During the current global pandemic, many governments are creating even more danger by using the crisis to advance looser environmental regulations, hoping their actions will go unnoticed. The environmental regulations under assault are far-reaching, pertaining to pollution, protection for endangered species, and opening up forest areas for mining and other projects.
India is no exception, having used the Covid-19 pandemic to approve construction of dams, mining projects, thermal power plants, and big infrastructure projects like highways, ports, and airports.
Under the new scheme, approvals for major projects have been given remotely, via video-conferencing, where shortsighted experts (in the Standing Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change) could not adequately read the fine print nor scrutinize the maps, but nevertheless placed their stamp on such ill-conceived ventures.
New Law, New Dangers
In India and beyond, the rewriting of environmental laws to accelerate development provides a red carpet for wholesale exploitation of forests and could increase pollution affecting the health and wellbeing of millions of people.
Aside from this, a number of agencies related to the control of wildlife crime — in particular the protection of tiger reserves and reserve types — will be centralized. Wildlife experts fear this will make them toothless, with no real power.
Recently, nearly 300 conservation scientists and activists wrote a letter to the India’s Standing Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, asking that forest and environment clearances to be put on hold during the Covid-19 epidemic.
In addition, a former Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, sent a letter to the current Minister asking ‘What is the great urgency in ramming such a far-reaching notification through at a time of grave national crisis?”. Ramesh argues that we cannot allow this loosening of environmental laws to continue, but must harbor our protected areas and wildlife.
But ill-conceived measures like loosened environmental laws will not reflect well on india’s longstanding commitment to conservation. The ongoing wave of predatory development in India is something that should worry us all.