Budget 2022-23 pushes for green clearances, activists cry foul

A single window portal, PARIVESH, will now be expanded, says FM in the union budget speech. The portal was launched in 2018

   
government announces green clearances in the union budget 2022-23

The Budget 2022-23 has provisions for faster green clearances and expanding the scope for single-window clearances for projects that are to be cleared by the Environment Ministry and also talks of bringing in legislative changes to promote agroforestry.

The proposals have evoked mixed reactions from experts.

“A single window portal, PARIVESH, for all green clearances was launched in 2018. It has been instrumental in reducing the time required for approvals significantly. The scope of this portal will now be expanded, to provide information to the applicants. Based on the location of units, information about specific approvals will be provided. It will enable application for all four approvals through a single form, and tracking of the process through Centralised Processing Centre-Green (CPC-Green),” said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget 2022-23 speech.

“The policies and required legislative changes to promote agro forestry and private forestry will be brought in. In addition, financial support will be provided to farmers belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who want to take up agro-forestry,” she said.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change has already brought in a slew of amendments and also proposes to make massive changes to multiple foundational laws related to the environment – all to the detriment of the cause, experts have said.

Environmentalists are already up in arms over the changes proposed to the Forest (Conservation) Act, the Wildlife (Protection) Act and the amendments to the Biodiversity Act.

Data from the India State of Forest Report 2021 released last month has already been subjected to scrutiny as the forest cover has counted all commercial plantations and agro-forestry projects.

Kanchi Kohli, a researcher with Centre for Policy Research (CPR), said: “The idea of single window clearances creates the illusion that industrial and infrastructure projects will get all environmental approvals together. In effect, this assurance only allows for the ease in submitting and tracking the paperwork before the Environment Ministry. All projects will need to go secure separate approvals for forest diversion, environmental impacts or impacts on wildlife, which require necessarily detailed assessments and appraisals.”

Agro-forestry, she said, maybe an important measure to improve farm incomes and add to the tree cover through plantations. “However, a large-scale and policy-driven exercise to increase monoculture plantations or creating carbon sinks can be directly at odds with biodiversity, livelihood rights, and food security. This is especially when carbon forestry leads to the creation of conservation enclosures that has to necessarily curtail access and use of areas designated as sinks,” Kohli observed.

Stating that there is no need to combine the forest cover definition and agro-forestry, International Forum for Environment, Sustainability, and Technology (iFOREST) CEO Chandra Bhushan, in fact, welcomed that there would be a legal backing for agro-forestry.

“India imports $40 billion worth of wood and wood products every year. Farmers need income and we need to save forex. So, agro forestry is actually an extremely good policy both for farmers and the economy,” he said.

“A tree planted outside a forest is a tree saved inside a forest. But if the government is mixing it, then there should be public pressure on the Forest Survey of India to improve the reporting,” he said.

Some experts saw the infra growth as a positive push.

Pointing out that the Budget’s push towards infrastructure is a huge opportunity for making climate resilient development, TERI Senior Fellow, Earth Science and Climate Change, Saurabh Bhardwaj said: “With the Budget pegging India’s economic growth at plus 9 per cent this fiscal and giving a concerted push towards infrastructure, making such development climate resilient is a huge opportunity to further safeguard the economic losses due to impending climate change impacts. This growth budget needs to be resilient as well.”

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, at the annual climate conference last November, presented ‘Panchamrit’ or five ‘nectar’ elements that were India’s promised action plan for combating climate change, Dr Anjal Prakash, Research Director and adjunct Associate Professor at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business, however, said: “There is a miss in creating institutions for net zero delivery in India.

“Presently, no single ministry can deliver Modi’s Panchamrit, the five nectar elements. Climate scientists have been demanding that there should be a separate Ministry of Climate Change, which will give the impetus needed to the PM’s pledge of net zero by 2070.”

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