Coal is Winning the PR Battle in India, But Will it Win the War?

Coal appears to be winning the battle of PR in India, beating back attacks by environmental groups seeking to curtail its growth. Indian Coal Report’s Bishal Thapa reports on the changing public perception.
Coal | India | Environmental Groups | Public Policy | Manmohan Singh | News
Coal | India | Environmental Groups | Public Policy | Manmohan Singh | News
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Nov. 18, 2012 - PRLog -- On October 16, India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, announced that the Indian government would commit US$50M for biodiversity conservation in India. But even he was careful to ensure that the commitment wouldn’t be seen as provocation to dampen growth in any way.

“Finally free of policy paralysis, the Government now faces an even bigger threat from within: Green terror. All in the name of preserving the environment,” the magazine said in its cover story labelled ‘Green Terror’.

It singled out two of the country’s Ministers, noting that “Jayanthi Natarajan [the current Minister of Environment and Forests] and Jairam Ramesh, her predecessor between 2009 and July 2011, have succeeded in making MoEF the single biggest stumbling block to India’s growth story”.

The India Today piece wasn’t particularly balanced. It offered, for instance, no alternate views from MoEF or from communities affected by the projects in question. It offered no perspective on why environmental clearances had not been given or were slow in coming.

The piece may not have been entirely honest or balanced, but it was a reflection of the discourse that is gaining ground - the perception that environmental norms are getting in the way of growth.

“Good politics is thwarted, big business is frustrated, and the UPA Government [United Progressive Alliance, the current ruling coalition] looks unlikely to achieve its much-needed, election-required growth rate of 8%. The red tape has become a green noose and it is strangling development.”

Such sentiments resonate widely, particularly in the English-speaking media which feels that the pendulum has swung too much in favour of environment over growth.

But this sort of pressure does not mean that India’s pendulum is ready to swing away from the environment towards growth.

The India Today cover story was also about the divide within the Government on environment. The piece asserts that the current and former Environment Ministers, Jayanthi Natarajan and Jairam Ramesh respectively, do not always toe the Government’s line on environment. Their support, the article argues, comes from elements within the Congress party that are eager to play the environmental card and has the endorsement of the party chief, Sonia Gandhi.

“Two days after the forest clearance was withdrawn [for Vedanta Aluminium Ltd to mine bauxite at the Niyamgiri Hills in Lanjigarh], Rahul Gandhi visited Lanjigarh on August 26, 2010. ‘I am your sipahi (soldier). I will carry out your wishes in Delhi,’ he told the cheering crowd, comprising mostly tribals. The pro-environment tilt, Congress members argue, gels with the party’s efforts to woo the aam aadmi [common person],” the article explained.

Behind the stirring cover story on “Green Terror” in India’s most popular weekly was this ironic unstated conclusion: in the electoral politics of vastly rural India, concerns on environment still dominate.

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