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Global talk not backed by local walk: Cong slams Modi govt's record on environmental issues

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NewsDrum Desk
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New Delhi, Mar 30 (PTI) The Congress on Saturday listed the Narendra Modi government's "failures" on environmental issues, claiming that its "global talk is not backed by local walk" and when the INDIA bloc "takes over in June", the regressive steps of the current regime will be rolled back.

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The party's general secretary and former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh alleged that the last 10 years of the Modi government have been a disaster, not just for India's people and democracy, but also for the environment and those who depend on it.

"The prime minister, who famously said that the 'climate is not changing, we are changing', has systematically destroyed protections for the environment in India," he alleged.

Ramesh claimed that the key patterns are to strip local communities of any power over their forests and make it easier to hand forest land over to the Modi government's "crony corporate friends".

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He listed 10 "failures" of the Modi government on environmental issues.

These are, "the disastrous Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, anti-Adivasi Forest Conservation Rules, dilution of the Biological Diversity (Amendment), secretive amendments to the Environment Protection Act, legalisation of projects after violation of forest clearance, weakening Environmental Impact Assessment norms, destruction of independent environmental institutions, rising air pollution, Wildlife Protection Act weakened, and coal mines were given on corporate lobbying", he said.

Ramesh said the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 is a critical law to protect forests from encroachment and deforestation. However, a 2023 amendment by the Modi government has hollowed it from within, he alleged.

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"The amendment removes protections for 25 per cent of India's forest cover, or almost 2 lakh square km of forest, in violation of the 1996 TN Godavarman Supreme Court order. The intention is to hand over access to our forests to the prime minister's corporate friends," Ramesh alleged.

He also claimed that in addition to the attack via the Forest Conservation Amendment Act, the Modi government has attacked the traditional forest rights of Adivasis and forest-dwelling communities with the 2022 Forest Conservation Rules.

Adivasis are now vulnerable to the corporate takeover of their forest lands and resources, he claimed.

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The Congress' 'Paanch NYAY Pachees Guarantee' includes a promise to implement the Forest Rights Act in letter and spirit, and on a deadline, Ramesh claimed, adding all pending claims will be settled in a year and rejected claims will be reviewed within six months.

The Congress leader alleged that there had been a "dilution of the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Act".

Through repeated dilutions and an amendment, the Modi government has allowed private companies to have easier access to biodiversity products without benefit-sharing with communities, Ramesh alleged. "It is clear that this is on the instigation of a well-known businessman and yoga guru who expressed support for the BJP in the past." The Congress leader further said that when the entire world was dealing with the Covid pandemic, the Modi government passed 39 amendments to rules under the Environment Protection Act. "Illegal and regressive changes were made to relax environmental protection." He alleged that PM Modi wants to make it easier to hand over India's forests and pollute the environment, "to benefit his crony corporate friends".

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"The Environment Ministry opened a temporary amnesty window for just six months in March 2017 to clear projects in a novel violation category.

"In July 2021, the Environment Ministry issued a notification that made it routine, and provided ex-post facto approval to such projects," he said, adding that since then, over 100 projects run by big corporations were allowed to start work in violation of environmental clearances.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court stayed the illegal permissions, Ramesh said.

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The Congress leader alleged that environmental impact assessment norms have been continuously weakened since 2020. The Uttarkashi Silkyara tunnel collapse of 2023, trapping 41 miners, is an example of the consequences of the weakening of impact assessment norms, he claimed.

Ramesh also alleged that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been consistently weakened since 2014.

"Vacancies have been left open for years, reaching 70 per cent overall in 2018 and leading to the shutdown of the Chennai NGT bench. Even the Supreme Court stepped in and term these vacancies appalling," he said.

"Not just the NGT, even the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court has now been swallowed up by the Modi government," Ramesh claimed.

He said air pollution has turned into a grave public health crisis under the Modi government. The complete failure of the Centre is behind Delhi turning into a gas chamber every year, he claimed.

Alleging that the Wildlife Protection Act has been weakened, Ramesh said that in December 2022, a disastrous amendment to the law paved the way for private takeover of wildlife.

He further claimed that coal mines were given on corporate lobbying.

"One of the worst environmental crimes being committed under the Modi era is the handing over of sensitive areas as coal blocks, mainly to benefit the Adani group. This is a new component of the Modani scam that keeps unfolding," he said.

"Why is the BJP so intent on destroying every single component of India's environment? Everything from forest protection, biodiversity protection, wildlife protection, Adivasi forest rights, environmental institutions like the NGT, have come under the chopping block in Modi's Anyay Kaal," Ramesh said.

The Congress leader said with a "disastrous track record in India, and shocking duplicity abroad, the prime minister is responsible for perpetuating an environmental crisis over the last ten years. Global Talk is not backed by Local Walk as far as pravachans and actions by the PM are concerned".

"In June 2024, when the INDIA government takes over, these regressive steps will be rolled back and protections for the environment will be restored," Ramesh asserted. PTI ASK NSD NSD

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