Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lajalu Plant & Environment Clearence!

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”…Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore "T.R." Roosevelt, Jr. was the 26th President of the United States. He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement. Apart from all his achievement his keen eye about the environment even as early in 70’s shows his foresight about the future of the planet especially on biodiversity front! What he has said about USA holds true for every nation & especially country like ours which has such a beautiful heritage of culture & nature. But in the name of development & greed based needs we have not only overheard such wise words but call of nature too!

Recently a small news about a plant getting extinct from Pune city caught my attention; it’s about “Lajalu” i.e. “touch me Not” plant. Most of us who are now in our 40’s, have beautiful memories of touching the leaf of lajalu tree with our figure tip & get thrilled by the reaction of the leaf! It used to get contract with the touch, very distinct yet important specie of the plant & a unique phenomenon of the nature also, the lajalu tree. And that’s why the name lajalu has been given to it in Marathi & it’s this characteristic of the plant which has inspired many poets also! The news said that due to extreme use of land for human needs the habitat for lajalu plants is been destroyed so much that now there are hardly any plants can be find within Pune city area. Same is true regarding many small shrubs or plants like terda, zendu which could be seen in abundance earlier on the sides of road or any corner in open lands in & around the city. Many as usual must not have even noticed the small piece of news as when there is so much interesting happening on country’s politics front, so who the hell cares for a lajalu plant getting extinct from the city & what it matters for us! But those like me who in their childhood have touched lajalu leaf or chased butterflies wandering over hundreds of flowers of such small plants blossoming around every corner of the road, will definitely understand what they will be missing today! Our development is boon for many but at the same time its curse for all such species which can’t speak out their sufferings!

Now on the other hand side there was one more news which does made front page & head line, it’s about Hon Environment & Forest Minister has resigned though many will say has to resign, for not giving Environment Clearance for large number of projects across the country. Reasons may be any but the term EC i.e. Environment Clearance has become code word now especially for the large real estate projects. Most of the people who are not related to the subject for them, any project with built-up area potential more than two lac sq ft has to get EC which is in common language no objection certificate from the Ministry of Environment & Forests popularly known as MOEF at Central Govt level i.e. from Delhi. 

Like any other policy for this industry this one also has been aimed at good things but as usual no groundwork is in place so it has become just one more hurdle for the already NOC ridden industry. And this is not the builder in me speaking, this is a common man who sees the things around & can’t understand the logic of them is speaking! No two minds that for any big project or development what its impact on the environment will be, has to be analyzed but the at what level & in how much time span this has to be done will also should be framed. Rather when we speak about Metros like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore then we have already made their development plans which does covers all details like future growth, population, how much land will be covered for which use i.e. residential, industrial, agricultural or commercial. Also the infrastructure needs have been defined & made provision in form of reservations right from roads to gardens to play grounds like things. Then if someone is doing the development in the form of planned use or purpose, what’s use of asking for EC from the central? Why not the development plans of the cities or regional development plans itself has got EC from the MOEF? As only if the use of the land is being changed from what shown in the development plan then one can say there is going to be environmental impact due to this & in such case that assessment will be required.

And even if one agrees to obtain the EC then for many years the procedure for the same was as usual so tiring that there was just one committee for entire Maharashtra which was taking hearings for the same. Also with due respect to that committee there wasn’t any standard form of questioner was there. Right now also there are only two such committees for the entire State! Also the committee should be in position to provide the suggestions for any improvement required to do in the basic planning of the project instead just pointing out the objections, which isn’t happening. Then the objections should be oriented to conservation of the environment & not what is the surrounding infrastructure type suggestions which in actual is the responsibility of local governing body. For e.g. what is the road width of the access road to the project & is there any school around or how is the condition of drainage line network around the project & water arrangement type is questions are asked. Again agreed when any new project is going to come on any open land it will need these basic infrastructural things but then isn’t it the duty of local government which does take all type of taxes & development charges for the same & keeping this in mind only the development plans of the cities are made? Then why raise such issues instead targeting the hardcore environmental issues like conservation of biodiversity & nature around as well utilizing natural energy resources type’s efforts? 

Then the time involved in getting this EC is main hurdle; as per present functioning it takes nearly one & half to two years for the same & that’s a great burden for any industry. Already nobody gets finance for buying a land & then without the EC you can’t start the project so for this much time span the whole investment is idle & interest keeps mounting. This gets reflected in finish products costing, which gets higher just because of the time lag & this added money which the need user only has to pay for, is sheer National Waste! As on one side the Govt is continuously appealing rather blaming the developers for high rates of homes & on other side is royally ignoring such hidden hurdles in bringing the costs down. Why can’t there be committees per district or at least per Metro where development is fast? Why the MOEF can’t designate the local governing body authority to issue EC with standard environmental norms to follow & only in exceptional cases one will have to go to Delhi? Why isn’t there any check on the speed with which the existing evaluation committees works? So many questions needs to be answered, as any law if it become nuisance then people tends to bend it around is a fact.

Nobody is against the EC or any environmental law but it’s the way which the law is being implemented, there lies the problem! At the same time awareness levels regarding the environment need to be raised, not just amongst the common man but the developers as well officers who are part of the system. They should know what environmental conservation in actual means rather than just getting an NOC from some department by feeling some forms & submitting many drawings!

It’s high time to analyze the systems like obtaining EC in itself & get them in tune with the actual needs regarding environment conservation; as well associate them with basic needs of the common man which includes a simple decent home of his own in his budget. Otherwise projects will keep getting EC’s, rates of the homes for common man will keep on rising & at the same time plants like “lajalu” will keep getting extinct making the cities real Concrete Jungle! And all we so called educated brains will be doing is blaming each other for destruction our own self in this entire process!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

MSEDCL (Power) Committee, Credai, Pune

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