[NEW DELHI] India's Ministry of Environment and Forests has extended the period for comments on its first national environment policy until 15 December following protests that included complaints that the draft policy does not pay adequate attention to science.
The policy intends to unify existing plans that relate to environmental management, such as the national forest and water policies. It will also attempt to integrate environmental concerns into all development activities.
Nearly 100 civil society organisations have criticised the proposed text in letters of protest. Among them, the Delhi Science Forum, a non-profit public interest forum that brings together science and technology professionals and institutes, has called the draft "decidedly unsatisfactory" and "unscientific".
The Centre for Science & Environment (CSE), an influential Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, is also unhappy with the draft. Its associate director Chandra Bhushan says the policy is inadequate with respect to science, having "no vision on research and technological developments for addressing small-scale industry, a major source of environmental problems in India".
The 36-page draft policy was published electronically on 31 August, and stakeholders were given two months to comment by using the ministry's website.
The consultation period was then extended to three and then four months after civil society organisations expressed concern over what they considered to be serious internal contradictions, "poor" science content and the exclusion of indigenous communities.
The ministry invited 30 non-governmental organisations to discuss the policy on 30 November. Some prominent non-governmental organisations such as Kalpavriksh were, however, not invited to the consultation. Others attempted to join the discussion but were refused entry.
"The ministry is not a walk-in parlour," says Prodipto Ghosh, secretary to the Ministry of Environment and Forests. "This is not the way the government conducts its business. It is a place for productive discourse. We have carefully selected a countrywide representation of organisations, many of which have not previously had the chance to interact with us."
Ghosh defended the draft policy's alleged lack of science, saying it was prepared in consultation with a "large team" of ministry scientists and with The Energy Resources Institute. Ghosh also gave SciDev.Net a list of institutions that were consulted as the draft policy was being drawn up.
But the director of one of these, the Centre for Earth Science Studies, told SciDev.Net they were not invited to participate in the drafting the policy. "We have now received the draft [policy] and are conducting a careful study of it," he said.
The Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History is also on Ghosh's list. Its director V. S. Vijayan told SciDev.Net the centre was asked for a policy on wetlands in January 2004 but it had not been acted on. "Other than this there has been no consultation."
Vijayan's organisation has sent a 34-page criticism of the policy to the ministry. "We cannot accept this [draft] at all. Every inch of forest in this county will be utilised for various activities, if it goes through," says Vijayan.
The Indian Institute of Science also was not included in the policy's preparatory consultations.
"The science-based decision making in the policy certainly needs strengthening," says Raman Sukumar, chairman of the institute's Centre for Ecological Sciences.
Meetings have been convened in major cities by various organisations to put their comments to the ministry, but a sense of frustration prevails amongst India's civil society that the government might not address their concerns.