Ever since he took charge as the minister for the environment and forests in May last year, Prakash Javadekar has appeared to be in quite a hurry. His task, he has stated over and over again to the media whenever the opportunity has presented itself, is to fix the reputation the ministry had acquired under the earlier United Progressive Alliance government. International investors, he said, “had started withdrawing from India” due to the “delays” caused by the ministry, and the resultant loss to the country “could not be counted in rupees.” He is set on changing the ministry’s reputation from that of a “roadblock” to an office where no files are held up for too long.
But the ministry’s monthly report this June seemed to make even this energetic minister squirm. The journalist Jay Mazoomdar reported in the Indian Express that it granted forest clearances to 229 projects that month, more than the number it cleared in the National Democratic Alliance’s first three months in power last year. Forest clearance permits project proponents, such as mining companies, to legally replace forest cover with their projects, inevitably felling large numbers of trees in the process.
The government was already struggling with public perception of its proposed amendments to the land acquisition bill. It was being accused, on the streets and in television studios, of being anti-farmer. Wary, perhaps, of similar battles erupting over forest land, Javadekar gingerly attempted to set the terms of the discussion. According to Mazoomdar’s report, he ordered ministry officials to replace the word “clearance” with the word “reforestation” in all their communications. This is pure eyewash, and stretches the meaning of the latter word past breaking point.