Enhancing India’s Environmental Management
The TSR Subramanian Committee’s report on improving environmental governance in India is a perplexing piece of writing.
It accurately pinpoints India’s environmental crises and the shortcomings in environmental rules, monitoring, and enforcement that are to blame. and continues by outlining a new structure for preventing, observing, and resolving problems involving projects.
However, the paper also offers a number of independent observations. Some of these are legitimate, such as audits by impartial specialists to verify the work of the department of forests. Some don’t appear to hold up, though. For instance, it recommends changing the legislation so that traditions like Nag Panchami, in which cobras are captured and given milk, are no longer punishable, are no longer allowed.
What impact does this report have on the environment given these contradictions? What does it signify in terms of project approvals? The Subramanian committee recommends that new environmental protection authorities be established, including a National Environment Protection Authority (NEMA) and State Environment Management Authorities (SEMAs), in accordance with the Supreme Court’s Lafarge ruling. These will be in charge of project clearances and checking that the requirements for environmental clearance are being followed.
In NEMA, the environment minister will still provide the final approval as he does currently. However, since that NEMA is handling the majority of the project clearance work, the ministry can concentrate on formulating policies. The design of SEMAs represents a more significant change. The state governments have until this point been the SPCBs’ primary accountability.
With the exception of project clearances, the report recommends that SEMAs must follow NEMA’s mandates.
In the environment ministry, project clearances are one of the main methods for collecting rent. Regarding the protection of NEMA and SEMAs from political interference, the report is not entirely clear.
The report also suggests changing how India guarantees adherence to environmental approvals. The project proponent will inform the authorities about the level of pollution from the industrial unit in the proposed architecture. Additionally, the proponent shall deliver a public compliance report every six months. Heavy fines will be imposed for failure to report data and for giving inaccurate or misleading information. There is distrust in industry and environmental sectors.
The good faith provision is predicated on the idea that companies will supply correct information even if it is used against them. Rakesh Agarwal, managing director of Delhi-based Envirotech, a manufacturer of air quality monitoring technology, claimed that better monitoring would result if the government established its own densely packed grids of inexpensive sensors.
Resolution of Conflict
India has seen a substantial increase in the number of complaints filed at the National Green Tribunal (NGT), due to the insufficient implementation of environmental regulations by the central and state governments.
The Subramanian committee suggests a different, three-stage formulation. It seeks district-level special environmental courts presided either by a sessions judge.
The NGT is the place to file an appeal.
According to TSR Subramanian, the committee’s chairman, “the NGT cannot pick up cases suo moto” in this suggested architecture. Furthermore, no court or tribunal has the authority to review the NEMA, SEMAs, or government decisions. As was the situation with the IL&FS power plant in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, NGT is only permitted to conduct a judicial review; it cannot conduct a technical assessment of the clearances.
Is there a chance that this redesign will improve environmental justice?
Being more accessible to residents than the NGT, which operates in five cities, is one reason in favor of having district-level environmental courts.
Under the condition of anonymity, an environmental lawyer from Delhi, judges at the district level might not be as knowledgeable about environmental issues as the NGT benches.
More crucially, the proposal to confine the NGT’s authority to judicial review only severely curtails one of the few tools available in India for enforcing environmental laws. The Delhi attorney explained that having technical members on the NGT was done so they could even assess project clearances on a technical level.
The study has caused agitation in environmental groups. According to environmental attorney Ritwick Dutta, only statutes “being used to challenge project clearances are the ones picked for review.”
He queries why the committee’s mission did not include statutes like the Biological Diversity Act, which is rarely mentioned in petitions to the NGT despite the fact that, as the committee itself acknowledges, India is losing biodiversity at an alarming rate.
Some of the suggestions made by the panel have supported these suspicions. Only woods with a tree density of over 70% is suggested to be labeled as “no go” regions. It also recommends abandoning wildlife clearances for locations 10 kilometers from protected zones.
According to Ravi Chellam, a wildlife scientist with the Foundation for Ecological Security, an NGO with its headquarters in Anand that works to conserve natural resources, the first option disregards the significance of wetlands, wildlife corridors, and grasslands.
Additionally, only 80,000 sq km of India’s claimed 700,000 sq km have more than 70% tree density, leaving the remainder essentially unclaimed. The wildlife idea is “lethal,” he claimed. Even outside of protected areas, wildlife is abundant. The paper also recommends exempting roads and pipelines from gram sabha permits under the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
The greatest method to achieve sustainable development, according to Dutta, is to make sure that all stakeholder concerns are taken into account before issuing a clearance.