Environmentalists Expose BJP’s Environmental ‘Betrayal’, Highlight Decade of ‘Broken’ Promises

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Maharashtra), Karnataka-based Fridays for Future and the Bahutva Karnataka released a report titled ‘Guarantee Check: State of India’s Environment Over the Last Decade – An Exacerbating Crisis’.
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New Delhi: As the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is banking on ‘Modi’s Guarantees’ — seeking a consecutive third term for Narendra Modi in the Prime Minister’s Office, several civil organizations are fact-checking the government’s claims on climate change and environmental protection.

While the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has fulfilled many promises, its environmental record starkly contradicts Modi’s ambitious claims.

The Maharashtra chapter of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the Fridays for Future and the Bahutva Karnataka jointly released a report titled ‘Guarantee Check: State of India’s Environment Over the Last Decade – An Exacerbating Crisis’.

It analyzes the claims versus realities on the environment and climate change after 10 years of the NDA governance. It was released through an online event on May 18.

They said, “The Modi-led BJP had pledged to safeguard our coasts, forests, forest dwellers, Himalayas and natural resources. Yet, during his tenure, environmental laws have been weakened — leading to an unprecedented plunder of natural resources.”

For those who cherish natural heritage, said the report, this government’s actions are heartbreaking. Communities dependent on forests and coastal areas are watching in despair as their environments are devastated.

“The majestic Himalayas now face threats from policies, prioritizing short-term economic gains over sustainability. Forest dwellers, who have lived in harmony with nature for generations, are seeing their homes and ecosystems destroyed,” alleged the report.

The emotional toll is profound, it says, citing India’s Environmental Performance Index whereon the country has plummeted from 125th position in the list of 180 countries in 2012 to 180th position in 2022. “It reflects the deteriorating health of our environment,” said the report.

Meanwhile, India’s rise in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report from 142nd position in 2014 to 63rd position in 2019 highlights a development model that prioritizes private profit over public welfare, it said.

The findings, according to the report, are both alarming and heartbreaking.

Indiscriminate Project Clearances

The Environment Ministry has granted an unprecedented number of project clearances, skyrocketing from 577 in 2018 to a staggering 12,496 in 2022. “This dramatic increase, which includes environmental, forest, wildlife and coastal regulation clearances, reflects the government’s prioritization of industrial and infrastructural projects over environmental safeguards,” the report said.

Soon after assuming office in 2014, the government approved at least 230 projects, significantly increasing capital expenditure on infrastructure by 269.82% from financial year 2018-19 to financial year 2024-25.

“Meanwhile, environmental laws were diluted — undermining vital processes like environmental impact assessments and public consultations,” it alleged.

Dilution of Environmental Protections

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006 has allegedly been severely weakened through numerous amendments. These changes, as per the report, removed the need for clearances and public consultations for certain projects, including linear infrastructure, and created loopholes for industries operating without prior approval.

Even during the Covid-19 lockdown, said the report, the government pushed through a controversial Draft EIA Notification — further easing the clearance process at a time when public participation was limited.

Rampant Deforestation

In 2023, amendments to the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 changed the definition of forests, removing protections from many forested areas. Though the Supreme Court later intervened, around 25% of India’s forested areas were at risk of urbanization, mining and infrastructure projects.

“This would devastate the rights of indigenous tribes and forest-dwelling communities, whose ability to self-govern and consult on land use was already under threat. Between 2014 and 2020, less than one percent of forest clearance applications were rejected, leading to the loss of nearly 1.5 lakh hectares of forest land,” it highlighted.

Greenwashing Efforts

The government’s Green Credits Program allows industries to allegedly destroy ancient forests in exchange for tree planting on “degraded” land — a move that purportedly threatens natural forest ecosystems.

The Carbon Credit Trading Scheme, revised to include the voluntary market in 2024, prioritizes business interests over genuine emission reductions — further enabling environmental exploitation for profit.

Coastal Destruction

The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification of 2011, aimed at protecting coastal communities and ecosystems, was allegedly weakened significantly by subsequent amendments.

A new CRZ Notification in 2019, which allegedly ignored strong public opposition, reduced the No Development Zone along the seacoast, opening it up for commercial projects.

“This has put numerous islands at risk, with projects like the Rs 72,000 crore Great Nicobar Mega Project fast-tracked despite environmental concerns,” said the report.

Himalayan Devastation

Recent years have allegedly seen catastrophic disasters in the Himalayas linked to destructive development, including the land subsidence in Joshimath and tunnel collapses.

“Despite these dangers, the government continues with extensive projects like the Char Dham project — which requires extensive tunneling and numerous hydroelectric projects, ignoring the environmental fragility of the region,” it noted.

Uncontrolled Mining

During the Covid-19 crisis, the government seized the opportunity to privatize coal mining, allegedly further easing mining clearances and licenses through amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act in 2023.

This has led to extensive environmental and social destruction in states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, “severely affecting Adivasi communities and ancient forests”.

Pollution Crisis

The government has weakened pollution control boards, allowing many industries to self-certify compliance. As a result, India ranks as the third most polluted country globally, with nine of the world’s 10 most polluted cities.

“Rivers remain heavily polluted, with almost half of India’s rivers still suffering from contamination,” said the collective, citing a 2022 Central Pollution Control Board report.

Inaction on Climate Change

The government has done little to address climate change, exacerbating the problem through increased deforestation, unbridled mining, unchecked pollution and rampant industrialization.

Policies that divert common lands for afforestation and renewable energy projects have also “hindered” vulnerable communities’ ability to adapt to climate change.

Silencing Environmental Activists

The government has stifled environmental activism, with India ranked as the fourth deadliest country for environmental defenders.

“Activists face vilification, police brutality and legal crackdowns under laws like the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA), making it increasingly dangerous to advocate for environmental protection,” it alleged.

Climate activist and founder of Fridays for Future India Disha Ravi discussed the environmental policies in the manifestos of various political parties. She pointed out despite the BJP's extensive deforestation and dilution of laws impacting Adivasi rights, its manifesto fails to mention forest rights.

While the BJP manifesto does pledge to meet India’s ambiguous carbon sink target, she said, it remains silent on the forest rights of indigenous communities.

Notably, Ravi was arrested in 2021 after the Delhi Police accused her of editing and circulating an online “toolkit” tweeted by climate activist Greta Thunberg. The “toolkit” contained information on the farmers’ demonstrations, as well as instructions on how to join the rallies and support the movement online.

Henri Tiphagne, the founder and Executive Director of People's Watch, highlighted the dangers confronting environmental activists across various states. He mentioned the tragic incident in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, where 16 environmental defenders were killed in police firing during protests against the Vedanta plant closure.

He criticized the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for closing the case within just six months. He also noted instances in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha where environmental activists faced “illegal arrests, confiscation of their phones and devices, and in some cases, custodial deaths”.

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