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Rio +20: NGOs DISSATISFIED with weak Indian response

By Darryl D’Monte.

Indian Non-Governmental Organisations are very dissatisfied with the weak response of Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan to the Rio+20 declaration issued on the eve of the summit, reports Darryl D’Monte.

Astonishingly, for an environment minister from a major developing country and part of the powerful BRICS — Brazil [ Images ], Russia [ Images ], China and South Africa [ Images ] — Natarajan said that India [ Images ] was satisfied that no specific goals and targets have been agreed.

India has rightly welcomed the retention of the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, which means that while all countries have committed to set their environment house in order, industrial countries have a bigger role due to the damage they have inflicted on the world’s resources in the past.

As for the Green Economy, against which she expressed reservations even before she left for Rio, all she could say in her meeting with some Indian reporters is that India was disappointed at the lack of funding from the global North to developing countries to meet their green growth objectives.

India, embarrassingly, was once again holding out the begging bowl, a stance which it has tried hard over recent years to distance itself from.

Parroting the views of NGOs, she told reporters, “The Green Economy has to be bottoms-up and democratised. Otherwise it will be no more than greenwash. The cost of Green Development cannot be unaffordable for the poor.”

She took credit for the conference agreeing to set up two important mechanisms; one for technology transfer and another for finance. Both were Indian proposals, which received strong support from G77 countries, including Africa,  the Least Developed Countries and small island states, she said.

Meeting the Indian media at the Rio Centre where the three-day summit on sustainable development is halfway through, Dr Sejal Worah, programme director of the World Wildlife Fund in Delhi [ Images ], pointed out how India was straddling both sides — the rich as well as the G77 developing countries.

“We have not heard of India being on any side. It is losing its leadership edge. It is always riding on someone else. We don’t stand for anything,” she said.

Soumya Dutta of the Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha in Delhi noted, “There are lots of voices of resistance in India, but the democratic space is being controlled. There is virtually a criminalisation of dissent.”

Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh from Pune said that there was a complete failure on the part of the Indian presence in Rio. “We are reiterating the mistakes of the past, while the crises have worsened,” he said.

“India should put livelihood and food security above all else. Its ecological footprint, in absolute terms, is twice its productive capacity of natural resources and the third worst in the world, after the US and China,” he added.

The NGOs have jointly issued an open letter to the prime minister on Tuesday.

It says, “Bold leadership is needed at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), if it is to be rescued from mediocrity. Rio+20 was expected to build on various global agreements (including Agenda 21, the Millennium Development Goals, and various environmental treaties), and go much further to tackle the urgent crises we face.

“Unfortunately, millions of dollars and incalculable human hours later, we only seem to be either repeating earlier agreements, or even slipping backwards.  Governments have so far failed to come to grips with the horrendous crises facing the earth and its people. All available evidence suggests that humanity is on a suicidal path, already having overstepped several ecological limits, and showing no signs of changing course, it says.

“It is also clear that the current paths of ‘development’ have brought us to this crisis; and that the same paths have created some of the most shameful inequities and inequalities among nations and within nations among different sections of people, perpetuating massive hunger, poverty, unemployment, and various other forms of deprivation. India should not hide behind its poor people while arguing for global equity.”

The statement concludes: “So, Mr prime minister, if you are to be a global ‘sustainable development’ leader this week (far more important than the leadership you showed at the G20 meeting two days ago in committing major funding along with other BRICS nations to recapitalize the IMF), you need to both advocate much stronger and fundamental principles and strategies for the world at Rio, as also commit to making the fundamental changes needed in economic and other policies back in India.”

This refers to India’s inexplicable munificence in providing $10 billion for helping the International Monetary Fund bail countries out of the financial crisis in Europe. Brazil and Russia have also pledged $10 billion each, and China $43 billion. This amounts to a transfer of $73 billion from emerging countries to the richest people on the planet.

Indian NGOs are also upset that the Indian delegation has made no effort to contact them to explain the government’s point of view at Rio. This is in sharp contrast with the 1992 summit, when such interactions took place almost daily and — during high-pressure situations — more than once.

Despite requests, the delegation has only met a few of the Indian media who were on board the PM’s flight via the G20 meet in Mexico, which has led to the Indian viewpoint going largely unreported in Rio. Natarajan is conspicuous by her absence and silence.

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