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Opinion

Reform, but with a green focus – editorials

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On May 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a £ 20 lakh crore economic package to overcome the current angst and devastating impact of the blockade on individuals and businesses, encourage national industry, attract investment and create what he called a “self-sufficient” India. “The Prime Minister also indicated that the government will undertake deeper structural reforms, through land, labor and laws. Use this moment to restore India’s institutions and economy to ensure both prosperity as equity is, in principle, a laudable goal.

However, in embarking on the reform process, the fragile environment of India must not become a victim. India’s development path shows that there is a good chance that this will happen because successive governments have deviated towards the view that strict environmental protection laws hinder economic development. This is a fake binary. Rapid project approvals without proper regulatory and impact evaluation can ensure market investments and bank finances in the short term, but their long-term effects can scare the economy and people. Unfortunately, the new draft of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Ministry of the Environment, Forests and Climate Change, published in March, also seems to reflect development versus environmental perspectives. EIA is a process of evaluating the impact of a proposed project or development on ecology and humans. Rather than strengthening the process, the draft EIA, experts say, is diluting the regulatory process for projects; sets severe limits on the quality of project evaluation; it grants exemptions to more sectors of the public hearing (where the people affected by the project can raise their concerns) and allows for lenient control and compliance protocols.

Undermining the environment will have an adverse effect on the economy as well as on people’s well-being. This should have been evident, with the coronavirus pandemic attributed to human interference such as deforestation, invasion of animal habitats, and loss of biodiversity. The climate crisis has also led to enormous costs for communities, societies and States. Ultimately, the loss of ecological infrastructure and the decline in natural capital, including human health, lead to a decline in inclusive wealth. The impact of this is even more acute for countries like India, where achieving development goals such as reducing poverty and inequality is already a challenge. The Covid-19 crisis is a good opportunity for the Indian government to reassess its priorities and opt for a greener development path. Reform, but respect nature.

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