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Ashali Varma interviews Kamal Nath


JANUARY 20, 1993

Ashali Varma interviews Kamal Nath

For India, one key question is affordability

Kamal Nath is India’s Minister of State for the Environment.  A short, stocky man with a gift for rapid-fire speech.  Nath has been long considered a controversial figure in Indian political circles.  He met this month in New Delhi with Ashali Varma of the Earth Times for a chat, Excerpts:

The Clinton/Gore election has raised the hopes of many developing nations as far as the environment and development are concerned.  Can you suggest what you would like to see implemented in this regard by the new President?

I would like President Clinton to set a timetable for reductions in emissions in the Climate Change Convention and sign the Bio Diversity Treaty.  With the immense understanding of Vice President Al Gore of Third World issues, it is now important to have a visible interface between people of developing countries and the developed countries.

What are India’s main problems in the areas of environment and development? How can the US help?

Industrialized countries like the US can help in the transfer of clean technologies. It is important for developing countries to have access to this.   The key issues here are accessibility, affordability and availability.  If it is not affordable then it is not accessible or available to developing countries.

What steps are being taken to alleviate pollution problems in Indian cities?

One of the major problems is vehicular pollution.  This again is linked to the transfer of affordable technology.  We need catalytic converters, better engines and unleaded fuel for all vehicles.  I have set emission standards.  Our emission standards in the year 2000 will be equivalent to European standards of 1993.  Of course the problem is how do we get the old vehicles off the road.  We need a scheme that is financially backed to help people to do this.  When it is a question of subsistence and livelihood for small transporters we need incentives that are affordable.

What role should industrialized countries play in implementing Agenda 21?

Financial commitment is important.  It is suggested that 0.7 percent of GNP should be put in a fund for developing countries to help with sustainable development.  We do not ask for aid for aid’s sake, financial assistance is sought to catalyze our development effort and harmonize it with the environment objectives we are all committed to achieve.

What are India’s priorities in this area?

Amongst the priorities, one of the most important ones is the issue of safe drinking water. I mentioned this in my address to the General Assembly, the importance of prioritization of safe drinking water for all

Population pressures also affect the environment but when we talk about population it must include the issues of health and literacy, especially literacy for women.

What is India doing to make sure multinationals in India maintain the same standards of pollution control that is set in industrialized countries, so that another Bhopal can never happen here?

Bhopal happened in 1984, an accident can happen but negligence cannot be allowed.  Where multinationals are concerned we are making sure they come in with clean technologies and not cleaning up technologies.  Also the developed countries should establish their bona fides clearly regarding toxic chemicals, which they an production of but not the handling of.  I would like to bring in legislation to levy an environment tax on highly toxic and polluting substances which will be plowed back to handle pollution problems.

As Chairman of the Montreal Protocol what are your objectives?

I would like to see the EEC countries take further steps in the phasing out of ozone depleting substances. Another crucial issue is to get adequate funding for the Montreal Protocol Fund and also to get other countries to sign the Montreal Protocol.  It is important for developing countries to get substitutes for ozone depleting substances free of strings such as export inhibiting riders and conditionalities.