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PM Modi Stages A Show, But Does He Really Care About Wildlife & Environment?

For a layman, Prime Minister Modi comes across as a person having immense affection for the wildlife and environment in general.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Sardar Patel Zoological Park, popularly known as Jungle Safari, in Gujarat’s Narmada district on Friday. He shared pictures of him on his official Twitter handle and said: “Kevadia is all set to turn into a birdwatcher’s delight. Inaugurated a state-of-the-art aviary, which is a must visit!”

He also posted his pictures during Kevadia Jungle safari. He said: “Kevadia offers a unique Jungle Safari, which takes you through the faunal diversity of India. I had the opportunity to visit the Jungle Safari area earlier this evening. Sharing some pictures.”

Though, this is not the first time PM Modi has displayed his affection for the wildlife or birds. He is, in fact, the only world leader to have appeared on the show “Man Vs Wild” other than former US President Barack Obama. He even shared his “precious moments” with peacocks last month, when he posted a video in which he was seen feeding peacocks at his residence during his morning exercise routine.

For a layman, Prime Minister Modi comes across as a person having immense affection for the wildlife and environment in general. This is probably one of the reasons why India’s green cover has increased by 15,000 square kilometres, as told by Union Environment Minister in 2019. 

However, when you look at the quantities of trees being felled for different developmental projects, in areas which come under various sanctuaries, national parks and wildlife reservoirs, you are forced to question the affection displayed by the Prime Minister in his photo sessions towards wildlife and birds.

Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, Mollem, Goa

Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park is a 240 square kilometres (93 sq mi) protected area located in the Western Ghats of South India, in Sanguem taluk, Goa State.

 

A whopping number of around 50,000 trees would be cut from the wildlife sanctuary areas to make way for State’s three major projects -rail, road and power supply, as reported by Herald Goa in 2019. 

Sources revealed that around 19,185 trees would be cut for the doubling of railway track from  Castlerock to Kullem while 2,300 trees will be cut for Kullem to Margao stretch. Total of 135 hectares of forest land will be utilised for the project.

Another 12,097 trees from protected areas will be felled for four-laning  of NH-4A over a distance of 13 kms in the Anmod-Mollem section passing through Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, Mollem.

Sources informed that the project requires total another 31.05 ha of forest land from protected area and 1.887 ha of forest land from Non-protected area will be diverted.

The third project is the laying of new transmission line through Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, Mollem, which will necessitate the felling of another 16,000 trees in 48 ha forest land.

An MLA from the ruling BJP and an MLA from Goa Congress, cutting across the party lines, had written a second letter to the Union Minister Prakash Javadekar reminding him of the different stake-holder representations, restating their concerns regarding the three infrastructure projects given clearance within Mollem National Park and Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary.

Over the last four months, thousands of citizens have written to the Centre expressing concern and filing objections about the Mollem projects–in letters that are publicly available.

Prakash Javadekar gets hostile reception in Goa over Mollem National Park issue.

 

Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam

Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Dibrugarh and Tinsukia Districts of Assam and covers an area of 111.19 km2 (42.93 sq mi) rainforest.

 

The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam is also known as ‘Amazon of the East’ owing to its expanse and thick forest. Dehing-Patkai forms the largest stretch of tropical lowland rainforests in India. Chinese pangolin, flying fox, wild pig, sambar, barking deer, serow and Malayan, giant squirrels etc. are among the rare fauna found in this region. This rainforest harbours about 293 bird species belonging to 174 genera and 51 families.

As reported by Sentinel Assam, amid the nationwide lockdown since April 17 this year, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) constituted in 2003 under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, permitted coal mining in a part of the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve in Assam. This allows the use of 98.59 hectares of land of the Sanctuary for coal mining by Coal India Limited.

Most of the mining operations carried out are underground and open cast like drilling, blasting, extraction, transportation and crashing. Such operations damage the environment and ecology to an unacceptable extent, according to the report.

The National Mineral Policy, the Supreme Court of India and many kinds of research besides reports have already warned us about the ill-effects of coal mining in environment and ecology. However, the permission was still granted for coal mining.

All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) staged a protest at Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh

The construction of the hydroelectric project in one of the most biodiverse Himalayan zones in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley will involve diversion of 1150.08 ha of forest land and felling of 2.7 lakh trees.

Dibang valley is a biodiversity hotspot and carbon sink of India.

A Wildlife Institute of India (WII) study has documented 413 plant, 159 butterfly, 113 spider, 14 amphibian, 31 reptile, 230 bird and 21 mammalian species within the project area. The WII has recommended a plan to prevent loss of animals and birds there, and the development of butterfly and reptile parks, nest boxes, habitat restoration etc.

No tiger presence has been documented at the project site through camera trapping. But Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary 12 km away has recorded tiger presence in the vicinity.

A case against environment clearances associated with the Dibang project had even reached the National Green Tribunal, which hears environmental disputes but was dismissed in November 2018.

Locals protest against the proposed dam in Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh.

 

Aravalli Hills, Haryana

Aravalli is almost 700 kilometres-long mountain range that starts from India’s western state of Gujarat, travels through Rajasthan and Haryana before terminating at Raisina hill, at the heart of national capital Delhi. Most of the Aravalli hills – around 550 kilometres of its length – is in Rajasthan, yet some part of it also falls in some of Haryana’s districts such as Gurugram, Mewat, Faridabad, Palwal, Rewari, Bhiwani and Mahendragarh.

There have been court orders previously against illegal mining which has been rampant in this region. Many have pointed out that disturbing the ecological balance in an already emaciated landscape around Aravalli will further vitiate the air quality and deplete the water table in the surrounding areas of Haryana, threatening the lives of those living in National Capital Territory (NCT).

Despite a ban, encroachment and sporadic mining activities continue unabated in Aravalli in Delhi’s neighbouring areas such as Gurugram and Faridabad.

It is estimated that Haryana has more than 20,000 hectares of Aravalli. Out of this Gurugram alone has 11,256 hectares of Aravalli. This vast landmass provides a massive green lung to Delhi and surrounding areas.

 

Locals protest against illegal mining in Aravalli hills.

 

EIA 2020 Draft 

While indigenous and local people are protesting against these and many more attacks on the environment and wildlife, the Modi government brought in the EIA 2020 draft.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), in general, is an important process for evaluating the likely environmental impact or consequences of a particular project. It is used to make a scientific estimate of the likely impacts of such projects, focusing on vital issues such as a mine, irrigation dam, industrial unit, or waste treatment plant. In this process, people’s views are taken into consideration before approving any developmental project or activity. It is mostly used as a decision-making tool to decide whether a project should be approved or not.

Under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the central government has powers to issue the draft notification to take substantial measures for “protecting and improving the quality of the environment”.

However, the draft proposes the removal of several activities from the comprehension of public consultation.

The notification anticipates two types of approval: i) prior environment clearance (EC) with the approval of expert committees, and ii) environmental permission or provision (EP) without the approval of expert committees.

The prime concern with the draft, however, is that the draft has exempted almost 40 different projects such as clay and sand extraction or digging wells or foundations of buildings, solar thermal power plants and common effluent treatment plants are exempted from prior EC or prior EP.

Several important projects such as B2 projects, irrigation, production of halogens, chemical fertilizers, acids manufacturing, biomedical waste treatment facilities, building construction and area development, elevated roads and flyovers, highways or expressways, which need public consultation, have been exempted in the notification.

The B2 category comprises of projects such as offshore and onshore oil, gas and shale exploration, hydroelectric projects up to 25 MW, irrigation projects between 2,000 and 10,000 hectares of command area, small and medium mineral beneficiation units, small foundries involving furnace units, some categories of re-rolling mills, small and medium cement plants, small clinker grinding units, acids other than phosphoric or ammonia, sulphuric acid, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in dye and dye intermediates, bulk drugs, synthetic rubbers, medium-sized paint units, all inland waterway projects, expansion or widening of highways between 25 km and 100 km with defined parameters, aerial ropeways in ecologically sensitive areas, and specified building construction and area development projects.

The disparity by the people is over the fact that the exemption from EIA and public consultation for listed B2 category activity and expansion and modernisation projects will have an ill effect on the environment since there will be no checks from the public end over these projects.

Action rather than theatrics

So when Prime Minister Narendra Modi tries to convey his love for wildlife and environment, the doings of his government represent a starkly oppositive reality. The concrete jungles certainly bring in development that the third world country like ours needs, but if it comes at a cost of destroying the indigenous tribes and Adivasis of India, then it is not worth it. When the development starts eating the flora and fauna, destroying the green lungs of our country, we lose more than we gain. When sanctuaries and forests are swept clean for developmental projects, the photo-ops may help you get through the day, but your commitment looks fickle.

“The Earth is what we all have in common,” says the quote by author Wendell Berry. Nobody should act as if they own it.

After intense protests last year, the MVA government in Maharashtra shifted Metro car shed from Aarey to Kanjurmarg.

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