After Donald Trump got elected as President of the United States of America, the world started wondering what Earths future will be.
Terms like Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability were clearly not in Trumps “dictionary”. In fact he was both acidic and allergic about these terms right through his election campaign and I guess he continues to be.
“I would like to dismantle the office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We will have little tidbits left but we’re going to get most of it out,” he said this a number of times in his election speeches.
(By the way, if you looked for synonym for TRUMP in Microsoft Word, it cites Decider as the equivalent term. So Trump decides and others listen just like our PM!)
“What EPA does today is simply a disgrace. Every week EPA comes out with new regulations that destroy our business. I think it would be much better without the EPA as it will free up the US economy and let the economy boom forward. And we’ll be fine with the environment without EPA”
He said this to me as we entered one of the gold plated elevators of the Trump Tower. The buttons on the panel were studded with diamonds and so shining. This renovation was done right after the election results – someone said.
I was impressed to see Trump’s firm but friendly views on environment
I told him that he must visit India as soon as possible and meet our PM. “I am sure our PM will follow you and shut down the Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) and the State Department of Environments. These organizations are not effective and create unnecessary hurdles to India’s economic development”
“Yes, I am planning to visit. But I will be first in Mumbai where we have some business. I am doing a 75 stories Trump Tower there with the Lodha Group” Trump said this while ushering me in his private conference room. “Are you interested Dr Modak to book a flat there?” He asked me rather casually.
Proposed Trump Tower in Mumbai
“Oh, thank you for asking Mr. Trump. But I simply cannot afford” I said this in a voice like a mouse –while Trump was looking at me like a Lion.
“The problem with you is that you paid Income Tax to your Government for the last 30 years. Imagine you didn’t and did what I have been doing. The Tax money evaded would have helped you to get a 3 bed-room apartment in my Tower”. He winked.
He called for a coffee that was served by a beautiful girl with minimal dress reminding me of the book “Coffee, Tea or Me!”
“Well tell me more about your PCBs and DOEs” Trump continued our conversation “And I believe that you have a Union Ministry of Environment & Forests?”
“Yes, it’s called now as Ministry of Environment & Forests & Climate Change” I started explaining
“Oh, stop that Climate Change crap” Trump said this in an irritated tone. The first thing I am going to negotiate with your Government is ask your PM to drop from the Ministry’s title the term Climate Change. I don’t mind trading our nuclear secrets if Climate Change is dropped from your Ministry’s title. Managing Environment & Forests itself is a challenging task and adding the dimension of Climate Change (which is not real) just to show that you are contemporary will not help. Your Government must get realistic Dr Modak”
I thought that Trump had a point. We have been mismanaging our environment and forests on the ground for years. Perhaps, Climate Change is more of an elevated issue that could be dealt later.
[By the way, Trump has said that he does not believe the planet is warming as a result of human activity – despite the research-backed consensus reached long ago by researchers across the globe. He even tweeted publicly in 2012 that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” More recently, Trump has pledged to roll back Obama’s Clean Power Plan – a set of rules that requires states to substantially reduce their emissions over the next few decades]
“So have you considered shutting down these useless environmental offices” Trump insisted asking this question to me once again.
“Well, we cannot do that so easily” I told him
“We however started the process of review of India’s Environmental Governance in 2014 by appointing T S R Subramanian Committee”
This committee called as High Level Committee (HLC) was headed by Mr. Subramanian, retired cabinet secretary. The HLC was tasked with reviewing six environmental statutes namely, Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; and The Indian Forests Act, 1927.
The HLC was given only three months. In November 2014, the Committee submitted its report to the MoEF&CC
Following were the key recommendations
- Creation of a new “umbrella” law by subsuming the existing environmental laws. Under the proposed new Environment Law Management Act (ELMA), full-time expert bodies—National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and State Environment Management Authority (SEMA)—are to be established at the Central and State levels respectively. They should evaluate project clearance (using GIS based data and multi-disciplinary expertise), in a time bound manner, providing for single window clearance.
- The existing Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB) may be “subsumed” under NEMA and SEMA once the new bodies come into existence.
- An “environmental reconstruction cost” should be assessed for each project. The assessment should be on the basis of the damage caused by it to the environment and damage be dovetailed with the cost of the project. This cost has to be recovered as a cess or duty from the project proponent during the life of the project. An “Environment Reconstruction Fund” is proposed to be established for accumulation of this cost and other penalties recovered from projects.
- Protected areas and forests with over 70% of the tree coverage should be declared as ‘No GO’ areas. Compensatory afforestation in the revenue land should be modified to 2:1 from the existing 1:1 ratio. The compensatory afforestation in degraded forest land should be modified to 3:1 from the existing 2:1 ratio.
- Condition of approval by gram sabha (local body) should be removed particularly for linear projects like roads, railways or transmission lines.
- An all India Service with name as ‘India Environment Service’ may be created.
A Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) was appointed to review the report of HLC. In January 2015, a number of experts, including members of civil society organizations and non-profits, deposed before the PSC.
On the various observations and protests made, the recommendations of HLC were rejected by the PSC in July 2015. The PSC recommended that the Government should constitute a new committee to once again review the laws and this time conduct meaningful and wider consultations with all the stakeholders. The PSC feared that recommendations of the HLC “would result in an unacceptable dilution of the existing legal and policy architecture established to protect our environment”
I had a note printed out. I passed the note to Trump for a quick read.
“Oh, this is good” Trump said this gulping his coffee (Trump does not sip a coffee– sipping is done by people meek and gentle like me). “You were almost there but couldn’t close the deal” he said.
“You should have appointed a Transition Manager at a senior level –someone close to your PM – tasked solely to ramp this change. Your HLC lost out because his/her absence. I picked up Myron Ebell just for this very purpose – He will oversee the EPA transition”
[Myron Ebell is not a scientist, and has no degrees or qualifications in climate science. But he serves as Director of Global Warming and Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian advocacy group in Washington, DC. In practice, that means he spends his time rejecting and trying to discredit scientists who work to understand the global climate.
In an interview with Business Insider in August, Ebell repeatedly referred to climate scientists as “global warming alarmists” and suggested that climate research is in fact an arm of a coordinated political movement. Some said that having him lead the transition team at the EPA is literally putting a tobacco lobbyist in charge of America’s lung protection agency!]
I liked the term Transition Manager for the downsizing or closure of MoEFCC/PCB/DOE and implement reforms suggested by the HLC. Who could this Transition Manager be? I was wondering. Should it be Cyrus Mistry or Ratan Tata (who are fighting today on the transition) or the intellectual tycoons like Nandan Nilekani or Narayana Murthy who are used to outsourcing? Or perhaps the powerful Amit Shah or the disruptive Dr Subramanium Swamy? I started thinking about the options and the pros and cons.
Finally, while closing the coffee session, Trump changed the topic and asked me “Seems India is in turmoil right now because of the surprise demonetization directive on 500 and 1000 Rs notes. Tell me what’s happening on the ground other than I get to see on the TV channel -Times Now. ”
“We are struggling Mr. Trump given the size of population in the country and opposition parties putting all the spokes. We have given 50 days to exchange old currency notes with new notes. You can do this at the Banks, Post Offices and in rural areas and take help of the local coordinators or facilitators” I explained.
Trump listened to me, opened the door for me to exit and with some pause said like an afterthought.
“Why don’t you allow the industries to deposit the old currency at the offices of Pollution Control Boards? Firstly, most industries are used to deposit cash in these offices anyways, even in the normal circumstances”
But why should they as there will not be any currency exchange? I asked as usual a stupid question
“Well, You incentivize deposing of old 500 and 1000 Rs notes by extending the period of the validity of their permit (consent) given to the industry. The industries will be happy. The money deposited can be used finance the Environmental Reconstruction Fund your High Level Committee talked about. It’s not the case of converting black money to white but essentially black money to green.” Trump said this in a tone of a good business proposition.
Wow, I now realized how Mr. Donald Trump thinks and works!
As I got out of the elevator of the Trump Tower, I called Finance Minister of India, Mr. Arun Jaitley right away.
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