Modi and the Environment

In his first 100 days…

1. Basic protections to safeguard the environment, that were not particularly strong to begin with, are being wiped out.

In the name of economic progress, the rules and regulations that safeguard India’s environment, wildlife, forests, and indigenous rights are under attack. Defense projects are being prioritized, the raising of the Narmada dam height has been approved (another 17 meters) and the Forest Rights and Forest Conservation Acts have been diluted to quicken economic development in what have been identified as “Naxal-affected” states which comprise the richest forest lands inhabited by the greatest number of Adivasis (indigenous communities). ( Further, environmental clearances have been fast-tracked for Hindustan Copper Ltd. to expand mining in places such as Jharkhand and Malanjkhand along with unprecedented clearances for Oil & Natural Gas company. It is estimated that environmental damage costs for rushing these projects will cost India approximately 3.75 trillion rupees per year (almost $62 billion dollars per year) not to mention the innumerable potential risks (such as control loss of limbs) that will unevenly impact families in these areas (all too often Adivasis, Dalits and religious minorities).  After running an election campaign that espoused the importance of participatory governance and development for all, the Modi administration has announced plans to change the rules under the Forest Rights Act in a way that will no longer require mandatory consent of affected forest communities before diversion of forests lands for non-forest uses takes place. For more on Forest Rights Act and raising of Narmada Dam height see Development and Minorities sections of this report.)

A special committee has been put in place to suggest “changes” to environmental laws which will be the primary mechanism through which key provisions in existing laws will be weakened. In just three months, according to the Government of India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the Modi administration has given clearances to: (1) seven different entities in the coal sector including the expansion of open cast projects, (2) sixteen different entities in the industrial sector (3) nine entities in the mining sector (4) one Special Economic Zone in Andhra Pradesh, and (5) seven thermal power projects. And despite talking about solar, Modi’s government has exempted coal mines from public hearings for the expansion of a large swatch of coal mines.

While in general, faster moving transparent  government processes  facilitated through online technology are required and desired, the Modi government’s predilection for protecting private corporations at the expense of the welfare of the public, does not bode well for the environment nor the well-being of the majority of India’s peoples.

2. Environmental officials change pollution measuring index and lift previous moratorium on factory projects within 8 of India’s most polluted industrial areas.

Modi ran on a platform of development promising to expedite environmental clearances in its service. On June 10, 2014, Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar, suspended the former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s September 17, 2013 order that had re-imposed a moratorium on several Critically Polluted Areas (CPA). These are defined as those with Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) scores greater than 70. The CEPI is a metric devised by Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi) that is used by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to rate and compare pollution in industrial clusters across India. The previous UPA government had asked the CPCB to review the CEPI and the Modi government used a delay in the review as an excuse to suspend the moratorium. While the Modi government is allegedly all about efficiency, it has given the CPCB an entire year to review the index.

The BJP 2014 Election manifesto promised that “decision-making on environment clearances will be made transparent as well as time-bound,” but the decision to suspend the moratorium has neither been defended nor has the decision-making process been made transparent. When it comes to the word “environment,” the Modi government simply means environment for investment and rapid growth at the cost of the natural environment including plants, animals, and rural populations.

3. Climate Unchanged.

Modi’s response to the threat of global warming is dismal at best. He recently remarked, “Climate change? Is this terminology correct? The reality is this that in our family, some people are old … They say this time the weather is colder. And, people’s ability to bear cold becomes less.” Further, he has refused to attend the United Nations Special Summit on Climate Change, making it even more unlikely that the US, China, and India (the 3 biggest climate polluters), will forge a global agreement. The Modi budget is filled with a growth agenda that appears to be committed to pollute even more and make the green agenda subservient to the corporate agenda all buried under the rhetoric of  sustainability. While there is much talk about supplying potable water infrastructure, there is no discussion about risk mitigation for the shrinking of Himalayan glaciers that supply water to rivers in North India. This is not just a threat to the water supply but also to energy, which is supplied by hydroelectric projects.

Previously, in Gujarat…

1. Protecting private corporations at the people’s expense

  • Multiple articles, reports and research briefings have documented the havoc wreaked on the environment by the Adani group especially in the Mundra Special Economic Zone (SEZ), where India’s largest private port is operated by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. Although the Adani group has clearly violated environmental rules and clearances, they are yet to be held accountable. Modi’s relationship with the Adani conglomerate continues to be ubiquitous since his election.
  • Gujarat, one of India’s most highly industrialized states has paved the way for Special Economic Zones advancing its development vision under the banner of economic revival that has widely circulated as “Vibrant Gujarat.” This development trend has utilized innumerable SEZ’s (over-privileging free-market principles of increased trade and investment) to takeover ecologically-distressed coastlines in Gujarat, seriously impacting already marginalized communities including farmers, fisher people, saltpan workers and grazers.
  • The majority of Industries operating in Gujarat do so without environmental clearances or continue to work illegally. One of Modi’s senior ministers in Gujarat, Babubhai Bokhiria was sentenced to three years of jail by a court in Porbandar for illegal limestone mining in June 2013.

2. Pollution and Gujarat

  • In 2010, India’s Central Pollution Control Board of India proclaimed Gujarat the most polluted state of India because it accounts for 29% of all of India’s hazardous waste.
  • The Sabarmati River in Gujarat has the dubious distinction of being one of India’s most polluted rivers in India; a recent scientific study confirms the extent of the pollution. The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project, heralded as the project that will “reconnect Ahmedabad to its river,” has done nothing to alleviate its pollution, but instead has led to the destruction of people’s homes, sometimes in violation of Gujarat High Court orders. In 2012, the Central Pollution Control Board announced three Gujarat rivers to be the most polluted in India.
  • Since 2009, the Vapi and Ankleshwar industrial areas in Gujarat have consistently topped the CEPI scores in the critically polluted area list, i.e. with CEPI scores over 80. Due to these serious pollution levels, the Ministry of Environment and Forests banned all Gujarat new projects and expansion projects in 2010 in the industrial cluster of Vapi in Southern Gujarat. In 2011, the ban was lifted after the Gujarat Pollution Control Board promised to implement actionable plans to improve air quality, but no action was taken and in 2013 the pollution index was only reduced marginally (85.31). Gujarat remains on the top of India’s pollution chart; the ban was re-imposed in September 2013.
  • Independent sources such as the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (Environmental Protection Committee) have documented the extent of pollution in Gujarat’s “Golden Corridor.”

3. Gujarat unable to produce statewide climate action plan

Read more…

  1. “11 Environmental Disasters Narendra Modi Blessed in His First 100 Days – Quartz.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  2. “AMC Demolishes Hutments despite High Court Stay | The Indian Express.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  3. “AMC Razes 1,000 Hutments along Sabarmati Banks | The Indian Express.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  4. “BJP Election Manifesto 2014.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  5. Critically polluted 43 Industrial Clusters. “Critically Polluted 43 Industrial Clusters.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  6. “Doing Big Business In Modi’s Gujarat.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  7. “Easing of Green Norms for Mining May Face Resistance | Business Line.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  8. Greenpeace. Adani Fact Sheet. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  9. ———. Research Briefing: Adani’s Record of Environmental Destruction and Non -Compliance with Regulations, March 10, 2014.
  10. Haldar, Soumya, Subir Kumar Mandal, R. B. Thorat, Sangita Goel, Krushnakant D. Baxi, Navalsang P. Parmer, Vipul Patel, S. Basha, and K. H. Mody. “Water Pollution of Sabarmati River—a Harbinger to Potential Disaster.” Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 186, no. 4 (April 2014): 2231–42. doi:10.1007/s10661-013-3532-5.
  11. Laghari, Javaid. “Climate Change: Melting Glaciers Bring Energy Uncertainty.” Nature 502, no. 7473 (October 30, 2013): 617–18. doi:10.1038/502617a. [available online:]
  12. Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Site Visit to M/s Mundra Port & SEZ Limited Port Site at Mundra and M/s OPG Power Gujarat Private Limited on 6th – 7th December 2010., 2010.
  13. “Modi Flies into Brand Cloud with Adani Plane – ABP Live.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  14. “Modi promotes Adanis who kill the environment, but protecting environment is taunted as Jayanti-tax?”
  15. “Narendra Modi to Miss Climate Change Summit in New York – The Times of India.” Accessed September 18, 2014.

See  here  for more details of the projects that have received environmental clearances.

*Note however that the MoEF website is not consistently updated. An article posted here claims that 92 projects received forest clearance in June and July.