The Congress on Saturday accused the government of weakening environment and forest laws and institutions working for conserving environment in order to facilitate ease of doing business.
On the 50th anniversary of Project Tiger which was started by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi on this day, Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh said the legacies of both this project and the Chipko movement which also completed 50 years a few days ago are under threat from this government.
”This government is deliberately weakening the laws and institutions working towards forest conservation and environment,” he told reporters.
”We are against this liberalisation and the laws should be strictly enforced and institutions should be strengthened while dealing with today’s biggest challenge of changes in the environment,” he also noted.
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Attacking the government, he said, ”They have a mindset that environment laws are against the ease of doing business. So they want to weaken these laws so that people do not feel that projects are delayed because of environment laws.” Noting that our laws say that the project can be implemented only after the rights of those living in forests are given, the Congress leader said that is why Adani project in Jharkhand is being opposed by our government there.
Ramesh also alleged that their (BJP government’s) target has been the Forest Conservation Act as businessman think the environment laws are an impediment in growth, but asserted they don’t know that these laws are necessary for people.
”If you weaken the laws, then this will have a negative effect on people’s health.” ”It is very clear that there is an agenda and the target is to weaken all environmental and forest laws because the view of the Niti Aayog and the government is that these are regulatory burdens and they don’t look upon these as societal obligations. That is the fundamental reason,” he stressed.
The Congress leader also cited instances where the government has sent the Forests Amendment bill to a select committee of Parliament instead of sending it to the Parliamentary Standing Committee.
He said that a few months ago the wildlife protection act was amended and the Congress had opposed it, because due to that amendment the doors were being opened on the trade of elephants through it. ”The dangers due to this amendment in the law, the trade on elephants was banned but the government has been given the right to allow trade of elephants,” he claimed.
”Two days ago in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Forest Conservation Act 1980, the government brought a bill to amend it and has been sent to the Select Committee and not the Standing Committee as I am the chairman of the Standing Committee,” he claimed.
Ramesh said on March 27, 1973 in Mandal village in Uttarakhand, women started the Chipko movement and it proved as an important milestone in environment conservation as it created consciousness about environment protection.
He said Indira Gandhi started the project Tiger in Uttarakhand at Corbett National Park on April 1, 1973 and nine tiger reserves were selected across the country.
These include the Corbett and Ranthambore in the north, Melghat and Kanha in mid-India, Bandipur in South, Simlipal, Sunderbans and Palamu in eastern India and Manas in northeastern India, he said, adding that today there are 53 such tiger reserves.
”Today is the 50th anniversary of Project Tiger and of Chipko Andolan, both of whose legacies are under threat from this government.” Terming Project Tiger as the most successful example of environment conservation, he said, Indira Gandhi felt that not just tigers will be preserved but forests will also be conserved.
”Today due to that project tiger, our 53 tiger reserves comprise one-third of our thick forests across the country,” Ramesh said, adding that not just an animal was preserved but it proved an important step for preserving our forests.
”But, its political, economic and social importance is that all our laws are in danger today,” he noted.
The gains made in last 50 years in saving and conserving our forests, are all in danger today, he said.
The Congress leader said it is not just their party which is opposing the amendments to the forest laws but cited a four-page letter by National Commission for Scheduled Tribes chairman Harsh Chauhan, on September 26, 2022, to Environment and Forest Minister where he has clearly stated that the amendments in rules and laws are not in the interest of tribals living in forests and it goes against the Forest Rights Act passed in Parliament in 2006 as it takes away the forest rights of tribals.
Ramesh earlier shared old pictures of Indira Gandhi with tigers and wildlife on Twitter and said, ”15 months after she launched Gir Lion Project, Indira Gandhi heralded Project Tiger exactly 50 years ago today at Corbett. There were 9 tiger reserves then. Today, there are 53. For her, protecting tigers = protecting forests. Tiger reserves are one-third of rich forest areas now.” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge also shared a picture of tigers on Twitter and said, ”50 years ago, ‘Project Tiger’ was launched by Smt. Indira Gandhi for habitat conservation of the Tiger.” ”This landmark initiative ensured a viable tiger population for economic, scientific, cultural and ecological values. Let us continue protecting this majestic animal,” he said.