But Modi said after Saturday’s vote that “this election has become a movement of social unity.” “It is generally said that the election divides, creates distances, makes walls. But the 2019 elections have worked to break the walls,” he said in his address.

On Friday, Modi met with his outgoing Cabinet ministers and later presented his resignation to the country’s president. The president asked the officials to continue to serve until the new government assumes office.

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The Election Commission announced that the BJP won 303 out of 542 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. VOA

Gandhi, whose great-grandfather, grandmother and father were all prime ministers, personally conceded his seat, long a Congress party bastion, to his BJP rival, India’s textiles minister, marking the end of an era for modern India’s most powerful political dynasty.

Counting of the estimated 600 million ballots cast over six weeks of staggered polling — the world’s largest democratic exercise — began early Thursday.

ALSO READ: Here’s How TikTok Made PM Modi Popular Among Young Voters

Hindu-first politics

The victory was largely seen as a referendum on Modi’s Hindu-first politics that some observers say have bred intolerance toward Muslims and other religious minorities, as well as his muscular stance on neighboring Pakistan, with whom India nearly went to war earlier this year after suicide attacks killed more than 40 Indian security officials in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Modi effectively used the incident as a major campaign tool after responding to the attack with an airstrike in Pakistan that triggered nationalist sentiments, with the BJP saying Modi is the right person to ensure India’s national security. (VOA)