The Modi government intends to limit prior public consultations to major infrastructure projects. Presented as more transparent, this criticized project risks devastating ecosystems.
Last Friday, at 2 p.m. About twenty people arrive discreetly, by bicycle or scooter, in front of the Ministry of the Environment in New Delhi. Masked and silent, they deploy, two meters away from each other, and hold up multicolored signs with letters written in capital, with a message: “Withdraw the EIA 2020”, initials in English for “Environment Impact Assessment”.
This administrative procedure, which makes it possible to assess the ecological cost of building a road or a factory, will be greatly reduced by the Indian government, which published its project at the end of March, open to suggestions until August 10. Environmentalists are frightened by this attempt to dilute an essential procedure, but the revolt is deaf: “The protest is strong on social networks, supports Chittranjan Dubey, an activist who coordinates this lightning demonstration. But many are afraid to go out because of the pandemic, and the police won’t allow us to protest. ”
Nevertheless, it is the fourth consecutive Friday that this group of diehards, tolerated by the agents because of their small number, gathers with their signs in front of the ministry. The film and photograph themselves, hoping to motivate the confined troops.
Mobilization is all the more difficult as the 83-page text of this reform is extremely technical. The government says it wants to make this environmental approval process more transparent and standardized, but one of the main concerns of specialists is that this reform exempts small and medium-sized factories or petroleum industries from scrutiny, in addition to small hydroelectric projects and the widening of national roads, highways or peripheral roads, as well as all so-called “strategic” works, a term which is seriously vague.
“These companies will not have to carry out a public consultation,” warns Professor T.V. Ramachandra, a researcher at the Center for Ecological Sciences at the Bangalore Institute of Sciences, and former member of a regional inspection committee for these companies. projects. These road widenings can destroy a vital ecosystem. However, the consultations allow officials to understand that because they hear the opinions of experts. “
Such deforestation will increase unwanted contact between humans and wild animals, which can lead to the emergence of new diseases, believes this biologist. “In the state of Karnataka, between 100 and 200 people already die each year from “monkey fever”, as the monkeys approach homes and transfer their tics to humans. The price we are going to pay for these environmental operations will, therefore, be much higher than that of Covid-19! ”
Prakash Javadekar, the Minister of the Environment, assures that he seeks to ensure “the sustainable development of India: growth which respects the environment”. While recalling that “European countries and the United States have built their prosperity on carbon emissions, while India is only responsible for 3% of past emissions, which cause climate change”. He maintains that he will take into account the “hundreds of thousands of reactions to the reform”, before passing it by decree – therefore without going through Parliament.
The government of Narendra Modi, Prime Minister seeks to implement the disastrous “Gujarat Model”, has above all one obsession: to facilitate the business of the few over many. And he argues that these environmental impact studies are slowing them down.
This argument does not hold, however, according to Ritwick Dutta, a specialist in environmental issues: “Last year, the Indian government rejected less than 0.1% of the projects presented, and these are approved in two or three meetings. I think the government is looking for a scapegoat and the environment is the easiest prey.”
This lawyer fears that the reduction in public consultations will restrict information about these infrastructure projects. “India is copying the Chinese model, where the government runs in an opaque manner and with the main objective of supporting industries.”
Since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, India has gained 79 places in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Rankings (142 to 63). But at the same time, the country has fallen 13 places in the index of environmental performance, to fall from 168 to 180 – one of the worst countries in the area.