Based on an analysis of his “steps” in Gujarat, some thoughts on what will be the new Prime Minister’s agenda for climate change

By Mahesh Pandya*

On May 20, Narendra Modi was formally elected leader of the BJP parliamentary party, and on May 26 prime minister-designate Modi will be taking oath. The other day, he gave a very emotional speech at the Central Hall of Parliament, where he vowed allegiance to Mother India and her people. He asked people to remain optimistic to move the country forward. He delivered a speech full of hope, and promised not to let anyone down.

Over the past few years, as a member of Gujarat-based environmental organization, we have been following Modi’s developmental plans and policies; in particular, we have followed his commitment towards environmental protection.  Based on our experience with this political figure and the BJP’s manifesto on environment, we would like to provide a short analysis to assess his actions during his mandate as Chief Minister of Gujarat and link it with what we expect from him, as Prime Minister, on environmental issues.

Now that Modi is set to be the new Indian Prime Minister, the United States has no other choice but to issue visa to him. But a dark spot remains: Will Modi accept to visit President Barrack Obama, if he is invited? For nine years, he has been shunned by the US. Therefore, as a possible political strategy, he could decide to ignore Obama and choose to use the United Nations Climate Summit, to take place in September 2014 in New York, as the pretext to visit the US, and meet the President.

But the issues at stake at the Ban Ki Monn summit are far greater than mere political schemes. The hope placed in this conference is that it will be a different kind of climate summit. It is aimed at catalyzing actions by governments, business, finance, industry, and civil society, and convert them into new commitments. The summit hopes the world to shift toward a low-carbon economy.

Modi will have to present measures he will take in favour of mitigating the impact of climate change. As usual, he will probably announce bombastic measures that will be revolutionary for India, if not the world. He may try to present the new face of developed India. He has mastered the art of announcing great measures that turn into vain promises. Used to doing this, this is exactly what he did during the campaign to become PM.

A few years back, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, proud as peacock, he announced the establishment of Climate Change Department, which he said was the first in India and unique in Asia. This department was established for the implementation of all environment-related matters to achieve sustainable development in the state and introducing sound environmental management practices. But as expected, it proved to be akin to showing a trophy that he never won. Now, to showcase himself as “green crusader”, it would not be surprising if he creates the Ministry of Climate Change!

After the Kyoto Protocol, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh started Climate Change Action Plan, under the Prime Minister’s office, listing the eight measures to protect environment. As Modi will probably create a new ministry in charge of climate change, it would not be surprising if he transfers the Climate Change Action Plan from the PM’s authority into a job that the new ministry should do.

It is undeniable that Modi is a great public speaker. During one of his speeches, he even declared that the Goddess Ganga herself had called him to take over power in order to clean her up. This declaration was acclaimed by many, and the possible outcome of this statement could be that he would give the cleaning of the river to the Ministry of Climate Change. This task is currently lying with the National Ganga River Basin Authority.  All these measure would enable him to appear as an innovator.

Another surprising initiative of his has been setting up of a clean development mechanism (CDM) cell in Gujarat. This cell was created in order to facilitate CDM registration, financing based on certified emissions reduction (CER), verified emissions reduction (VER), carbon trading, carbon assets management, and evaluation and selection of appropriate clean technologies. On paper, this idea seemed good. But the cell is non-functional till date.

Pushing environmental protection further, Modi took the initiative of bringing experts from the Energy and Research Institute (TERI) Delhi to Gujarat to give training to senior government officers. These officers went to Delhi to gain even more experience in the field of sustainable development. But once again, it met a dead end. Gujarat has failed to submit its climate change action plan to the Government of India.

Indeed, one can wonder what kind of sustainable development Modi supports. Gujarat has power generation capacity of over 14,000 MW, connecting all the rural and urban areas to the power grid. It even claims to have a 2,000 MW of power surplus. Modi keeps promoting state of art windmills and solar parks that generate even more surplus, and yet the Census of India figures for 2011 show that 11 lakh households in Gujarat are without electricity.

It is even more astonishing when one finds that villages touched by this situation are located on the outskirts of such windmill hubs and solar parks. Of these 11 lakh homes, a significant 9 lakh homes are in rural areas where the government claims to have finished implementing the Jyotigram Yojana (rural electrification programme) through which it has linked all the 18,065 villages of the state to the electricity grid (a job claimed to have been accomplished in just 30 months), providing round-the-clock, three phase electricity.

Gujarat ranks third in the number of CDM projects, with more than 300 projects, and yet it is not as glorious as it may appear. Human rights violations and violations of environmental laws have been a norm with many of these projects, yet all of them were registered. The state government also ignored letters from the civil society detailing human rights abuses or violations of environmental laws by the company and the lack of adequate consultation with indigenous groups.

A striking example of the CDM paradox is the solar park in Charanka in North Gujarat. This project required 3,000 acres of land, which is established on agricultural and grazing land, a pond and two check dams. People in the area are now facing water problems because of this pond and check dams have been closed. Is this the kind of development the new leadership will propose to the rest of India?

Modi clearly tries to make us think he cares for ecology. Nonetheless, the environmental status of Gujarat has proved to be just the opposite:

  • In 2010, Gujarat was declared by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) the most polluted state accounting for 29% of the 6.2 million tons of hazardous waste.
  • The CPCB in 2012 declared three Gujarat  rivers to be the most polluted in India. It said, the Sabarmati river is the third most polluted in the country.
  • Under Modi, the Gujarat government continued to ignore illegal dumping on private and government lands and rivers.
  • In 2010, Gujarat got the status of being the most polluted state containing the most polluted industrial site of Vapi with environmental pollution index score of 88.09.
  • Modi openly favours big industries, who he knows that they participate in the pollution of the state.

In fact, a perfect example of this privileged relationship with industries is the Adani Port and SEZ in Mundra, Gulf of Kutch. Since 2005, the group has been leased out 7,350 hectares of government land at a very cheap rate, between one and 45 US cents per square meter for 30 years, after which the lease could be renewed. The Adani Group sublet land to other companies, including state companies, such as the Indian Oil Corporation. It has now been proved, by a committee set up by the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to inspect the project, that the Adani Group is responsible for sea water ingress, pollution due to fly ash, destruction of the mangroves and the loss of fishermen’s livelihood. People of the area complained several times to local authorities, filed cases in the High Court against the Adanis. But only in 2012 someone started listening to them.

Based on Modi’s previous behaviour as chief minister of Gujarat, it would not be surprising if he uses the corporate social responsibility (CSR) for his own benefit. He might use CSR money to strengthen his political power, or he could use the money from CSR to allocate them in areas where it should be government responsibility.

It is ironical that Modi almost believed he was the Indian copy of Al Gore by publishing his book “A Convenient Action: Gujarat’s Response to Challenges of Climate Change”. Basically, he explains in this book how environmental protection can be turned into a profitable business. Once more he can brag to be the second politician in the world to pen a book about environment after Al-Gore.

The environmental issue is merely a political game, a business for the man who has now become Prime Minister. All these promises are mirages to make him appear as an innovator, the saviour of the environment, a man who will save India, but to what cost?

*Director, Paryavaran Mitra, Ahmedabad


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