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Strange logic: Editorial on provision of compensatory afforestation in other states

Union environment ministry thinks that the loss of forest in Great Nicobar Island can be compensated by afforestation in the Aravalli Range

The Editorial Board Published 05.12.22, 03:37 AM
Great Nicobar Island

Great Nicobar Island File picture

Geographical boundaries are, evidently, elastic. Why else would the Union environment ministry think that the loss of forest in Great Nicobar Island can be compensated by afforestation in the Aravalli Range — 2,400 kilometres away and in a different ecological zone — in Haryana? This ludicrous suggestion comes in the backdrop of major infrastructural projects worth Rs 75,000 crore that are being planned for the Great Nicobar Island, one of India’s last bastions of threatened flora and fauna, ecologies and cultures. This would require the diversion of 15% of the forested area in Great Nicobar. Compensatory afforestation in Haryana is being deemed beneficial not for the island but for controlling air pollution in the national capital region. The policy obsession with the urban mainland is shocking. The people of NCR have the right to breathe unpolluted air; but what about the rights of the inhabitants of Great Nicobar? Incidentally, the Expert Appraisal Committee, which evaluated the proposal, had raised concerns about the project’s environmental impact, but technical and financial viability outweighed the environmental red flags.

Astoundingly, the environment ministry’s proposal falls within existing rules: a 2019 Central government directive allows states with over 75% forest cover looking to divert forest land for non-forestry purposes to carry out compensatory afforestation in other states. Yet, the Central government itself has blocked similar plans of afforestation by the Goa government, which sought to compensate for the diversion of forest land in Madhya Pradesh as well as in Karnataka. The ministry’s directive and, indeed, these rules lay bare the under-reported failures of the Narendra Modi government on environmental protection. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s ascendancy to power in 2014 was followed by the environment ministry removing a ban on the setting up of factories in eight ‘critically-polluted’ industrial belts. The number of independent members in the National Board for Wildlife fell from 15 to three. There has also been a discernible push in favour of business and ‘development’ in ecologically sensitive areas bulldozing environmental imperatives in the process. Mr Modi’s government has also been simultaneously criticised for weakening critical environmental legislations. These facts poke holes into the grand declarations of the prime minister that affirm his government’s commitment to green causes. The massive gap between word and deed can be gauged from India’s place at the bottom of the 2022 Environmental Performance Index, which ranks 180 countries on ecosystem vitality, health, and climate policy.

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