Green Signals : Ecology, Growth And Democracy In India
Lakshmy Raman reviews Green Signals: Ecology, Growth and Democracy in India by Jairam Ramesh
Published by Oxford University Press India, 2015
Hardcover; 616 pages;
Price: Rs. 850/-
He is one of India’s savviest politicians with a temperament to court controversy. As Union Minister of Environment and Forests with the UPA government between May 2009 and July 2011, he surely made ‘green’ issues press-worthy. He was often accused by industry of stifling India’s growth. Environmentalists acknowledged his intelligence and willingness to listen, but felt let down by the continuing trend of clearances to several ecologically damaging projects, such as the POSCO steel plant that continued apace during his tenure. However, given the current NDA government’s lack of transparency, unwillingness to debate environmental issues and one-track mind motivated by business interests, Jairam Ramesh’s tenure seems almost golden in hindsight.
The environment seems to still be on Ramesh’s mind – his book Green Signals: Ecology, Growth and Democracy in India – is an offering that aims to suggest ways to balance development and environment protection. At about 600 pages, the book does not make light reading but is a valuable and well-written reference to understand the workings of the MoEF. By providing a record of the 25 months he held office, Ramesh gives the reader an insight into the opaque workings of the Ministry and the factors that often influenced decisions.
Ramesh traces his own development from being agnostic about the environment to someone who began to care, and outlines why growth can no longer afford to be exclusive. He writes, “The pulls and pressures of our ever-changing world made one thing clear that environmental concerns could no longer be the also-ran in our relentless pursuit of higher GDP growth. Not only would environmental concerns have to be at the core of larger economic decisions but, sometimes, it would even have to be the driving force.”
Ramesh’s tenure saw him take on a variety of issues from genetically modified brinjal and uranium mining in Manipur to the Jaitapur nuclear plant and mining in Niyamgiri – and each are elaborated on in the book. His ‘speaking orders, speeches, parliamentary questions and responses and letters are also included. He also devotes several pages to the vital issues of energy demand and the go-no-go coal mining controversy. Climate change policies are particularly discussed in detail, perhaps a reflection of his current position as Chair of the Future Earth Engagement Committee.
His main goal as Minister was to bring in openness and accountability, a task he did undertake with all seriousness. However, his ideology that the environment decision-making process should not be tampered with – that due processes must be followed whether the eventual decision is in favour of the environment or not – has already been muzzled by the current government. Ramesh writes, “The debate is really not one of environment versus development but really one of adhering to rules, regulations, and laws versus taking the rules, regulations, and laws for granted.”
And therein lies the Achilles heel. Environmental laws continue to be at the mercy of the government at the helm – and today the environment ministry has once again become nothing more than a clearance stamp.
Reviewed by Lakshmy Raman
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, June 2015.