Vol 2, July 2023 | Flawed conservation act, 2023

Forest Conservation Act
First introduced in Parliament in March 2023, the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 passed both houses of Parliament through voice votes.

The recent amendments to the FCA that were voted into law recently have created a stir among ecologists, Parliamentarians and stakeholders, and for good reason. Read more

First introduced in Parliament in March 2023, the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 passed both houses of Parliament through voice votes.

FCA amendment: No forest for the weary

A freshly passed amendment to the Forest Conservation Act has created a stir among ecologists, parliamentarians and stakeholders. With several contentious provisions, the amendment reveals an afforestation push where rights and justice take a backseat to commercial interests.

This week, amidst a raucous monsoon session, the Indian Parliament saw the passage of several consequential pieces of legislation in quick succession. Among them was the contentious amendment to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), which was voted into law this week—passing Lok Sabha on July 26 and Rajya Sabha on 2 August. Speaking in favour of the amendment in the Rajya Sabha, environment minister Bhupendra Yadav said that the amendment would bring development to tribals and forest-dwelling communities as he referred to new exemptions from forest clearances for public utilities.

There is, however, more to this development than meets the eye. What is the significance of this amendment with regards to the country’s international commitment to create an additional carbon stock of 2.5-3 billion tonnes by 2030? How does it affect India’s carbon stock management as it charts out a path to net-zero emissions by 2070? Who will be the winners; and who are the losers?

Journey to legislation

The amendments first surfaced in late 2021 in the form of a consultation paper floated by the environment ministry. Following this, the Bill was introduced in Parliament in March 2023 during the Budget Session. After failing to pass it in the first attempt, the Bill was tabled again in the ongoing Monsoon Session and the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 passed both houses of Parliament through voice votes. Following challenges to the Bill in the Budget Session, a 31-member Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was formed to look into it, presided over by BJP Lok Sabha member Rajendra Agrawal. On July 20, the JPC submitted its report to the Parliament, clearing the proposed Bill without any change and accepting the environmental ministry’s explanation for amending the 1980 Act. 

According to the report, the JPC received 1,309 memoranda along with comments from multiple state governments, departments and ministries and four notes of dissent from opposition MPs. Congress MPs Pradyut Bordoloi and Phulodevi Netam, Trinamool Congress’ Jawahar Sircar and DMK’s R Girirajan gave their written dissent on issues like lands to be covered under the law, potential threat to bio-sensitive areas and rights of forest dwellers.

The Members of Parliament also received a letter signed by more than 100 former civil servants, members of the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), outlining their concerns regarding the Bill’s content and the procedures being used to pass it. The letter noted the fact that the Bill was referred to a Select Committee rather than the Parliamentary Committee on science, technology, environment, and forests. “Procedurally, the Bill should have been referred to the Parliamentary Committee on science, technology, environment and forests, instead of being referred to a Select Committee, all the members of which, except one, belong to the ruling party, making the examination partisan and unsatisfactory,” reads the letter.

This claim was echoed by opposition MP and Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Jairam Ramesh. “By referring the Bill to a joint committee, the government is deliberately by-passing the Standing Committee, which would have subjected the legislation to detailed examination with the full participation of all stakeholders”, he wrote. 

Why the furore

There are several amendments proposed to the FCA that have created a stir among ecologists, Parliamentarians and stakeholders. 

To begin with, the act’s new name—‘Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam’, struck a discordant note with some. One of the objections to this new name is that it is “non-inclusive” and excludes people from the south and north-east of the country. The word “samvardhan” also raised eyebrows as it refers to development rather than conservation, which is the objective of the Act. 

The discontent over the name, however, pales in comparison to the reaction to more substantive changes introduced in the amendment. Prime among these is the limit it places on the Act’s applicability. According to the amendment, only lands recorded by the government as forests as on or after 25th October 1980 will be required to abide by the FCA. This runs contrary to a 1996 Supreme Court judgement in the Godavarman Thirumulpad v.Union of India case that stated the FCA is applicable to land covered under the dictionary meaning of forests or those unofficially considered to be forests with no reference to any cut-off date. 

The Forest Survey of India’s latest report states that 5,16,630 sqkm of the forests are within Recorded Forest Areas, while 1,97,159 sqkm lie outside Recorded Forest Areas. Under the new amendment, the latter (which make up 27.62% of India’s forests) will lose all protection.

Exemptions galore

The new amendment proposes the removal of forest clearances for security-related infrastructure projects that lie within 100 km of international borders. Ecologists have pointed out, in their letter to the environment ministry against the amendment, that these areas are some of the most ecologically sensitive in the country. Some of them are deserts in Ladakh, and forests in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. These form natural barriers, especially against increasingly uncertain weather patterns. In their letter, ecologists urged the government not to give up ecological security for the sake of military security. 

Northeastern border states Sikkim, Mizoram, Tripura, and Nagaland, and others like Himachal Pradesh registered their opposition to this exemption in JPC report tabled before the Parliament.

In non-border areas, land up to 10 hectares (and 5hectares in areas affected by left-wing extremism) can be used by the central government for not just defence-related projects but also public utility projects.

According to Supreme Court advocate and founder of the Indian Civil Liberties Union (ICLU), Anas Tanwir, the amendment allows Centre full authority to permit the usage of forest land however it feels fit while also keeping reconnaissance, prospecting, investigation, or exploration activities outside the purview of the FCA. This, Tanwir says, is a naked violation of National Forest Policy, 1988 (NFP) which lays the foundational principles for commercial exploitation in forest areas.

Perhaps even more egregious to conservationists is that the amendment exempts agro-forestry plantations, zoos, safari parks, ecotourism, and certain kinds of mining from environmental clearances. Environmentalists have argued that equating zoos or safaris with forests is dangerous because while the former does promote conservation and education, it cannot replace the latter. The Supreme Court, through a judgement delivered earlier this year that stayed all construction within core areas of national parks, seems to concur with this assessment. Plantations and ecotourism, they argue, can also lead to large-scale construction that may destroy natural habitats and ecosystems. 

The exemptions in the Bill are given on the condition that the lost or diverted forest land will be compensated for with the planting of trees elsewhere in the country. But experts have pointed out tree planting cannot be a substitute for forests. They highlight the need for a clear distinction between “forestland” and “green cover”.

Importantly, the amendment seemingly goes against the provisions in the NFP, which states that permissions granted to activities ancillary to conservation practices can be misused and must have sufficient reasoning to prove its necessity in implementing forest management and wildlife conservation. Provisions in the new FCA appear to contravene this condition.

Cutting out the custodian

Things get murkier when we approach the domain of rights guaranteed to adivasi and forest-dwelling communities under established legislation, and how they are affected by the fresh amendment. Take the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, for instance. The FRA grants affected gram sabhas and forest-dwelling communities the rights to protect wildlife and biodiversity. For any project to get a forest clearance nod, consent from the Gram Sabha is a must. But ecologists fear that the clearance exemptions under the FCA amendment will significantly erode these rights completely.

“The most worrying aspect of the FCA is the de facto elimination of participatory process, which leaves almost complete power with the state. The Compensatory Afforestation Act (CAMPA) brought the first big change to this process by reducing the role of the gram sabhas to a consultative one rather than an approving authority. This goes several steps forward by practically removing gram sabhas from the process altogether,” explains Arpitha Kodiveri, researcher of environmental law and incoming Assistant Professor of Political Science, Vassar College.

The main text of the FCA is silent on other laws and constitutional guarantees for the protection of the rights of adivasi communities and other traditional forest dwellers. Only the newly inserted preamble mentions “enhancing forest-based economic, social and environmental benefits, including improvement of livelihood of forest-based communities”. It does not mention any term aimed at conserving, protecting, maintaining, or managing forests, but rather creates new avenues to bypass processes and systems laid down in earlier legislations aimed at conservation. By minimising the voice and stake of forest-dwelling communities and affected tribal populations, the revenue from compensatory afforestation will also not reach those who stand to lose their lands, resources and livelihoods to non-forestry activities.

“This is the time for the government to reaffirm its commitment to protecting the country’s immense biodiversity. Doing so will require strengthening forest protection laws and the rights of indigenous peoples to own and manage their lands. This Amendment will only seek to hasten the decline of India’s natural forests,” states a strongly-worded letter written by more than 400 ecologists to the environment minister Bhupendra Yadav before it was tabled in the Parliament. The minister, during the discussion, responded by implying that the FRA will remain unchanged and its implementation will happen independently.

“While the FCA falls under the domain of the environment ministry, the FRA and its implementation is the responsibility of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA),” explains Tushar Dash, an independent researcher on forest rights from Odisha. “It is difficult to imagine that the FCA amendment will not have any effect on the implementation of the FRA, and we’ll have to see how the MoTA addresses these implications. So far it has been silent,” he adds.

The minimisation of affected communities in decision-making and the weakening of participatory process in forest management also runs contrary to evidence-based conservation. Recent research has shown that increasing the formal political representation of Scheduled Tribes (ST) led to an increase in tree canopy density and reduced the rate of deforestation. Researchers found that the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) and other rules that recognise Scheduled Areas where STs live are instrumental in increasing forest conservation. According to the study, with PESA, the tribal communities could pursue better economic interests and translate them into better forest conservation. Representation empowered them to stall deforestation spearheaded by industry and collect and sell non-timber forest products, thereby improving the overall health of forests. 

The question of carbon

All this brings us to the question of carbon. The amendment has been passed into law at an interesting juncture. India, committed to increase forest cover and add carbon sink equivalent to 2.5-3 bn tonnes by 2030, is running out of time to meet this target.

“Since the formulation of the carbon sink target, which itself is based on questionable science, we have seen a shift in decarbonisation strategy from actual emission-heavy sectors to land, land-use and forestry. This in essence, is becoming a kind of green-washing exercise in the name of climate action,” says Dash.

Nevertheless, the government has made no secret of its hopes that the FCA amendment will facilitate afforestation and the creation of additional carbon sinks by freeing up the economic value of forests. Meanwhile, the commodification of carbon is well and truly underway; and the FCA cannot be seen as separate from this process. 

“Environmental law is conventionally framed in a ‘precautionary approach’ which is built around conservation and protections. The new FCA amendment moves it further towards a ‘compensatory approach’ which in essence facilitates deforestation. If carbon markets are supposed to support the creation and maintenance of carbon sinks, it should be based on more precautions and protections,” remarks Kodiveri.

Nevertheless, pieces are actively being put in place for the generation and trade of carbon offsets through the Carbon Credit Trading Scheme. While the CCTS will cater to meeting regulatory norms for commercial enterprises, the Green Credit scheme is being developed to meet voluntary targets of businesses and individuals for environment-friendliness.

“The incentive mechanisms (like carbon- and green credit schemes) for carbon capture and decarbonisation are deeply flawed and are being proposed in violation of FRA. The vital element of tenure rights is entirely absent in the governance structure and regulatory framework of these,” remarks Dash.

These development of these schemes raise interesting questions when seen in the context of the FCA. While the amendment opens avenues for the participation of commercial interests in creation and monetization of carbon sinks, it minimises the stake of adivasi and forest-dwelling communities in such projects and severely dilutes any claim for compensation from the proceedings derived from the sale of offsets.

“Participation of affected communities has been eliminated under the new FCA. The state, which is an active player in the carbon market, now holds centralised power over the management of the carbon stock in forests. What does this mean now in the context of a carbon market?” asks Kodiveri.

That indeed is the question. If the central government is serious in its assertion that amendments to the FCA will bring development to the most deprived sections of Indian society, it must frame an inclusionary process which recognizes the stake held by communities in maintaining forest commons (and the carbon stock it holds). The matter is not only of economic interest, but also one of ensuring justice in the decades-long process of decarbonisation. Failure to do so will lead only to further deprivation and disenfranchisement under the guise of development.

Thawing permafrost has already led to the buckling of roadways, the splitting apart of houses, and the disruption of pipelines across cities and towns in northern and northeastern Russia.

Thawing of world’s biggest permafrost crater in Russia raises alarm

The Batagaika crater in the Sakha Republic, Russia is thawing and expanding at an alarming rate. Scientists believe that with increasing temperatures and higher anthropogenic pressure, the world will witness more of those mega-slumps until all the permafrost is gone. The 100 metres deep crater (328 feet) began to form after the surrounding forest was cleared in the 1960s and the permafrost underground began to melt, causing the land to sink. In the 1970s, the ‘cave-in’ as the locals call it, developed first as a ravine and eventually started to expand by thawing during warmer days. Thawing permafrost has already led to the buckling of roadways, the splitting apart of houses, and the disruption of pipelines across cities and towns in northern and northeastern Russia. Further thawing will result in more release of carbon dioxide, methane, and greenhouse gases, fuelling global warming. 

Overflowing river systems a concern as heavy rains wreak havoc across India

Several parts of Delhi-NCR were inundated after the Yamuna river crossed its evacuation mark on July 11, 2023. The last time the Capital witnessed such record-breaking floods was in 1978 when the highest water level the Yamuna reached in Delhi was 207.49 metres. This year, the water level went up to 208.66 metres and crossed the previous surge record by 1.17 metres. The flooding happened despite the water released from Haryana’s Hathnikund barrage being less than in previous flood years. It is believed that the flooding was human-induced and completely avoidable. The devastating floods, landslides, and mudslides in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are also a result of the climate crisis, active geology of the region, and infrastructure projects. River basins originating in the Western Himalayas are predominantly fed by snow and glacial melt with rainfall largely coming from wintertime western disturbances but with the rise in extreme rainfall events and various man-made obstructions such as construction and the dumping of debris, the behaviour of Himalayan rivers have become unpredictable. The Ghaggar, Tangri, and Markanda too have reclaimed their floodplains this monsoon causing heavy damage. The Ghaggar has affected six districts of Haryana (Panchkula, Ambala, Kaithal, Fatehabad and Sirsa), four districts of Punjab (Mohali, Patiala, Sangrur and Mansa) and two districts of Rajasthan (Hanumangarh and Sriganganagar). Heavy rains in the upper reaches of Chamba and Kangra districts, the source of the Ravi river, have resulted in flooding of several downstream areas. Very heavy rainfall caused a flood-like situation in Gujarat’s Junagadh district, Ahmedabad, and several other parts of the state.

Red alert: Europe braces for extreme heat, temperatures to soar up to 49°C

An unrelenting second heatwave stretching across southern Europe is expected to push temperatures close to a record after the “Cerberus” heatwave ravaged parts of Europe early this month. “Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Poland are all facing a major heatwave with air temperatures expected to climb to 49 degrees Celsius on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia – potentially the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Europe,” the European Space Agency said in a statement. The new heatwave named “Charon,” is set to hit Italy soon and policymakers have issued a hot weather red alert for 16 cities nationwide. Spain’s state weather agency has warned of extreme danger, with temperatures expected to reach 44 degrees Celsius in areas such as Mallorca, Aragon and Catalonia. Poland has also been hit by the heatwave and is in the midst of a drought with temperatures in Warsaw 13 degrees Celsius higher than average. Meanwhile, wildfires have been tearing through France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Malta, and Switzerland. 

US faces deadly flash floods in the northeast, extreme heatwaves in the south and west

Heavy downpours have led to deadly flash floods in Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania and possible flash floods have been forecast in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, an extreme heatwave in the western US has sent temperatures soaring to 53 degrees Celsius in the California desert. Temperatures of over 46 degrees Celsius are forecast for areas of southern California’s high desert, along with Arizona and Nevada, and over 100 million people in the Southern US are under heat alerts.  Parts of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico tied their all-time high, with Phoenix recording the highest-ever night time temperature at 32.2 degrees Celsius. 

With global temperature rise, countries will have higher cooling needs

A recent study has found that with global mean temperature moving from 1.5 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius, African countries will have the highest increase in cooling requirements. Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Norway, including parts of the Andes and the Himalayas, will suffer the largest relative cooling demand surges. Rising extreme heat is already driving an unprecedented surge in cooling demand, with the energy required for cooling by 2050 predicted to be equivalent to the combined electricity capacity of the United States, European Union and Japan in 2016.

World’s oceans are changing colours due to climate change

A study has found that more than half the world’s ocean area is becoming greener with human-induced climate change. While the exact reason for this greening is unknown, it is believed that changing amounts of plankton or other organic material in the water might be a possibility. There are plenty of other ways global warming is affecting the world’s oceans, by changing the structure and flow of certain currents, for instance. These kinds of changes can affect the growth of phytoplankton and other factors that might be contributing to greening. 

The Environment, Climate and Sustainability working group meeting in Chennai and the G20 Energy Transition Working Group (ETWG) in Goa, both produced underwhelming outcomes. Source: g20.org

G20 energy, climate ministers meetings end with weak language, no new targets

The final meeting of  the G20 Energy Transition Working Group (ETWG) concluded in Goa, India on July 23. After days of intense negotiations, the ETWG failed to produce a joint communique. Global security and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, language on fossil fuels, and emission pathways were among the many contentious issues at the meet. The preliminary draft of the communique, prepared following the previous ETWG meeting carried significant ratcheting up of ambition on fossil fuels when compared to last year’s declaration from the G20 meetings in Indonesia. However, the final outcomes and the chair summary steer clear of any such proclamations, leaning instead on ambiguous language. However, one area that emerged with clear endorsement is nuclear power. The expansion of nuclear power and the development of small module reactor (SMR) technology has been projected prominently as an important instrument in the decarbonisation toolkit.

Days later, the Environment, Climate and Sustainability working group meeting in Chennai produced a similarly underwhelming outcome. In the absence of consensus, the agreed paragraphs in the outcome document barely consisted of any actionable items, collective targets or approaches.

Study reveals correlation between higher political participation of STs and increased forest cover

A recent study found that greater political representation of Scheduled Tribes (ST) improved average tree canopy and slowed deforestation. According to a study titled “Representation and Forest Conservation: Evidence from India’s Scheduled Areas”, the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) and other laws that recognise the Scheduled Areas where STs live, play a crucial role in protecting their rights and forest conservation. Having better representation also enabled ST communities to fight mining and other major commercial enterprises. The study indicated that prior to PESA’s implementation, deforestation rates in communities close to mines were higher. However, the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA), 2006, did not have a visible impact beyond the benefits of PESA.

Triple sustainable lending by 2030 to fight poverty and climate change: G20 panel to MDBs

A G20 panel commissioned by the Group of 20 nations to propose reforms for MDBs called for various changes in the way MDBs operate. The panel said that to reduce poverty and meet climate targets, MDBs must establish a new funding structure and triple sustainable lending by 2030. The panel predicted that developing nations will need to spend an additional $3 trillion annually by 2030 to cover investments in climate action and meet their development goals, excluding China, which has adequate domestic resources to finance its transition to clean energy. According to the panel, $1.8 trillion of this amount—a four-fold increase from 2019—should go towards sustainable infrastructure, and $1.2 trillion would be required to accomplish other objectives, such as a 75% increase in health and education spending. 

Developed nations must fulfill the $100 billion delivery: India and UAE 

In the joint statement, India and the UAE urged the international community to act quickly to protect the long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement by fulfilling nationally set contributions. According to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, developed countries must carry out the $100 billion delivery plan in order to reduce and adapt to the effects of climate change. The latter stressed the necessity of implementing a balanced strategy for the Global Stocktake at COP28 and urged the nations to use the GST results to fortify their national pledges, especially those on mobilising more funding and assistance for the developing world. Earlier this month, Al Jaber met with climate ministers from countries including Brazil, China and the US in Belgium. There he said governments must face up to their failures to tackle climate change at the next UN climate summit. 

River woes: rampant mining, incorrect classification

Recent reports shed some light on the state of rivers in the country. A report by the Report’s Collective said that Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami lobbied to obtain permit to keep mining the four rivers that pass through the state’s highlands and forests as the authorisation to mine was about to expire. Documents show the Union government repeatedly approved mining in Gaula river despite the state government’s failure to comply with terms to protect the environment. This approval came after the CM’s meeting with the Union Environment and Forest Minister Bhupender Yadav in New Delhi.

Another report by DTE mentioned how river rights advocates and water experts have criticised a three-year-old government order (GO) issued by the irrigation department of the Uttar Pradesh government classifying the Gomti as a “non-perennial river”. The GO was granted on September 3, 2020, but it has only lately come to light. It’s expected that the state’s floodplain regions will be the focus of a number of upcoming development initiatives. Therefore, this GO has resurfaced as the authorities are looking for any applicable orders to define the floodplains.

The NGT also ordered that ambient air quality in and around Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Science campus be monitored. Source: Vishnoi M

Green court forms panel to release air pollution control norms around hospitals with in the next 3 months

The National Green Tribunal (NGT), India’s green court, formed a five-member panel to create a standard operating procedure (SoP) for environmental management inside and around all government district hospitals and hospitals larger than such district hospitals, including medical colleges, by October 2023. 

The NGT directed the health ministry to post the SoP on its website within next three months (by October) covering all sources of pollution in and around all government district hospitals and hospital bigger than district hospitals in the  “interest of protection of right of patients, staff and other visitors to clean environment.”

The NGT also ordered that ambient air quality in and around Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Science campus be monitored, as and when it exceeds the laid down parameters within 500 metres of the boundaries of AIIMS. The court said regulatory measures be taken in the light of Graded Response Action Plan-1 (GRAP) by July 31. 

Shift all buses entering NCR to cleaner fuels by Nov 1: CAQM to Haryana, UP and Rajasthan

All buses originating from NCR districts and entering Delhi will either be electric, BS-VI diesel or run on CNG by November 1, 2023, according to the latest order from the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) to Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. 

The CAQM also urged states in the NCR to plan and make sure all buses originating from or terminating in the area are running only on CNG or are electric by June 30, 2026. Another target is for a “substantial number” of buses originating from or terminating in the NCR to be electric vehicles by June 30, 2028, reported The Indian Express. 

High air pollution amid high temperatures may double risk of heart attack deaths: Report

The combination of extreme heat and air pollution may double the risk of death by heart attack, noted a report published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation. The researchers analysed 202,678 heart attack deaths from 2015-2020 that occurred in China’s Jiangsu province. Researchers compared the impact of extreme temperatures with and without high levels of fine particulate pollution. Days with particulate levels above 37.5 micrograms per cubic metre were considered high pollution. Scientists found that “The deaths were among older adults with an average age of 77.6 years; 52% were older than age 80; and 52 per cent were male. 

Nagaland: Kohima, Dimapur fail to meet CPCB air quality standards 

The Nagaland Pollution Control Board (NPCB) data revealed that Kohima and Dimapur, the two major towns of Nagaland, failed to meet the air quality standards set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) mainly because of vehicular pollution. The CPCB report was based on the data submitted by the NPCB. 

To improve air quality, Dimapur launched the Improvised Traffic Control System (ITCS) under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). Hukato Chishi, Secretary, NPCB and the state nodal officer of the national clean air programme (NCAP), said Dimapur’s air quality has deteriorated while Kohima’s has been improving in the past three years since the launch of NCAP. He said the NPCB has seven respirable dust samplers in Dimapur, while in Kohima, there are three to analyse air samples. The NPCB sends the air sample reports to the CPCB, he added.

97% solar PV modules made in India exported to the US in FY2023, trade surged 356%

Export of solar equipment, mainly solar PV modules, made locally (actually assembled, as the silica ingot is imported from China) rose to ₹8,440 crore (around $1.03 billion) in FY2023 compared to ₹1,819 crore in FY2022. The demand from the USA spiked after the country restricted imports of modules from China. The exports to the USA accounted for 97% of the total solar PV module exports from India in FY2023, reported the PV magazine. India in 2021 allocated Rs 4,500 cr production linked incentive (PLI) for domestically manufactured high efficiency Solar PV modules (PLI did not mandate use of local raw materials and components). .

The OEMs benefited from the higher realizations in the export markets than in the domestic market. Solar PV modules made the bulk of the exports, while PV cell exports was only 0.1% in FY2023. Exports remain strong in FY 2024 with the first two months witnessing solar PV module and cell exports of INR 2,457 crore against INR 130 crore in the corresponding period of FY2023. Future exports will remain subject to US-China trade relations and the development of domestic module manufacturing units in the USA which is expected to grow under subsidies provided by the recent Inflation Reduction Act. However, according to Bhupinder Bhalla, Secy, MNRE India will have solar module manufacturing capacity of 100 GW per annum by by 2026. 

8.5 GW of solar parks completed under govt support scheme

India sanctioned 50 solar parks of cumulative 37.99 GW capacity so far under its scheme for “Development of Solar Parks and Ultra-Mega Solar Power Projects,” the government informed Parliament. Of the sanctioned capacity, eleven solar parks of total 8.521 GW have been completed and seven totaling 3.985 GW partially completed. In these parks, 10,237 MW of solar projects have been developed, reported the PV magazine.

The government scheme is valid up to March 31, 2026 under which centre helps the States and union territories setting up solar parks at various locations. According to the report, the solar parks come with developed land, environmental and other clearances, transmission systems, water access, road connectivity, communication network, etc. The state government identifies the land and makes it available. Centre grants up to Rs 25 lakh per solar park for the preparation of the detailed project report and another Rs 20 lakh per MW or 30% of the project cost, including grid connectivity cost, whichever is lower.

Research from IEEFA points out that India lacks planning in optimal use of land for renewable power, adding that to meet 2050 targets it must plan now keeping land use to minimum and going for offshore wind, rooftop solar and floating solar, incentivise tenders for sites without conflicts and back distributed renewable energy.  

India’s hydropower restarts as floods recede yet more rain looms

Hydropower projects in flood-hit India’s Himalayan states are slowly coming back online even as weather agencies predict more “heavy to very heavy rainfall” this week, Bloomberg reported adding that public and private hydro projects are operating again after being clogged by silt from the floods, but “nearly 1.6 gigawatts (GW) of capacity” remained offline, as of Sunday. While India “sees hydropower as vital to its energy transition, environmental and social challenges have slowed capacity additions and boosted costs, the report added. The report pointed out that the infrastructure we’re building in the path of a furious river can in no way be a disaster-resilient infrastructure.

Europe stockpiling solar panels, modules; imports from China surge to record levels

According to new assessment from Rystad Energy, Chinese-manufactured solar panels are being imported by Europe and stored at unprecedented levels. Currently, solar panels of 40GW (direct current) capacity, worth about US$ 7 billion, currently sit in European warehouses, which is approximately the same amount installed in the continent in 2022. “Europe’s spending on solar imports has almost quadrupled in the last five years, surging from €5.5 billion in 2018 to more than €20 billion last year, while the supply source has become increasingly concentrated. An overwhelming €18.5 billion, equal to 91% of all PV import expenditure, was spent on Chinese products, as volatile panel prices impacted buying decisions,” says the energy research firm. The report has also pointed out that the trend has not peaked yet either, with y-o-y increases in import numbers in the first five months of 2023.

In accordance with FDI regulations, any proposal containing investments from nations that have a land border with India is required to obtain government approval.

Govt rejects Chinese BYD’s $1 billion proposal to set up EV plant

According to Indian Express, the government rejected a $1 billion investment proposal from the Chinese manufacturer of electric vehicles BYD and its Hyderabad-based partner Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Ltd (MEIL) to build a factory for producing electric vehicles. The proposal was being examined because, in accordance with FDI regulations, any proposal containing investments from nations that have a land border with India is required to obtain government approval. China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, and Afghanistan are among these nations. Reuters had previously reported that the investment proposal also outlined plans to construct training and R&D facilities as well as charging stations in India.

NITI Aayog proposes new incentives to boost Li-ion battery production

The central government’s policy think-tank, NITI Aayog, has proposed bolstering existing production linked incentives for battery manufacturing with royalty and tax benefits for businesses processing and refining minerals vital to the production of li-ion batteries.

“Policy should focus on scaling up lithium-ion battery (LIB) recycling infrastructure with production linked incentives to complement mining and extraction efforts of critical minerals…This will aid in promoting environmentally sustainable waste management practices, reuse and disposal,” NITI Aayog said in its report on ‘Mine to market: critical minerals supply chain for domestic value addition in lithium-ion battery manufacturing.’

Mandatory tests linked to incentives for EVs on the chopping block?

The central government is planning to scrap mandatory testing requirements for PLIs linked to EV manufacturing, reported Business Standard. The decision comes following a re-examination of the policy by a committee headed by the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI).

“According to the ARAI’s analysis, the battery safety tests announced by the ministry are not needed as the industry is complying with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways’ (MoRTH’s) recently notified norms,” said government officials quoted by the paper.

Financing for electric mobility a big challenge in India: Report

A new report by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said financing remains a challenge for electric mobility in India and added that it is critical to present options that can help adjust the cost and bring EVs on par with the cost of internal combustion engine models. The report said that in order to fully realise the advantages of mobility-as-a-service (Maas), it is necessary to have clarification on issues like bike taxis and the classification of bicycles as commercial vehicles. The report recommended that the advantages of bike taxis should also be emphasised in terms of traffic relief, user affordability, and expanding consumer options. To give consumers the essential push towards adopting shared mobility, marketing strategies for Maas should enable smooth integration and provide a variety of choices, the report noted. Additionally, it urged for the implementation of a scrappage strategy that capitalises on the requirement to get rid of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs).

Smaller EVs could reduce critical minerals use by almost 50%: Study

According to a recent analysis, EVs with smaller batteries could drastically reduce Europe’s EV sector reliance on essential minerals. By producing smaller electric vehicles that are driven by smaller batteries, Europe can reduce its consumption of critical metals by up to 49% by 2050, according to an analysis by Transport and Environment, a European coalition of charities working on sustainable transportation. Switching to smaller batteries can be done by either downsizing the cars themselves or implementing batteries with shorter ranges while keeping the car size same. Vehicle downsizing is the most effective way to conserve important resources when other materials like steel and aluminium are taken into account. This strategy maximises resource usage and provides social advantages in terms of consumer affordability, the analysis said.

The researchers forecasted the demand for battery raw materials, particularly lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese, by 2050 by analysing three scenarios: business as usual, accelerated, and aggressive. In all three scenarios, it is predicted that the demand for raw resources will increase, with annual volumes in 2050 expected to be four to ten times higher than in 2023.

India's trade treaty with the UAE enables it to import LNG without paying a 2.5% import tax.

ADNOC Gas announces $7-9 billion 14-year LNG agreement with IOC

Abu Dhabi’s ADNOC Gas recently announced a 14-year $7 billion-$9 billion deal with Indian Oil Corporation to export 1.2 million metric tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per year. India’s trade treaty with the UAE enables it to import LNG without paying a 2.5% import tax. A Head of Agreement (HoA) was also signed between Indian Oil Corporation and France’s TotalEnergies to establish a long-term LNG sale and purchase agreement (SPA) for the import of 0.8 million tonnes a year of LNG for 10 years starting in 2026. 

Govt plans ₹6,000 crore coal gasification scheme by 2030: Coal ministry

In an official statement, the Ministry of Coal announced that the government is considering a ₹6,000 crore scheme to promote coal gasification in India. It has set a target to gasify 100 million tonnes of coal by the financial year 2030 to reduce reliance on imported natural gas, methanol, ammonia and other key products. The plan has two segments—in the first segment, the government will provide support to PSUs, and in the second segment to both the private sector and PSUs, with a budget allocation granted to each project.

CIL plans two new thermal power plants in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha at an expense of ₹21,547 cr

State-run Coal India Ltd (CIL) announced plans to set up two new thermal power plants – one each in Madhya Pradesh (near Amarkantak) and Odisha (Sundergarh district). The power plant in Madhya Pradesh, in the final stages of approval, will carry a capacity of 660MW and will be built at a cost of ₹5,660 crore. The one in Odisha is planned as a 2×800 MW pithead thermal power plant and will cost just under ₹16,000 crore. Notwithstanding the new planned coal investments, CIL is reportedly mulling dropping “coal” from its name to project a cleaner image.

IEA cuts 2023 oil demand forecast due to persistent macroeconomic headwinds

The International Energy Agency (IEA) cut its global oil demand growth forecast for the first time this year, primarily citing a weakening economic condition. In its latest monthly oil market report, the world’s leading energy watchdog said that global oil demand is now on track to climb by 2.2 million barrels per day in 2023 to reach an average of 102.1 million barrels per day. But “persistent macroeconomic headwinds, apparent in a deepening manufacturing slump, have led us to revise our 2023 growth estimate lower for the first time this year, by 220,000 barrels per day”, said IEA. China is set to account for 70% of the demand growth increase, while OECD consumption is predicted to remain anaemic. Looking ahead to next year, the IEA expects demand growth to slow to 1.1 million barrels per day.

TotalEnergies East African oil project will disrupt ecosystems

A Human Rights Watch report found that an oil pipeline under construction in East Africa will disturb some of the continent’s most sensitive ecosystems and exacerbate the global climate crisis. The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is one of the most significant fossil fuel infrastructure projects currently under development globally, connecting the Tilenga and Kingfisher oilfields in western Uganda with the port of Tanga in eastern Tanzania. It is estimated to release 379 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2E)—more than the annual emissions of Australia. If completed, the pipeline will run through 178 villages in Uganda and 231 villages in Tanzania and over 100,000 people will permanently lose land to make way for the pipeline. French fossil fuel giant TotalEnergies is the principal company involved through its two East African subsidiaries, TotalEnergies EP Uganda, and TotalEnergies East Africa Midstream.

Oil and gas company lobbyists attended secret shipping climate talks

Lobbyists from oil and gas companies like Shell, BP, Equinor, ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco are believed to have joined government negotiators at International Maritime Organization (IMO) talks on how to cut emissions from the shipping sector. At the week-long meeting in London, governments agreed to target net zero “by or around, i.e. close to 20%” and cut emissions by 20% by 2030 and 70% by 2040, compared to 2008 levels. Shipping uses the dirtiest part of a barrel of oil to fuel its vessels and oil companies are likely to struggle to sell that part elsewhere if the industry moves to cleaner fuels.

India plans to build $1.46 billion industrial water transport corridor

According to a Reuters report, Coal India Ltd, are considering investing up to $1.46 billion to set up an industrial water transport corridor in Odisha. The plan by Coal India, Paradip Port Authority and the Inland Waterways Authority of India could potentially carry 12 to 15 million tonnes of cargo by 2030 and would connect two ports in the eastern state via the Brahmi river.

India evaluating option of building gas storage: Oil Secretary

The government is evaluating the option of building storage for natural gas in case of supply disruptions. Last year, the country had to ration gas to fertiliser and other sectors after imports under a deal with Russia were affected due to the Russia-Ukraine war. India would probably seek help from foreign companies for building gas storage and the modalities would be worked out after a feasibility study.