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Tough road ahead for India's new environment minister

May 21, 2009

Soon after joining office, the new environment minister in India will be hard-pressed to address key environmental issues before the Copenhagen summit takes off in December. Generating funds for the Green India programme and lobbying for a strong position in the global climate change dialogue are principal agendas.

New Delhi: There is a bag full of green issues that the next environment minister will have to tackle as he/she takes over. Some of them are politically tricky while others are keenly watched by the industry and yet more than that the entire world will be keeping an eye out for.

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The most high-profile issue on the table will be the climate change negotiations that will peak in December 2009 but have already hit the high pitch.

With the ministry housing the political sub-committee that carves the international position for India along with others, it has a hectic series of international meets in the next few months where India will be one of the key countries.

Even on the domestic climate change table, the minister will have to tackle the Green India programme which has got tricky since the last Parliament rejected the funding route for the multi-thousand crore project and the Supreme Court too jumped in to block it. The minister will have to find a way about to get the money for the ambitious programme to green six million hectares of degraded lands.

The environment ministry had, towards the end of the UPA’s term, cleared setting up of the Ganga River Basin Authority. The minister will now, for the first time, chair the inter-state and Centre group, which will try to manage the ecological flow in the entire river – a first in India.

The industry and development lobby though would be on the lookout for several other files on the minister’s table that are controversial as well as pending for a while – implementation of a new coastal environmental regulatory framework which has been hanging fire for a couple of years now and amendments to the environment clearance procedures which has the project developers' lobby and environment watchdogs pitted in an entrenched battle for a while now.

"The environment minister will have to possibly reinvent the role of the critical autonomous agency that is meant to monitor polluting entities"

The previous UPA regime had also seen some brainstorming on revamping and strengthening the Central Pollution Control Board.

The environment minister will have to possibly reinvent the role of the critical autonomous agency that is meant to monitor polluting entities and conduct scientific analysis as well as provide basis for regulatory controls. Working with a skeletal staff right now, its effectiveness has diminished as the Indian growth trajectory has hit a higher gradient.

The minister will be required to make it an agency with some teeth again. On the wildlife front, the much-watched tiger story is as usual going to be open for the minister to dwell into. The recent incidents of tigers straying out of the ‘wild’ into habitats had got the government thinking of ways of reducing human-tiger conflict while keeping the wild cat population healthy, or well, surviving.

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