Thursday, June 28, 2012

Environmental Crisis in India

This article is written by Shashank Sahay.

The rate of environmental degradation in India has perhaps surpassed the rapid rate of economic growth in the country. The scale of damages is so large that they cannot be relegated to the category of localized problems. They are global problems[1]. The already fragile global ecological systems are being strained even further. Demanding compliance with strict environmental standards would significantly retard the pace of growth in the economy and exacerbate their problems of poverty and unemployment. Innovative thinking to facilitate growth whilst protecting and restoring natural endowments is warranted. Some contemporary decision
makers also appear to seek solace in the conceptual premises underlying the more recent publication of Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC). The existence of an EKC, namely an inverted U type relationship between income levels and the emission of specific pollutants, has been suggested by several authors .i.e., environmental damages which tend to increase with the onset of economic growth begin to diminish after some threshold level of income is reached.  It is not surprising that the EKC evidence lends support to the ideology growth first and environment later. But the EKC evidence misses the fact environmental sinks are choked and that reduction in the emissions is not going to restore the sinks. In accordance to the Brudtland Report “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It basically emphasizes on the point that environment should be seen as an asset, a stock of available wealth but if the present generation spends this wealth without investment for the future then the world will run out of resources. If, however, proper capital is invested to research and develop new resources for the future, it is possible to build machines that will substitute for the environmental resource (resource substitution). (Image taken from here.)

Manmohan Singh: Prime Minister of India showing two fingers symbol of peace to crowd fans
Manmohan Singh: Prime Minister of India
 A good example is the construction of solar panels to replace oil and coal. In reality seeing the present economic competition and tussle amongst the nations, the idea of Sustainable Development is not being given importance as desired by the environmentalists and ecologists all over the world.Even the Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh on Tuesday described as alarming India’s multiple environment crises. In a candid stock taking at a meeting of state environment ministers, Singh said environmental challenges have made water scarcity a way of life. “Pollution is a growing threat to our health and to our habitats.” The major issue relating to environmental crisis in India is whether economic growth should be considered over ecological balance. Considering India to be a developing country, its major priority at this moment seeing the various economical reforms and schemes passed by the current government seems to be more inclined towards the current economic growth rather than maintaining the ecological balance whose disruption may in the future cause calamities. India already witnesses catastrophically environmental disasters each year. In spite of it, our Government is keener on wiping off the remaining forest cover and use it for Industrialization. No one can deny the fact that at the current situation India is facing a “CATCH 22” situation .i.e. if it focuses on economic growth for ecological imbalance, in coming future India may have to face natural disasters and if it focuses on maintain the ecological balance instead of economic growth, it will have to face economic crisis. The time has come when India starts using and investing more on “GREENER TECHNOLOGY” .i.e., use of more energy coming from renewable sources like sun, air, water etc than exhaustible resources such as coal, petro chemical products etc. By doing this not only the challenges of the present generation would be met but the ecological security of the future generation will not be compromised with. (Image taken from here.)

The need of a Tougher and more Resilient Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Legislation in India    
EIA is an exercise carried out before any project or major activity is undertaken to ensure that it will not in any way harm the environment on a short term or long term basis. Any developmental endeavour requires not only the analysis of the need of such a project, the monetary costs and benefits involved but most important, it requires a consideration and detailed assessment of the effect of a proposed development on the environment. The environment impact process was introduced with the purpose of identifying /evaluating the potential beneficial and adverse impacts of development projects on the environment, taking in to account environmental, social, cultural and aesthetic considerations. Due to public pressure on the government to accept accountability for the activities of its agencies the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was formed in USA during 1970. This was the basis for the development of a mechanism which came to be known as Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)[2]. (Image taken from here.)

Status of EIA in INDIA

The role for EIA in India was formally recognized at the earth summit held at Rio conference in 1992.There are two types of EIA models- the statutory model which makes the assessment of impact compulsory under an enacted law, or a delegated legislation, and the administrative model under which an administration exercises its discretion to find out whether an impact study is necessary[3]. Till 1992, India was following the administrative model of EIA. On 27th January, 1994 a notification was issued dealing with mandatory EIA. The notification requires project proponent to submit an EIA report, and environment management plan, details of the public hearing and a project report to the impact assessment agency for clearance, further review by a committee of experts in certain cases. By the amendment in the year 1997, public hearing was made compulsory before impact assessment was finalized. In India many of the developmental projects till as recently as the 1980s were implemented with very little or no environmental concerns. The environmental issues began receiving attention when a national committee on environmental planning and coordination was set up under the 4th five year plan (1969-1978). Till 1980, the subjects of environment and forests were the concern of the Dept of Science and Technology and Ministry of Agriculture respectively. A major legislative measures for the purpose of environmental clearance was in 1994 when specific notification was issued under section 3 and rule 5 of the environment protection Act , 1986 called the “Environment impact Assessment Notification 1994”. It should further be noted that the amount allocated and spent for preparation of EIA by the project proponents are usually abysmally low compared to the overall project costs (often less than 1% of overall projects). There are various benefits attached to EIA, which are stated below[4]:-

  • Pre-emption or early withdrawal of unsound proposals
  • Assists in the selection of alternatives, including the selection of the best practicable and most environmentally friendly option
  • Influences both project selection and design by screening out environmentally unsound projects, as well as modifying feasible projects - Mitigation of negative environmental and social impacts
  • Guides formal approval, including the establishment of terms and conditions of project implementation and follow-up
  • Results in best practice prediction and mitigation of adverse effects of projects
  • Serves as an adaptive, organizational learning process, in which the lessons of experience are feedback into policy, institutional and project design - Enhancement of positive aspects
  •  Incorporates stakeholder analysis
Thereby, it is high time that even in India a Well-framed and strong EIA legislation is drafted like in countries of Canada, where Canadian Environmental Assessment Act regulates EIA while EU countries are guided by Directive on EIA (1985), active involvement of all participants including competent authority, government agencies and affected people at early stages of the EIA:thereby making the process more robust and gives a fair idea of issues, which need to be addressed in the initial phase of EIA, Integrated approach similar to Canadian Environmental to EIA should  followed, all aspects including social and health taken into account, Scoping process should be comprehensive and involve consultation with all the stakeholders. In many countries like US, Netherlands, Canada and Europe, the involvement of the public and their concern are addressed in the scoping exercise.

This article is written by 
Shashank Sahay

 Shashank Sahay is pursuing BA.LLB from School of Law, Kiit University, Bhubaneswar and is currently in 2nd Semester. So far he has managed to write research paper and articles on issues ranging from homosexuality, AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Millitary Act), JIHAD to status of marital rape in India. Apart from writing research papers, his interests include MUNning (model united nations) and playing Football.


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