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Jairam's CAMPA bill change is unnecessary. We aren't diluting forest rights: Javadekar

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 30 May 2016, 18:18 IST

Prakash Javadekar has been at the helm of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change since the Narendra Modi regime took charge in 2014. In these two years, Javadekar has been busy negotiating the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, and overhauling environmental policies to suit the government's pro-business image.

Read- Rowghat Mining Project: searing a people to fire up the country

Javadekar's ministry has transferred many responsibilities to states, which has drawn both admiration and criticism. Despite insisting that it has become more transparent, two recent orders by the central information commission have rapped the ministry for not sharing important reports with the public.

In this conversation with Catch, Javadekar says his government wants to trust states more but defends the decision to keep the reports confidential for a while.

You have been environment minister for two years. Can you describe one proud moment of your stint so far?

In Paris, where we protected not only India's interest, but the interests of all developing block countries. We got the opportunity to develop further but on a sustainable route, while the developed world took more stringent responsibilities to mobilise funds, give technology support and make absolute cuts (in carbon emissions). They had to ultimately accept their historical responsibility though they didn't say it in those exact words. So that was one proud moment.

Another is that my mandate is to maintain equilibrium among the five elements (of the universe, according to the Hindu philosophy - earth, water, fire, air, ether). We have been successful. We have made processes transparent on policy decisions. Decentralisation and standardisation has reduced the time lag (in granting green clearance) from 600 to 190 days.

About decentralisation, you have transferred many responsibilities to states, but what makes you think states can do as good a job as a union ministry?

Actually, we have not given powers to states; they have been made partners in our regional offices. The ROs carry my authority as minister for projects below 40 hectares and all linear projects.

Why I asked is that you have issued the draft Wetland Rules, 2016, which essentially give all power to states. Environmentalists say that in the six years since the 2010 rule (which you want to replace) came into being, states have not done their job of even identifying wetlands. When they have not even done that, how is it that in the new rules you have given them all responsibilities?

[For context, read: Centre's new wetland protection rules are a joke]

The ultimate authority lies with states. We want to trust them, build capacities, make them more responsible. And once we issue the final notification, everything becomes justiciable and anybody can go to NGT, anybody can approach courts. Accountability will be created along with authority - that is the message we want to give states. We will partner with them.

We are creating a strict emissions regime by imposing Rs 10,000 to Rs 10 crore penalties: @PrakashJavdekar

And this is only a draft notification. There will be certain changes when we prepare the final notification based on the feedback received. Your question is also taken as feedback. For every draft notification, we will have a DAVP ad released in all major newspapers to seek opinions, so there will be more effective consultation, not just technical.

How will you ensure that states actually do their job?

We believe in cooperative federalism. Yesterday, Modiji made an important point that one day we will run a train without a ticket checker. We must start believing in our people. People understand what is good and bad, and people want to be good. You have to incentivise them, trust them and create an environment where people can play their role. In June, July and August, we will go for capacity building (of states) in waste management, sand mining - all this we will create. By September, the new regime will start.

In the latest budget, funding to the National Action Plan on Climate Change has been cut by 46% compared to last year.

See, funds are not less, actually. Climate action is receiving more funds - for Himalayan studies and so on. Some funds will come from the international kitty also; we have submitted many proposals. I can assure you that there will be no dearth of funding at least for climate change because it is the prime minister's passion. Once you have concrete proposals, funds will increase.

But why the cut in funding?

Because there will always be items based on past performance. Budgets are made based on utilisation and this year's plan that the ministry has presented. But once the project starts with full vigour and speed, then funding comes through supplementary budget.

Also read: Forest Rights Act is being diluted. What does that mean for millions depending on forests?

In last year's budget, NAPCC was allocated Rs 275 crore, which was later revised up to Rs 333 crore. This time, it got just Rs 180 crore.

Rs 180 crore is just to start with. There will be additional funds as and when required.

A parliamentary standing committee report on your ministry's budget says that even though the overall budget is up 18%, it is not enough for the ministry to effectively discharge its functions.

I always feel that what I inherited was a ministry with a skewed design. A ministry that made rules, laws and standards but which didn't have a single lawyer. Now, I am creating a legal cell. Secondly, the budget amounts for capacity building activities had lapsed. I am creating one more research institute for pollution, which is very important because our whole pollution discourse depends on some material supplied by western universities or something.

Why can't we have our own? We started 24x7 (monitoring of pollution at industries) and the initiative is doing wonderfully well. My philosophy is that we have to make compliance easy and violations costly. Based on this theory, we are going to create a strict regime of compliance through a civil penalties bill, where penalties will be 10,000 to 10 crore rupees, depending on violations to be decided scientifically.

But is the funding to your ministry enough?

There is no problem of funding. Well, actually, I don't have any money for public awareness, but this year we will get more.

Talking about transparency, we can see environment and forest clearances on the ministry's website, but two orders from the Central Information Commission are worrying. One is on GM crops in which the CIC has ordered you to reveal bio-safety data. I spoke to the petitioner and she says she has still not received the documents one month past the deadline.

@PrakashJavdekar: We use GM palm oil, eat Kellogg's GM stuff, smuggle in Bt Brinjal. Why the hypocrisy?

I haven't looked into the last administrative point, but we respect CIC's orders. If we have to say anything, we say it. What is to be made public legally, we make it public. If there are any lacunae anywhere, we will commit to change.

The other CIC order is on the Shailesh Nayak committee report.

[For context, read: CIC asks Javadekar to release 'suppressed' coastal zone report]

As far as Shailesh Nayak committee report is concerned, let me tell you it is important for better coastal management. If you are taking policy decisions, there is work going on, the information then becomes sensitive. Shailesh Nayak's report is one input. We have also done studies on our own, and (we have looked at) how various countries manage their coastal zones. We have some policy proposals that will go before the cabinet. Until the process is completed, I can't reveal the homework we have done on this.

But this was a government committee...

But we will give (the information), when is the issue. Once the process is in operation and we take a decision on it, then we will put everything in public domain. There is nothing to hide. Actually, I believe in the theory that the more you open you are, the more the world looks away. If you are not open, people try to peep in.

But that CIC order was very clear in saying that a report like this cannot be kept under wraps.

We will put our views before the CIC. There is always a case where you can reply to the order.

Do you plan to reply?

My administration will take a call on that, but, yes, we will put across our case very effectively - what are our reasons for not releasing the report now and when we intend to release it. So we are ready to release it, but we have a timeline.

But what is the worst that can happen if the report is released now?

It's not like that. There are many things. If you want atomic plants, for security related things, you can't give (information). Where there is a commercial value to your decisions, half-baked reports may create problems. But I am making it very clear that we don't want to hold anything back. We are ready to give all the information, but when... woh garbh mein hai, garbh se ek baar delivery hone do, uske baad there is no issue (it's in the womb; once it's born, then there is no issue).

Read more- #Modi2: 5 reasons PM Narendra Modi's green promises have wilted

The CIC has given you a month to release the report.

We will give an answer (to the CIC). We are also actively considering it. So, once the decision is taken, we will make it available to all.

If it comes to that, will you appeal the CIC order in a higher court?

If required, yes.

What about CIC's order on GM crops data?

We are in favour of promoting science and ensuring that there are no risks to the people of India. And we don't want to be living in hypocrisy. Now we are importing palm oil which is GM; we eat Kellogg's and other corn products that are GM; Bt Brinjal is being allowed in Bangladesh and it's being smuggled into Bihar, Assam and West Bengal. Farmers are planting it and now it will spread like that. One day, the nation will have to discuss whether we want this unregulated smuggled revolution to happen or a regulated revolution to happen.

Are you taking any action on these smuggled crops?

I just got some information about it. Let me confirm and then we can say anything about it.

Will Jairam Ramesh's amendment to the Compensatory Afforestation Bill pass in Rajya Sabha?

[For context, read: Congress to move amendments to Compensatory Afforestation Bill]

It is an unnecessary amendment, because we are not diluting the Forest Rights Act or any forest rights through this bill. Actually for compensatory afforestation, public hearings already happen. Plantation will provide more employment (to forest-dwellers) so they are eager about it.

But his amendment wants gram sabhas to approve afforestation plans and the species of trees to be planted.

See, some jobs require expertise. So let experts do their jobs. Villagers need to be participants in the process and need to benefit from it. For the first time, we have prescribed Minimum Support Price for minor forest produce. Minor Forest Produce rights will be fully utilised when afforestation happens in a more scientific way with traditional plant species. On patta land, we will not do afforestation. We are ready to discuss (the plans) with anybody.

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First published: 30 May 2016, 18:18 IST
 
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.

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