A real environmental audit

What poetic justice that a high official in the Environment Ministry should be arrested for corruption in the week that the Kumbh Mela began. If there is a measure of the uselessness of this ministry, it is the shameful state of the Ganga and the Yamuna despite thousands of crore rupees of taxpayers' money having been poured into the cleaning of these sacred rivers. As someone who has been following this story right from the time that Rajiv Gandhi's government initiated its first Ganga Action Plan, I can report with certainty that these rivers would have been restored to pristine purity long ago had officials down the line been less corrupt.

The buck stops at the Environment Ministry. It must explain where the money went. It must explain why officials involved in the supposed cleaning of these rivers have not been sacked and publicly humiliated. It must explain why we are still only talking about banning raw sewage from being poured into these rivers. And, it must explain why we are still only talking about banning the dumping of poisonous industrial effluents into these rivers. Why have these measures not already been taken despite nearly 25 years having passed since the original Ganga Action Plan was launched?

If proof were needed that the Ministry of Environment needs to be replaced immediately by an Environment Protection Agency manned by real environmentalists, that proof lies in the polluted waters of the Ganga and the Yamuna. How much longer do we need to wait before admitting that the Environment Ministry has been derelict in dealing with the really big environmental problems in India while, at the same time, making a lot of sound and fury over things that do not matter?

No government has had a worse record than this one when it comes to this because it has allowed the Environment Ministry to concentrate its attentions on harassing big business and stopping major infrastructure projects instead of doing its real job. Since 2004, the ministry has been headed by ministers who turned it into a vehicle for a new license raj. No less a person than the Prime Minister has been forced to admit this. But, because until recently the mighty National Advisory Council (NAC) was directly involved in the license raj aspect, he could do nothing about it.

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