New year came with rather distressing news for India’s forests and our environment with the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI). To be headed by the Prime Minister himself, the CCI is expected to grant fast track clearances to large scale infrastructure projects above 1000 crores (180 million USD) investment. The slow GDP growth is dictating Government policies and in the case of CCI, irrational and dangerous policies! Initially called the National Investment Board (NIB), the proposal stirred up a hornets nest with the environment ministry taking serious offence to such a proposal that devalues the role of MoEF in granting environment clearances through existing strong rules.
The CCI now has 15 ministers handpicked by the PM from his cabinet who are entrusted to review the procedures followed by ministries and departments while deciding on approvals. The environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan has received a special invitee status into the board but such nomenclature is more subversive of MoEf’s existing authorities. With an appalling lack of domain knowledge to take decisions pertaining to environmental impacts, the committee seems to be instituted to get more projects off the ground ergo more investments and energy for growth.
Speaking to the press, Saumitra Choudhary from the planning commission claims that the CCI will play a positive role in hastening clearances and enhancing investment in India from domestic and foreign corporations. There is also an ongoing discussion on undoing public hearings for projects which are in fact integral to the way we dispense justice and our sacrosanct laws around forests, human rights and livelihoods. Even suggesting such moves lays bare an attitude of callousness and undemocratic ideals from those in power.
The CCI and its work will need to be observed carefully and challenged at any level that violates the existing laws that aim to protect and conserve the invaluable natural resources of this country. Power, mining, steel and other big infra projects are to be scrutinized with much more vigor for violations of the rights of people, land and the environment. The new year has brought new challenges for civil society to tackle and we need to be on our toes all the time.