Narendra Modi and Climate Change-- A Response

Mr. Narendra Modi - ‘CONVENIENT ACTION – Gujarat’s Response To Challenges of Climate Change’ has conveniently ignored the level of irreversible environmental degradation in the State of Gujarat.

Convenient omission of the inconvenient truth and reality in the book. 

Rohit Prajapati

Environmental Activist of Gujarat and Member of Radical Socialist

The book of Mr. Narendra Modi ‘CONVENIENT ACTION – Gujarat’s Response To Challenges of Climate Change’ is extraordinary. In the beginning of the book, on unnumbered page 4, the author has quoted Swami Vivekananda: “All nature is bound by law, the law of its own action; and this law can never be broken. If you could break a law of nature, all nature would come to an end in an instant. There would be no more nature.”  One can only wish that the spirit of this quote should be reflected in the policies and actions of the government. The book has a lot of selectively presented information and data which are convenient to defend the ‘development model’ being pursued by the state. The author of the book has conveniently ignored the level of irreversible environmental degradation in the state of Gujarat.

Reading the book one gets the impression that the author is not acquainted with the bare-minimum basic grassroots level reality of Gujarat. The book completely ignores the fact that it is written about one of the leading industrialised states in the country. It appears as if the author has not had a chance to visit the “Golden Corridor” of Gujarat. The author seems not to have had access to information from the ‘Gujarat Ecology Commission’ of the Government of Gujarat, and to press coverage on pollution in Gujarat by almost all newspapers over the last 15 years. Even a Google search on 'pollution in Gujarat’ would have provided him lots of information to do just ‘cut and paste’ into his book. The author could also have used the Right to Information Act to get basic information from the Central Pollution Control Board and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board to find out the status of the environment of Gujarat State. Perhaps the limited access to information led the author to include on page 132-133 a photo of the “Common Effluent Treatment Plant” of Vapi, a facility which is not able to fulfil the environmental norms prescribed by Gujarat Pollution Control Board since many years. While the photo is very large, there is no discussion about the functioning of CETP of Vapi. The author completely ignores the failure of all major ‘industrial effluent treatment facilities’ of Gujarat. This is one of the major failure of Gujarat state which should not be ignored or bypass by any author who write about the environment of Gujarat.

The functioning of Gujarat Pollution Control Board and the effectiveness of the effluent treatment plants in key chemical industrial areas like Vatva, Nandesari, Ankleshwar and Vapi also remain outside the purview of the book. It would have been interesting to read what Mr. Modi would have had to say, since the industries are undergoing moratorium from the Ministry of Environment and Forests for unabated cycle of pollution which continues to impact adversely all kinds of lives – human, agriculture and livestock.

The forward written by Steve Howard states: “I would call this unique compendium of action a ‘Green Autobiography’ of Narendra Modi who has shown a definite path and determined strategy to meet the Challenges of Climate Change, as we approach Cancun for COP16[1].” Mr. Howard is evidently equally ignorant about the level of irreversible environmental degradation in the state of Gujarat.

In reality, Gujarat’s environment needs immediate firm affirmative action to stop the degradation of environment, but for Chief Minister and industries of Gujarat it is not convenient to their profit, investment, and “development model”.

The author’s introduction of the book is deliberately silent about the environmental impact of industrialisation of Gujarat. While the book’s first chapter ‘From Water Riots to Water Security’  discusses on page 25 that ‘The number of fluoride affected habitations increased from 2,826 in the year 1992 to 4,187 by the year 2003’, it conveniently ignores the contamination of surface and ground water of Jetpur and from Vatva to Vapi. On  page 40 a data table is provided about the ‘Status Of Fluoride Affected Habitations’, but similar data available with the title ‘Critical Pollutants in the Critically Polluted Talukas’ in ‘State Environmental Action Programme - Industrial Pollution’, April 2002 a report of ‘Gujarat Ecology Commission’ prepared by Tata Consultancy Services, is conveniently omitted. The soft copy is available and the author could have used simple ‘cut and paste’ for the table, and could also have inserted the Gujarat map showing contamination of ground water in Gujarat from the report.

In the chapter ‘Big is Also Beautiful (Sardar Sarovar Project)’ the author states “Narmada water been released in the dry beds of Heran, Orsang, Karad, Dhadhar, Mahi, Saidak, Mohar, Sedhi, Watrak, Meshwo, Khari, Sabarmati and Saraswati rivers. The ecology and water quality of these rivers have drastically improved over the last couple of years. In addition to minor rivers, around 700 village tanks have also been filled-up with Narmada water as part of drought management measures, which has substantially improved the water availability for irrigation purpose in these villages.” First a small correction – Mahi River is known as Mahi Sagar and is not a Minor River. The author conceals the fact that Sardar Sarovar Dam has affected the downstream ecology, and that the quality and quantity of water of the downstream villages has got severely affected. The author also conveniently ignores the fact that Sardar Sarovar Project had submerged the rich forest and had displaced lakhs of people.

In the chapter ‘Silenced River Springs Back to Life (reviving Sabarmati river by inter-basin water transfer)’ the author very rightly becomes emotional and states ‘One day while passing through one of the bridges of Sabarmati River that connects eastern Ahmedabad with its ever expanding Western side, I show a few children playing cricket in the dry riverbed. […] On the other hand in absence of regular release of water from Dharoi dam in upstream, this river practically remained without any source of water. […] The river samples taken in November 2003 showed a high level of Bio Oxygen Demand, Chemical Oxygen Demand, Chlorides, Sulphates, Total Dissolved Solids, Suspended Solids, Fecal Coliform and very less Dissolved Oxygen, all of which cause water-born diseases and have an adverse impact on aquatic life.” The concern of the author is laudable, but if he had then visited the Sabarmati River downstream of Ahmedabad, he would have witnessed contamination of the river, where farmers are forced to use this contaminated water for agriculture and buffalos and cows drink the same water. The author further states in this chapter  “During last three years on an average, 600 to 1,200 MCM of water [From Narmada Canal] was released every year in the dry bed of river Sabarmati, which gets stored in a stretch of 10.6 km – right upto Vasna Barrage.” This conveniently ignores the fact that the Sabarmati River is not just 10.6 km long and does not end at Vasna Barrage of Ahmedabad but flows beyond this through various villages, where people are facing severe problems because of contamination of the river. The Sabarmati is 371 kames. long, the stretch from Ahmedabad to Vautha being 52 km long and Vasna Barrage to Vautha being identified as a polluted stretch. Even photos from Google Earth would have given the author some idea about the contamination of Sabarmati River. Even today he might do well to visit the complete Sabarmati beyond Vasna Barrage of Ahmedabad, or even to look at the river in ‘Google Earth’. The author also ignores the fact that the Narmada also does not have an infinite quantity of water and because of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, what had happened to the Sabarmati River has started happening to the Narmada River as well.

The author also states: “The primary objective of this escape structure was to safely release the canal water to Sabarmati River in the event of any sort of mismatch between demand and supply which could cause a potential threat to the safety of the canal. […] With the stage-wise increase in the Sardar Sarovar Dam height and associated enhancement in available storage, this escape structure became a perennial source of water for Sabarmati River.” The author appears to have forgotten the real purpose of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which is to supply water to Saurashtra and Kutch as tom-tommed by all Governments including the present one. Secondly and most importantly the Narmada does not have an infinite quantity of water and cannot become the perennial source for the Sabarmati.

The author is shockingly and surprisingly proud of converting 10.6 km of Sabarmati River flowing inside Ahmedabad into a canal. In my view, conversion of the river into the canal is a major environmental disaster in the long run. The author is less concerned about the river and its ecology than with the ‘River Front project’, which is all about money, real estate, investment and profit. This is nothing short of investment-mania.

Predictably the Sardar Sarovar Dam and river linking projects are cited in with details of so-called benefit it will accrue, but not a word on their adverse impact, reported in so many downstream studies not only in case of Narmada, but Sabarmati and Mahi as well. While there is complete silence on the industrial contamination of their waters in downstream areas, how big dams and river linking projects can be an ideal intervention programmes in face of climate change remains unclear.

In the chapter ‘Reducing Urban Warming’ the author states: “To ease the traffic congestion and simultaneously reduce the GHG emission, we have carefully planned and executed the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) at a cost of around Rs. 9,820 million. This would ultimately reduce the movement of 400,000 vehicles per day and carry 100,000 additional passengers through BRTS buses over and above AMTS buses.”  Development of better public transport is indeed an urgent need for all major cities of Gujarat, and BRTS is a step towards this. However, it would have been nice if the author had provided data on the alarming rise in the number of vehicles from 2000 onwards. The ‘family planning’ of the number of private vehicles being added to the roads is an urgent necessity. The Government of Gujarat does not have an affirmative policy for this. It is understandable that the government that invited Nano cannot afford to think about this.

The author has talked a lot about Carbon Credit with reference to Gujarat State. The concept of ‘Carbon Credit’ is an academic cover up for a failed anti-environmental capitalism. A carbon credit is a generic term for any tradable certificate or permit representing the right to emit one tonne of carbon or carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). The academic jugglery hides the destruction of the climate. Under the Kyoto Agreement, every country has a “carbon quota”, i.e., the right to further degrade the environment is distributed globally. Carbon credit and carbon trading are then the mechanisms by which the environment itself is used to further capitalist goals. The more wealthy and more industrial powers can buy the carbon credits of the less developed. Carbon credit and carbon trading thus constitute a right to pollute arrogated by the powerful to themselves. Such carbon credit is imaginary credit and by doing so you are reducing the moral standard set for normal individuals, or for any fair and just society. The author in the book has used the term carbon credit casually and in a perfunctory manner. I can understand if you are taking any extraordinary step to reduce the green house gasses and then you talk about carbon credit for such action. But Gujarat State has to take lot of steps and drastically introduce a turnaround before it can use the term credit in conjunction with carbon. ‘Carbon Debit’ might be a better word for what Mr. Modi has inspired capitalists to do in Gujarat.

In the chapter ‘Green (Golden Jubilee) Pledge’ to protect the environment, the author’s main focus is only on people; the chapter is completely silent about the pledge for industrialists of Gujarat who are major culprits for environmental degradation in the state. This is hardly surprising, given the silence on the burning issue of industrial pollution in the state throughout the book.

I broadly agree with the author’s one statement in conclusion which states: ‘For readers of this book my advice is to pause for a moment and think about all that we take from nature in a day to live and then to realize that it does not ask for anything in return. That is what is known as true giving. Then let us not be too selfish to exploit nature mindlessly when the very foundations of our civilization rest on the harmonious co-existence with nature.’ Keeping aside the content and half truth of the book this statement is for the Government of Gujarat and its industrialists to take to heart and it may be hoped that they will understand its real meaning.

[1] Conference of the Parties of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change