The 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai has witnessed the persistence of the gap between word and deed in the statements of statesmen. Unfortunately, India was not immune to this contagion. While reiterating the call for global solidarity in climate action, Narendra Modi claimed that India is a shining example when it comes to maintaining a perfect balance between ecological prerogatives and economic development. By way of evidence, Mr Modi asserted that the country is among the few world economies that are on track to achieving their nationally determined contributions under the 2015 Paris Agreement. There are other markers of progress. India emits less than 4% of global carbon emissions despite being home to 17% of the world’s population. The country has also reduced its GDP emission intensity by 33% between 2005 and 2019 — according to a government report — and has achieved the target 11 years in advance. But to claim to have found that elusive balance between the demands of economic growth and ecological protection would be ambitious. Worse, what the prime minister did not reveal, quite understandably so, is that his government has been accused of perpetrating significant incursions into India’s hard-fought green policies as well as weakening legal and statutory regulations and institutions meant to safeguard India’s vulnerable ecology.
The emasculation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 is a case in point. The 2023 amendment dilutes the scope of the definition of ‘forest’, thereby exposing protected forest lands to commercial activities. The weakening of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which guarantees the rights of marginalised tribal communities, is another of Mr Modi’s green achievements. Further, the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Act, 2023 replaced criminal prosecution with financial penalties for relevant offences. The autonomy of the National Biodiversity Authority has been encroached upon with the rise in Central appointments to the regulatory body. Moreover, there are rumbles that the Centre’s 2020 draft notification on environmental impact assessment reduced it to a mere formality even as the National Green Tribunal continues to function shorn of fangs. Climate summits have, over the years, been characterised by lofty rhetoric. India being a guardian of the greens under Mr Modi’s watch is another example of nations shirking the responsibility of matching their words with action.