this is a process of forgetting, i say. do read.
The TSR Subramanian Committee’s report on overhauling environmental governance in India is a puzzling document. It correctly identifies environmental crises facing India and the lacunae in environmental regulations, monitoring and enforcement responsible. And goes on to outline a new architecture for clearing, monitoring and resolving disputes around projects. The report also makes, however, a set of standalone observations. Some of these are valid — like audits by independent experts to vet the forest department’s work. Others don’t seem to hold up. For instance, it says laws should be amended to ensure customs such as Nag Panchami, where cobras are caught and fed milk, are no longer prosecutable.
Belying the pessimism which surrounded its formation, a committee set up by the environment ministry has submitted a hard-hitting report. Among other things, the committee, headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian, has recommended that project approvals should be granted not by the environment ministry but by a new National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). It has also proposed that state pollution control boards (SPCBs) be merged into state-level equivalents of the NEMA and that, most importantly, they be made accountable to the Union government.
and then, there is this story on its environmental track record till now.
If environment minister Prakash Javadekar’s tweets are anything to go by, India is treading a fine balance between development and environmental protection. For instance, on May 31, shortly after taking charge at Paryavaran Bhawan, he tweeted: “The government believes in #environment and #development, and not environment vs development.” However, a look at the ministry’s major decisions between then and now suggests that in the NDA, much like the UPA, the conflict is real.
Even as the ministry of environment met its March 31 deadline to submit a plan to the Supreme Court for a new environment regulator, a set of academics, activists and environmental lawyers have weighed in with their own design. Concerned that the ministry version “would not meet the minimum standards of an independent regulatory authority”, this set, called Watchdog and Action Group for the Environment, have proposed an authority that has greater powers and independence than the design proposed by the environment ministry.
this latest development is a good one. some of the suggestions this group makes are very good. more than that, this is one step towards broadening and deepening the debate on the sort of environment authority india should have.
Tasked by the Supreme Court with creating a new and independent environment authority, the Ministry of Environment & Forests wants to retain its say in choosing the panel of experts to vet projects, a Cabinet note on the matter shows. This is a change from its earlier position, where the ministry said it would relinquish its powers in such appointments to avoid conflict of interest, and defeats the objective of having a truly independent regulator, says a senior government official…
i have been almost fully out of action for two weeks now. fell ill. still limping back to bloody full normalcy. anyway, here, one of the first stories i filed after getting back. an update on the proposed environment authority — i have been incorrectly calling it regulator till now.
ps – also see these stories on the env authority. one, a larger story on what the moef (ministry of environment and forests, india) proposes to create. and two, an indepth interview with utah university law prof william lockhart re the moef blueprint. this, incidentally, is an idea that has been doing the rounds for a while. the last time india tried to create one was in 2010. see these two stories on the proposed national environment protection authority (nepa) — one, and two. later, this became the national environment assessment and monitoring agency. and then, it went on the backburner before the SC dragged it out of oblivion. see this epw piece on neama by environment lawyer shibani ghosh.
ET just uploaded an interview with William Lockhart, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Utah’s SJ Quinney College of Law, re the proposed contours of the environment regulator. Professor Lockhart has been studying the Indian environment clearance process for a long time — my 2006-07 thesis on the Environment Impact Assessment Notification had relied on his work to a large extent.
In this interview, he gets into detail on the environmental clearance process — where it stands today, what it needs to be, and what will have to change for India to start balancing environmental needs and developmental demands. Take a look. This interview gets into more detail than the story does.
Q: Take a closer look at this and one sees the possibility of creating a more robust environmental governance architecture here. The environment regulator, the functioning Green Tribunals, India’s well-established environmental laws. The big question, of course, is: whether we will go in that direction or not. What do you think?
A: The current proposals are barely responsive to the instinct you show above. There is absolutely no question in my mind that reform of the EIA/Clearance process is utterly critical to the preservation of India’s critical remaining human and natural habitats. But if possible, reform is even more important to any hopeful sense of India’s future as a responsibly self-governing democracy. At present, clearances of all sorts are being approved with minimal or no meaningful environmental review, under constant political pressure, in disregard of any credible understanding of the content or purposes of existing law, and on the basis of “future” compliance with “conditions” for post-clearance performance on matters that clearly are required by law to be assessed before — not after — clearance, and in any event remain almost wholly unenforced.
I like his point about the rule of law. Really, you can create however many institutions as you like. But without any desire to implement laws, the whole thing is just a bureaucratic exercise.