Right-wing leaders, populist or not, focus a lot on neo-liberal or conservative policies when it comes to economic growth and to a great extent, Modi is no different. Many politicians have always seen economic growth and sustainability as a double-edged sword where one comes at the opportunity cost of the other. While pushing for certain economic policies, Modi too has brushed aside environmental concerns.
With seven of the ten most polluted cities in the world and third highest emissions of carbon gases, India has to take drastic measures to mitigate pollution levels in the country. India also faces a water-shortage crisis, making it one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. What can be observed in Modi’s environmental policies is that there is this clear disparity between what Modi wants to portray internationally as the global leader for climate action policies and his actual efforts in the domestic front.
To tackle the water crisis, Modi set up a dedicated ministry that would deal with the issue at hand to deliver tap water to every household in Indian by 2024 and make it the world leader in water conservation. Modi has already achieved the target of producing the world’s cheapest solar energy. In fact, the UNEP recognised Modi as the ‘Champion of the Earth’ under ‘Policy Leadership’ for promoting international environmental cooperation. All these instances show that an internationally acclaimed reputation is important to Modi and most of his pro-environmental policies align with them.
Yet, at home, the situation seems to be contradictory. Back in 2014, the government used its influence to lift a ban on setting up of factories in eight “critically polluted industrial belts” to speed up manufacturing and economic growth. Environment clearances for mid-size polluting factories, coal tar processing amongst others were also eased. The Modi government further used its bureaucratic power to increase the number of government representatives in the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) which were previously occupied by independent members, thereby increasing government control over matters chosen by the committee. Five years following the decision, 99.82% of the industrial projects were given clearance while the previous Congress-led government had only approved 80%. Modi’s objective was that the efficiency of these clearance procedures should be sped up. But this could also create loopholes or lead to oversight over environmental concerns.
Furthermore, Ken-Betwa river linking project, a project proposed by the government could potentially destroy 4000+ hectare of Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh. The government has also granted permission for coal mining in the state of Chhattisgarh in a densely forested area. The amendment of the Indian Forest Act (IFA) also gives more power to the forest authorities while snatching it away from the tribal communities that live there. Historically, tribal communities have been more active in protecting natural reserves. Although there have been more provisions for environmental conservation, such a move not only threatens the forestry but could also impact the livelihoods of the tribal villagers.
In most of these domestic issues, it can be observed that as Modi, just like many other leaders, saw the environment as an opportunity cost for economic growth. He focused on easing up policies in the manufacturing sector that could potentially open up growth. On the contrary, Modi still wants to be perceived by the international community as the flagbearer of sustainability and a shining example for other developing countries to emulate. He seemingly does a sufficient amount of work to get the international community off his back because of the terrible rankings India has for pollution. But most of these domestic policies often go overlooked. With economic and socio-cultural policies being prioritised not only by Modi but also by citizens, there is very little attention or protests against the polices that could lead to environmental degradation. Thus, while Modi finds it hard to get away with implementing acts such as the CAA, he could definitely do so in the environmental sector without anyone batting an eyelid.