Interview with Jairam Ramesh

JAIRAM RAMESH, 57, is perhaps the most visible Minister of Environment and Forests India has ever had. His decisions in project after project have had industry and activists play a ‘he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not’ game. In a brief interview at his New Delhi office, a visibly tired Ramesh talked of why India needs green accounting for strong environmental governance. Excerpts from an interview.

In an earlier interview, you talked about going from being a gung-ho growthwallah to just a growthwallah. What happened along the way?
It’s my job. I have to be true to my job for as long as I have it, which may not be for long. I have to do it with transparency and clarity. Mind you, I do not promise to be consistent. When I clear projects, environmentalist Ashish Kothari doesn’t like me. When I block projects, Ashish Kothari likes me. I can’t do anything about that because I am not promising consistency. But the factors that prompted each decision are detailed in 100-page speaking orders on the ministry’s website. And that is what my job requires me to do. That is my karma.

You must be sick of being told that a nine percent growth rate and the environment are incompatible choices.
I don’t know about nine percent growth and the environment. Those numbers will have to be examined. But any growth involves difficult choices. If you are pushing for growth, the energy consumption has to grow too. Currently, we have a great dependence on coal. So how do we create energy sources that are sustainable? These choices will have to be debated and made explicit. But growth is never going to be painless.

What do you think of economist Pavan Sukhdev’s idea of a green economy for India? He says India has the potential for an economic boom through an influx of green jobs, particularly for the rural, unindustrialised sector.
Creating jobs is the first step. Green or any other colour has to be the next step. India adds eight to 10 million people to the workforce every year. China, the only other country that has a comparable demographic to India, adds only 1.5 million to the workforce every year. So the big challenge is to create the right economic environment where there are more jobs.

Are green jobs at the rural level — forest conservation, waste management, clean energy generation — something the environment ministry can push for?
We are not in the fatwa business. People have an outdated idea of the way the environment ministry functions — it is a remnant from a Soviet era of governance, which, thank god, we are not in anymore.

Do you think the idea of a green economy is a slippery slope? In a race to monetise the environment, will we devalue what is priceless?
Not at all. We cannot value anything we cannot measure. And we cannot manage anything we cannot value. That is why we have constituted an expert committee under the Cambridge economist Partha Dasgupta to calculate a Green GDP — a GDP adjusted for environmental costs. If there was a Nobel Prize for environmental economics, Partha Dasgupta would get it. The expert committee begins work in July and by 2015, India will have both a green GDP and savings adjusted for environmental costs. And that is just a beginning. We need to make new laws, review old ones and rethink environmental governance. We need to ensure that those who follow the law gain from it and those who don’t are penalised.


Newer Post Older Post Home