the greens step in

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.

the environment ministry tries to weaken the proposed environment authority…

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.

 

on the environment regulator: an interview with william lockhart

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.

an update on the proposed environment regulator

India’s environmental clearance process is universally loathed. Industry and technocrats find it cumbersome and corrupt, and blame it for project delays and slowing growth. Environmentalists and project-affected people consider it superficial, corrupt and given to approving virtually all projects, unmindful of their social and environmental costs. Both views are correct. India’s environmental clearance (EC) process is a mess, unable to strike a balance between the demands of growth and the need to protect the ecological systems needed to support what will soon be the world’s most populous country.

William Lockhart , the emeritus professor of law at University of Utah’s SJ Quinney College of Law, has been studying India’s EC process for a long time, and he pans every part of it. “Clearances of all sorts are approved with minimal or no meaningful environmental review, under constant political pressure, on the basis of ‘future’ compliance with ‘conditions’ for post-clearance performance on matters that are required by law to be assessed before clearance, and in any event remain almost wholly unenforced.” That is the bad news.

The good news is this could change. On January 6, the country’s highest court, assessing the ministry of environment’s mechanism to appraise projects to be “not satisfactory”, directed it to set up by March 31 an independent regulator that would appraise, approve and monitor projects. A set of bureaucrats in the ministry is currently working on the architecture of the new regulator. But will this new architecture address the shortcomings that plague each of the four steps of the EC process?

and, here, my post on anomalocaris, my et blog, containing some stuff we could not accommodate in the final draft.

india’s quest for an independent environment regulator

After the Supreme Court ruling on Monday, it is now clear that India will soon have an independent environmental regulator. What is less clear is whether this regulator will be a watchdog with teeth or without…

in this story, i argue that since “environmental clearances can be a source of political rent, it is important to delink the new regulator – in aspects like staffing and funding — from political pressures”. also see these two older stories (one and two) written four years ago — when i had just joined et — about this idea to create an env regulator. an idea that went on the backburner once jayanthi natarajan came to the ministry.

Enter, NEPA

The environment ministry will, in the coming monsoon session, place a Bill for creating the National Environment Protection Authority (Nepa), an authority modelled on the lines of the US Environmental Protection Agency. What is less clear is whether this body will be a powerful watchdog, or a toothless old hound.

environmental governance in India has been in shambles forever. shortly after taking charge, environment minister jairam ramesh announced that the country would set up a National Environment Protection Agency, along much the same lines as the US’ Environment Protection Agency. In January this year, the Economic Times published this update on how the NEPA was coming along.