My Professor Friend called me on Sunday morning to his house for a breakfast. “Dr Modak, I have something very important to share. I need your feedback”
I was more interested to have the Appam that his wife was famous for. Appam is a type of pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. Hot and fresh Appams with a mild Sambhar and a thick green Coconut Chutney was to me a great beginning of a lazy Sunday.
As soon as I arrived, Professor ushered me to his study. He looked tense as well as excited.
“PM has asked me to write his speech for January 26, India’s Republic Day”
He said this and paused
I knew that Professor was PM’s “ghost writer” for the past 2 years. Many of the national initiatives that PM recently launched including the recent jolt on “De-Monetization” were essentially conceived by the Professor. Only few know this well-known secret.
“So, what’s the plan for January 26?” I asked Professor. I told him that PM’s new year speech wasn’t that exciting.
“Oh, this time, I suggested the PM that we shake up the national environmental governance” said the Professor lighting his cigar. Few understand that country’s environmental governance influences our resource economy (e.g. GDP, Investor flows), competitiveness of the business and the livelihoods (including employment, health). Most look at environment as a silo.
“We will follow the style we introduced in De-Monetization of 500 and 1000 Rs notes i.e. phase out and replace and get rid of the “sins” Professor said this while taking a deep puff from the cigar.
“Wow and how do you propose to do so” I was all curious
Well, this is what I propose that PM should speak while addressing the Nation on January 26
“Mere Pyare Baheno aur Bhaio” (my beloved ladies and gentlemen)
India’s environmental governance is today largely controlled by the National Environmental Policy of 2006 and the Environmental Protection Act of 1986. The Environmental Impact Assessment Notification majorly amended in 2004 in specific, rules the national development by examining the environmental and social impacts of the projects a priori. The environmental and social (E&S) management plans are stipulated as conditions for impact mitigation. An Environmental Clearance (EC) is accordingly issued at the Center or State level.
I have come to know that these EC’s are hardly any effective on the ground. EC has just remained a paper of license to pollute. And unfortunately, there is a nexus between project proponents, consultants and the “regulatory system”.
I therefore wish to derecognize the ECs granted or applicable so far. From mid-night of January 26, all ECs held will just be worth of a paper with no legal standing. All the EC’s will essentially be in-valid or terminated. “
Professor took a pause as he saw my shocked face.
“All the concerned project proponents / institutions will have to reapply for obtaining a new EC. This can be now be done on-line from MoEFCC’s website or using a Mobile application. The new Mobile Application is called DHARMA (Dharma was the eldest brother of Pandava’s and senior to BHIM)
Well, Dr Modak, please come up with a good expansion of the word DHARMA – Professor said
(Dharma is the moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one’s life. Some of you may know that two weeks ago, PM announced a new digital payments app named BHIM — Bharat Interface for Money — after Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar – a clever captioning of the App wooing a large section of the society. I decided to help Professor to come up with expansion of the acronym DHARMA on similar lines that can get rid of the “ADHARMA” of EC and give a political advantage to the PM)
“When the new applications for EC will be received, these will be scrutinized by the Income Tax Department apart from the Environmental and Social Specialists, NGOs and Government Representatives. Based on the splendid performance of the Income Tax officers in De-Monetization, I am very keen to involve Income Tax Officers (ITOs). All senior ITO officers will be trained in Reviewing Environmental Impact Assessments. Its not a difficult subject and I am confident that anyone with little training can master it”
“Interesting” I exclaimed. These ITOs I am sure will be better than the scientists and engineers at the Pollution Control Boards who are expected to follow compliance with the conditions stated in the EC. Besides, the ITOs are well versed in conducting surprise raids.
The Professor smiled and continued
“There is one option however to retain the EC. All those project proponents who demonstrate that they have implemented and complied with the EC conditions will only be permitted to retain the EC. A time limit of 50 days will be given for this purpose”
“This is so kind of the PM” I could see the consistency of 50 days grace period PM wants to maintain between the EC Phase out and the “rules” earlier followed under De-Monetization “But thats going to be quite a task Professor!”
“Well, only those proponents who are serious will succeed. India’s environment and economy will improve in the next 50 days. These serious proponents will deserve the concession of retaining the ECs and all those who fail in implementing the agreed E & S management conditions will have to reapply” Professor said this in a tone of matter of fact.
(I knew however that this is going to be a cake walk for the Indian project proponents as most of the conditions stated in the EC are “broad” and “ambiguous” and hence very difficult to audit or subject to verification. During De-monetization folks in India could come up with “alternate” methods of monetizing wads of 500 and 1000 Rs notes with the help of Chartered Accountants. Similarly, the smart project developers could easily show that the EC conditions are well implemented with the help of “environmental consultants”. But I did not want to say this to the Professor as he was all charged with enthusiasm and optimism)
“We have undertaken a nation-wide exercise of examining the conditions stated in all the ECs granted so far. We expect to see a considerable commonality given our “boiler plate” approach across the ECs. Conditions like plant more trees, don’t generate too much dust and noise during construction, don’t employ child labor etc. are the kind of conditions we often see.
I am asking the Union Minister of MoEFCC to come up with a standard package of such basic conditions or good practices distilled out of the past ECs. This package will be imposed automatically on any proponent who will make an application for EC under the DHARMA system. It’s the DHARMA that every proponent must follow and the project design must integrate or mainstream these consideration – irrespective of project type, size and location”
“Well Professor, this is really going to be so reformative! All the “black or dark operations” happening in India’s Environmental Governance today will get addressed and eliminated – amd before the next election”. I said this in all praise and sincerity to the Professor (and of course the PM)
So, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on January 26 was certainly going to be earth shattering.
I thought of meeting my friend on the 101th floor in Mumbai. Some of you probably know about him. This friend is the richest person in the world with all the clout and the might – but prefers to live rather discretely.
When I reached his pent house, he was speaking to Donald Trump on the phone. He was discussing with him future global strategies that will help generate more confusion or chaos while making good money.
He put the phone down and looked at me “Yes Dr Modak, you look so tensed”
I leaked out to him the details of the January 26 speech by the PM
My friend wasn’t perturbed at all
“I don’t know much about the Environmental Clearance requirements in India. In my multi-billion-dollar business across the world, I have not taken any such ECs – and so also by my friend Donald Trump!” He said this while eating a Chicken Caesar’s salad with walnuts.
I asked him to get me a stiff single malt whisky on ice.
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