By Dr Shaju Thomas
Environmental governance in India has evolved over the last 60 years, via a bevy of Acts, Rules, Bills, Ordinances, and other such legal measures. Despite growing pressures from various vested interests, these legal acts have clearly helped to save India’s environment from even worse deterioration than it has so far suffered.
But the opening up of India to global market forces in the 1990s, and the policies that accompanied it, have created severe challenges for the environment.
A striking example is the appointment of a High Level Committee (HLC) in 2014 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change. The HLC was charged with reviewing major environmental laws in the country, including:
- The Environment Protection Act, 1986
- The Forest Conservation Act, 1980
- The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
- The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
- The Indian Forests Act, 1927
The HLC submitted its report in November 2014 — without giving enough time for public discourse.
The biggest problem with the report that it oversteps its mandate. The HLC wants to get rid of time-consuming procedures for approval of development projects. It wants to introduce “speed” in project approvals, which it says are the “engines of the nation’s growth“.
Further, the HLC is proposing an “Environment Law (Management) Act”, as well as more centralized federal and state environmental authorities, which can be more easily controlled. And the HLC’s report has no provision at all to deal with climate change and related issues.
These are all dangerous developments. The HLC report is a deliberate attempt to derail the legal and policy framework that has evolved over time to protect India’s environment.
Indians need to stand up and be heard. If its recommendations are adopted, the HLC report will pose great perils for India’s environmental future.