Recently, the new Modi administration has taken to taken to conjuring tricks and spinning illusions. With a magician's hat, a waving wand, and a beaming smile, the public are kept entranced, engrossed and constantly applauding with flight to Mars, furor of 'Make in India', and a shiny, squeaky, benevolent India saving its Kashmiri brethren from the very wrath of heavens!!
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, there is a rampage of real action - with stage hands running, sets changing, pulleys cranking; nuclear deals are secretly signed, forests are marked, tribals trivialized, and the entire natural environment under direct threat to the newly energized mantra of growth and development, in which the rich are always promised a continued supply of many golden eggs. An already centralized democracy is being silently squeezed by an executive autocratic authority - while we grin, bemused, ear-to-ear.
Three days back, accidentally, I learnt that the administration, no longer needy of parliamentary approval or sanction, had set up on 29th Aug 2014, a high level committee to review five key environmental laws of the nation - including the Environment Protection Act, Air Act, Water Act, Forest Conservation Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. The purposes of this committee is to recommend amendments in each of these acts to ' bring these Acts in line with the current requirements (of who, by who, for who??) to meet (what, and whose??) objectives'.
The public had till Sept 29th, 2014 -i.e. a month, to contribute to this 'democratic' process - online, on the MoEF site - using less than 1000 characters; commendable in India characterized by a majority of educated, alert and internet accessed citizenship.
In Bangalore, a public notice was issued on 20th Sept 2014, for a consultation meeting on 27th Sept 2014, between noon and 1:30pm to 'offer views, comments, opinions,...hand over memorandum or have dialogue' with the high level committee, amply demonstrating the seriousness of intent in a comprehensive public dialogue and feedback.
I have decided to contribute my 1000 characters concisely and publicly:
The high level committee set up to review India's five primary environmental Acts appears to be adhoc with vagueness of purpose and ill-defined ToR. The committee members are ill qualified to review or amend these environmental acts. The public feedback sought is minimal and prejudiced towards opinions of the comfortable, least-to-lose class; large vulnerable population dependent on natural environment are excluded entirely from the process. The mandate of MoEF is the protection of India's natural environment and social justice for those indigenous/rural communities, dependent on it. MoEF therefore needs to clearly specify the lacunas and failures of the current acts that necessitate the simultaneous review of all five acts together. This process cannot be hurried and public participation cannot be reduced to mere tokenism, but must be decentralized, consultative, and rigorously participatory, especially of the effected communities, so as to inspire public confidence and trust in the democratic process.