A vocal advocate for environmental causes, Anil Madhav Dave, a senior BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh and Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, spoke to The Sunday Guardian about environmental issues facing India. Excerpts:
Q: This government’s agenda is development and development comes with an environmental cost. Being the Environment Minister, how would you strike a balance between the two?
A: There is already a balance and if one is in the right direction of development, one is bound to be an environmentalist. Development and environment will always move together and help each other. In fact, this idea of development and environment not going hand-in-hand has generated from coffee shop discussions and is not true.
Q: You have been opposing big dams as they affect the environment, but that is also a part of development.
A: Development comes with some compromise with the environment and thus there is compensation which one will have to pay for environmental damage. The entire Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Bill is nothing but compensation that development projects need to pay for environmental loss and goes into afforestation. It cannot be that because there will be problems with environment, development will not take place. If you want development, you will have to pay something, thus the compensation.
Q: You had earlier said that big dams older than 20 years should go for social and economic audits. Since you are a minister now, will you order one?
A: Society should do the audit. In fact, any NGO can go for social, economic, and environmental audit. The ministry is not going to do any such audits. I am saying that society should decide on the audit of any infrastructural project, not just dams, be it roads, hospitals, schools, etc.
Q: Interlinking of rivers has been a pet project of the NDA government, but nothing concrete could be done so far because environmentalists have raised red flags over the damage it will cause to the environment. How do you see this project?
A: Instead of indulging in discussions and seminars on whether to go for it or not, we have decided that we will have to make one interlink project a reality and then have an impact assessment on the basis of social, environmental and financial impact. At the end, if it is found to be beneficial, we will go ahead with future projects. If we see we have not gained anything, then others could be stopped. We have been talking on this subject for 40-50 years and I don’t know how many meetings and human hours have been spoilt in so many years.
Q. Pollution of water bodies is one of the major concerns in India. You have called the sewage treatment plants a “big fraud”. Why do you think so?
A: Installing a sewage treatment plant needs huge power which in turn needs money and thus a recurring cost is involved after its installation. All this is mostly not there with the local bodies. Similarly, when industrialists install a sewage treatment plant as part of their industry, but don’t run it as it costs them a lot of money, it is of no use and such plants lie idle. Merely having a plant to show and not run it for actual work is what I called a fraud.
We should adopt technology more suitable to Indian conditions because our polluted waters are more concentrated than the other developed countries of the world. The drainage system in our country carrying polluted waters is not the same as that of Germany or Switzerland. So we will have a different approach based on our needs.
Q: Do you think that the Clean Ganga mission is an over ambitious project?
A: Every big project is ambitious and only visionaries can have such great projects in mind and attempt such ambitious projects. River Ganga has a special place in Indian culture, society and among the people. Within a short span of time, you will see a clean and glittering Ganga flowing.
Q. Do you think that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 has diluted the rights of tribals and forest dwellers as claimed by environmentalists?
A: I think nothing has been diluted, but there is always scope for corrections. If any loopholes or lacunae are there in the Act, necessary correction can be done by Parliament. With suggestions, we can think over it and take necessary action when the time is right.
Q: Since air pollution has been another major problem, is the government working towards any national plan to control the rising air pollution?
A: We are working on it. Stringent laws are already there, but we are trying to review those laws. In the end, it is not only the government. The government will do its role, but it is the people who will also have to contribute to make Delhi and the country clean and to make the globe clean.
Q: The NGT (National Green Tribunal) has pulled up the government on several occasions as and when environment was seen to be compromised. Should it not have been the work of the ministry to address environmental issues, instead of the court stepping in often?
A: The NGT is an advisory judiciary body in the system of our democracy. Our democracy has four strong pillars and I don’t think anybody needs to direct or dictate each other. It is not the right way of democracy. Each and everyone is working in their capacity and parameters in their respective fields. Everyone is working with enough “Viveka” and it is the “Viveka” which keeps you on the right track.
Q: Is the ministry drawing any plans to bring eco-friendly cars or electric cars to India?
A: Yes, we are promoting indigenous research in this field. We want Indian scientists and entrepreneurs to come up and try to bring up such vehicles which can be environment-friendly. However, we do not want to import a single vehicle because we want to “Make in India”.
Q: The problem of landfill in Delhi is a major concern and this has made the Delhi government lock horns both with the MCDs and the Central government several times. Is the Ministry of Environment going to do something about waste management?
A: Any government that wants to know how a good solid waste management system works, must visit Panjim in Goa, where they have installed a 100% automatic plant with no fumes and no smell. So instead of blaming each other, one should visit different parts of the country or the world and see and understand the success stories and implement them in the country instead of visiting tourist spots while on foreign trips. The problem is that they are always interested in keeping themselves on the streets and not in the secretariat. The government is supposed to sit on the table and work. The Central government will help anybody who has a concrete plan on waste management.