How To Be A ‘Good Environmentalist’ In India
(Photographer: Neha Sinha)

How To Be A ‘Good Environmentalist’ In India

BloombergQuintOpinion

Everyone is talking about the environment – how the climate is changing, how we should ‘build back better’ after the pandemic, how we must cut down on plastic, clean the oceans, and plant trees. It’s definitely cool to be an environmentalist. But one shouldn’t have any engagements that are any deeper than planting trees and using hashtags. Here are three ways to become a ‘successful’ environmentalist in India.

Make Sure You Are Okay With Conserving Wildlife Without Any Budgets

The new Union Budget is eye-opening. It implies that wildlife conservation should happen without money.

Legal advocacy group Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment points out that the new budget gives more money to the silk board than to the tiger. The government takes pride in announcing tiger numbers and the establishment of tiger reserves. For instance, the centre has approved the establishment of India’s 51st tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu (and the state’s fifth such reserve). Yet, despite inflation, the budget for the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which manages tiger reserves, stands reduced. From Rs 10.5 crore last year, it is now Rs 10 crore. While tiger reserves are in states, the NTCA is an important body that oversees best-practice and smooth functioning. For instance, with a tiger contracting coronavirus last year in New York, the NTCA had put in place a protocol to prevent the spread of coronavirus in tiger reserves.

(Photographer: Neha Sinha)
(Photographer: Neha Sinha)

We are still grappling with the full environmental extent of the pandemic, but the government has simultaneously stressed its intention to make budgetary cuts. An office memorandum circulated by the government earlier proposed cutting funds for the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Wildlife Institute of India, and the Indian Institute of Forest Management among others.

In the new budget, the Wildlife Institute of India’s funds have been cut by about Rs 10 crore and now stands at Rs 25 crore. The intent is to reduce the institute’s mandate – currently engaged as a thinktank that provides autonomous advice to the government on issues of wildlife conservation. The new role envisaged for the WII is to teach and conduct courses.

Also read: Wildlife In All Its Glory, While We Were In Lockdown

Make Sure You Support EIAs Designed To Clear Projects At Any Cost

In a recent glacier break in Uttarakhand—which created a huge flood—several lives were lost. It was clear however that the damage would not have been so rampant if the huge structures were not there. Some of the people trapped were in a tunnel, part of the Tapovan-Vishnugad dam project. The dams themselves were weaponised, as they added to the force of the debris after being swept away by the force of the water. The Tapovan-Vishnugad dam, on Dhauliganga River in Chamoli District, was destroyed.

It’s important to look back at the stellar logic employed in the Impact Assessment provided by NTPC for this dam project – undertaken by the Asian Development Bank.

On the issue of the decline of water quality, the assessment notes that water quality will indeed come down but this isn’t a problem as the water is already full of sediments. It says: “A decline in water quality will occur along the 11 km reach of the Dhauliganga below the barrage during project operation because of a higher concentration of sediment during the monsoon and when intermittent sediment flushing is undertaken in the transition period between the monsoon and dry seasons. The impact of the increased sediment load is unlikely to be significant because the river has a naturally high sediment load during these periods.”

(Photographer: Neha Sinha)
(Photographer: Neha Sinha)

On the impact on fish, the assessment says there will be little impact as the fish will not be able to access the project site anyway, due to the construction of other downstream dams. “The effect of the Project on fish migration is likely to lessen over time, as several hydroelectric projects are planned on the Alaknanda River below the project tailrace and mid- to longer-range migratory species are therefore unlikely to reach the project area,” the assessment says.

To be a good environmentalist it is therefore important to agree to the unique logic put forth by impact assessments paid for by project developers.

Also read: When ‘Development’ Marches Through Himalayan Forests

Create A New Language

The Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has a new definition for deforestation. He calls it reforestation. Never mind that ‘compensatory forests’ (in lieu of reserve forests that are cut) are often not planted or monitored and saplings do not perform like trees do.

Similarly, the word ‘toolkit’ has a different definition now – it used to mean ‘dossier’ and is often used by government apologists, film stars, or public elected representatives in tweetstorms of identical tweets. Today, toolkit means sedition, war, and plain bad character.

With young dissenters in jail, EIAs without science, budgetary cuts for wildlife conservation, and the new language of the environment, you are sure to do well in your chosen pet cause.

Neha Sinha is a conservation biologist. She is the author of ‘Wild and Wilful - Tales of 15 iconic Indian species’ (HarperCollins India).

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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