Environmental governance is one of the emerging challenges facing the contemporary world. It is the means by which society determines and acts on goals and priorities related to the management of natural resources. Efficient environment governance at all levels is significant for finding solutions to challenges such as pollution, waste management, climate change, ozone layer depletion and biodiversity loss. This includes appropriate environmental, social and legal frameworks at local, regional, national and global levels that are a prerequisite for good environmental governance.
India has a long history and tradition of seeking harmonious co-existence between humans and nature. Respect for Nature is an integral part of our ethos and value system. We represent a culture that calls our planet ‘Mother Earth’. As one of our ancient texts says; “Keep Pure! For the Earth is our Mother! And we are her children!” India in many ways represents one of the few ancient civilizations and cultures that have relatively unbroken traditions. Thus, Indians have believed and practised the science and art of living in harmony with Nature and it is important that we continue to do so.
India, a mega-diverse country, both culturally and biologically, with 2.4 per cent of the world’s land, 4 per cent of global freshwater resources and consuming only 6 per cent of world’s primary energy, is supporting around 18 per cent of the global human population. India’s rising economy and young demography offer many novel, creative and fascinating opportunities for the 21st century. With this backdrop, the country is aspiring to overcome poverty, conserve the environment and continue pursuing sustainable lifestyles based on lessons gleaned from our long and illustrious history and vibrant culture.
Economic growth, and particularly consumerism, has led to intensive use of resources such as water, energy and materials, as well as extensive waste generation. Users value the input resources (water, energy and materials) at less than their environmental costs, which leads to their over-exploitation.
Against this backdrop, a strong focus on environmental governance, roughly defined as formal and informal interactions between the state, market and civil society is critical. Environmental governance is aimed towards the formulation and implementation of policies in response to environment-related issues, to attain environmentally sustainable development. It refers to the decision-making processes involved in ensuring environmental welfare and advocates sustainable development as the supreme consideration for environmental management practices. Good governance is a product of four main drivers: public sector management, accountability, existing legal framework and accessibility and transparency of information. Thus, good environmental governance needs to be driven by informed policy making, with the help of a transparent and accountable bureaucracy that is focused on working for the public good, with public participation.
Economic and environmental protection pose a critical trade-off to any developing country, and India is no exception. The approach to governance is based on the ideals of pluralism, equity and diversity, and thus, political, institutional and socio-cultural systems face numerous challenges when it comes to environmental governance. The growing Indian economy requires balancing economic growth while also preserving the environment and wisely using natural resources.
Environmental governance first emerged as a political issue in India barely 25 years after Independence, following the United Nations Conference on Human Environment and Development (Stockholm Conference of 1972). This conference was instrumental in generating awareness about the global environment and led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Stockholm Convention led to a slew of developments in Indian environmental legislation. The National Environmental Planning and Coordination Committee was set up in 1972, followed by the enactment of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, to ensure that existing water resources are preserved through proactive efforts. India also set up pollution control boards at the centre and state levels to ensure compliance of the Water Act. In 1976, the Constitution of India incorporated environmental concerns into the Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles and Fundamental Duties of India, through the 42nd Amendment.
Economic and environmental protection pose a critical trade-off to any developing country, and India is no exception. The approach to governance is based on the ideals of pluralism, equity and diversity, and thus, political, institutional and socio-cultural systems face numerous challenges when it comes to environmental governance
In 1980, India enacted the Forest (Conservation) Act, and in 1981, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984 triggered enactment of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 which brought together the above-mentioned Acts under a single umbrella Act. All the Acts saw the formulation of subsequent ‘Rules’, which provide procedural instructions to help with compliance of the Acts.
What constitutes an environmental issue itself sometimes undergoes a transformation—chemicals in established use are found to be pollutants, standards of use are made more stringent over time with new scientific information, new information and data give rise to new concerns, or new threats and concerns emerge over time. Particularly in a developing country, such changes are often very rapidly leading to considerable disorientation in environmental governance
The trend of international conventions triggering formulation of National Acts and policy statements has been repeated through the years. The Brundtland Commission Report, 1987, that explored the interconnections between social equity, economic growth and environmental issues, and the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, in 1992 (also known as the Earth Summit), led to the formulation of the National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development followed by the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification in 1994, which was amended over the years and was revised in 2006 (EIA Notification 2006). The National Environment Policy of 2006 encapsulated the spirit of sustainable development in the policy statement for environment. The Policy also internalized key approaches of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Migratory Species and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
India further implemented Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration (1992) through the Right to Information Act (RTI) in 2005. The RTI Act has been instrumental in increasing transparency and accessibility to information. This has enabled civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the general public to become aware of environmental issues in the country. Similarly, the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992 saw the enactment of the Biological Diversity Act in 2000 for effective conservation, and at the same time, help communities benefit from any commercial exploitation of the bioresources that they have conserved.
The wise use principle of Ramsar Convention was brought within the regulatory architecture in the form of Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, and the design on Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) flagship programme on wetlands, notably the National Programme on Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems.
Current policy framework in India
The ‘precautionary principle’ envisaged under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 forms one of the pillars of environmental governance in the country. This requires actions to be taken on a precautionary basis, without necessarily waiting for unambiguous proof or complete information, prior to any issue reaching the stage of affecting the environment and the health of the citizens.
This has led over the past few decades to a shift in the government’s approach from an emphasis on pollution mitigation to proactive measures to prevent pollution. A series of national plans demonstrate the intent of incorporating environmental aspects into development. The National Forest Policy (1988), The National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development (1992), and The Policy Statement on Abatement of Pollution (1992) are demonstrations of this intent. Articles 21, 48-A and 51-A (g) of the Constitution mandating a national commitment to a clean environment, led to the formulation of a National Environment Policy (NEP) in 2006 to ensure a common perspective in different sectoral and non-sectoral approaches to environmental management. In addition to the Acts and Rules mentioned previously, India’s governance framework also responds to global environmental issues like depletion of the ozone layer, in the form of legislative Acts like the Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulation and Control) Rules in 2000.
In the Indian context, public participation (Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration) has played a role in the success of policies. In 1998, the EIA Notification was amended in order to include “public hearing” as an important part of the environmental clearance procedure for development projects. The democratic nature of Indian governance has often been seen in the form of strong and vocal environmental movements. Public interest litigations have aided local communities and civil society organisations drive better implementation of protective measures for the environment.
The Supreme Court of India used to hear all environment-related cases until the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was established under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010. The Tribunal is aimed at delivering focused and expeditious measures on environment-related cases. India is the third country in the world (after Australia and New Zealand) to have such a focused legal body for environment- related cases. The Tribunal has become a forum where environmental clearances can be challenged, thus empowering the general public of India. This ensures that improper conduct of the public hearings, insufficiency of public consultations, faulty EIA reports, concealment of information by the industries, etc. are checked and reduced. Thus, it can be said that the Indian Judiciary has enhanced environmental jurisprudence in India.
Transforming good governance into smart governance
India is in the midst of a profound transformation that is moving the country to the centre stage in many areas of global interaction. A vibrant democracy that is home to over one-sixth of the world’s population, India’s modernisation has been gathering speed and new policies have been introduced to unleash further growth.
While a number of increasingly stringent acts, rules, procedures and regulatory measures are being introduced over time, they nevertheless fall short of their intended goals and targets in a number of ways due to political, social, economic, operational and capacity constraints. Despite the many proactive measures taken up by the government, it is also increasingly realised that environmental performance has not been fully able to match the pace of development in a sustainable manner.
Technology can of course critically assist in good governance or smart governance as the combination is often referred to. Past techniques and methodologies historically implemented in other countries can be leap-frogged with new smart solutions. But technology alone, or smart- governance alone, cannot perhaps solve the basic problem that environmental governance must deal with. While acknowledging that environmental governance is constantly being stepped up, it is clear that the direction and pace of development constantly reframe the challenges that it has to face. The solution lies perhaps in not considering this a failure but part of a process of learning by doing. This is especially necessary since the development is not always a systematic, predictable or deterministic process. Both its pace and direction are subject to considerable uncertainties and this would require that environmental governance must learn to deal with these uncertainties that emerge over time.
Indeed, what constitutes an environmental issue itself sometimes undergoes a transformation—chemicals in established use are found to be pollutants, standards of use are made more stringent over time with new scientific information, new information and data give rise to new concerns, or new threats and concerns emerge over time. Particularly in a developing country, such changes are often very rapidly leading to considerable disorientation in environmental governance. In short, environmental governance cannot be but a dynamic process, adapting to constantly changing as well as radically new challenges. And as a dynamic process, it will also be subject to learning by doing over a period of time. Recent measures, such as introduction of real-time air and water pollution monitoring system, popularly known as Continuous Emission Monitoring System (CEMS); or introduction of PARIVESH, (Pro- Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub), an online, single-window green clearance tracking system, are the real game changers. We need end-to-end systems to monitor polluting actions, legislative control and regulatory actions. Good governance for the pollution domain would be effective if steps are taken at city and state levels. Grass root level governance will be more efficient in implementing the measures and practices. An efficient way of doing so is by scaling up and integrating the existing smart practices with new and complimenting measures, including the adoption of appropriate technologies.
Some key sectoral issues
- Land – Land remains the most important economic, social, and cultural resource for the vast majority of Indians. While the acquisition of land is regarded as a “bottleneck” in the process of economic development, ownership of land also provides a measure of security to a vast section of the population. Predictably then, disparities over land is the most widespread and inflexible of all minor and local conflicts in India. Legal disputes over land are the most important factor responsible for clogging of cases in courts, both in terms of the number and the pendency of cases. However, with countless colonial and post-colonial central and state laws dealing with land reforms to land acquisition, forest laws to laws applicable to Scheduled Areas, from laws promoting and regulating urban development to laws dealing with evacuee, enemy, ancestral and religious property, it may be prudent to further streamline existing laws and create a comprehensive database on “land laws” for effective governance.
Alienation of land is, of course, part of the process of the transformation of land use, which is one of the fundamental processes that set in motion a cascading array of environmental transformations. Regulating land use is a larger, more complex question than the regulation of conflicting claims on land. The loss of land which is the basis of particular ecosystems, such as wetlands, coastal land or beaches, the conversion of land from agricultural use of particular kinds to buildings and construction, the degradation of the quality of land due to soil erosion, poor drainage or other anthropogenic causes, all of these are examples of land use change that have serious environmental impacts. Regulating land use change is a major challenge, and there has only been some marginal impact so far. While wetlands and coastal zones have been brought under some kind of regulation, the land in many other ecosystems is protected only by the cover provided by other regulation such as that of forests or wildlife. Wetlands rarely find mention as a land-use class, and are mostly prone to classification as a ‘wasteland’ to be developed for a productive use. This glaring loophole has been used rampantly by developers to convert natural wetlands into infrastructure development areas.
The difficulties in regulating land-use change is a very typical instance of the difficulties of environmental governance, especially arising from the intersection of the economic and social dimensions with the environmental dimension. While it is widely and readily recognized it is not easily dealt with, particularly because of the complex economic and social processes that are at the heart of these transformations.
- Urbanisation – The other great challenge that India faces is urbanisation. It is worth noting that one of the largest shifts in the planning process of urban centres in world history is projected to occur in India in the next few decades. A transition of such scale places unprecedented pressure on energy, water and other natural resources which provide the necessities and amenities to a growing population. How then, can India urbanise in a manner where energy, food and water needs are met, the local and global environment is preserved and the energy and economic security are not put at risk.
The ‘Smart Cities’ Mission, launched in 2015, puts a welcome emphasis on integrated planning and provision of urban services (including power, water, waste and mass transportation), even though it possesses considerable challenge of coordinated delivery across different branches and levels of the government. In addition, the National Urban Policy Framework is currently under preparation (the draft is being consulted widely), focuses on holistic urban development keeping in mind environmental and ecological challenges. The National Urban Sanitation Policy 2008 emphasises on access to sanitation and open defecation free urban communities. This has been instrumental in bringing focus on the need for greater efforts towards sewerage management following required environmental standards. Finally, there is an increasing focus on Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) in order to address the need for smaller cities and parts of urban areas not covered by networked systems.
- Air pollution – According to the World Health Organisation’s global ambient air quality database, nine out of 10 people on earth live in the misery of highly polluted air (WHO 2018a). India is no exception with the world’s second largest population base of 1.21 billion (in 2011) and a disproportionately low amount of natural resources to sustain its people. As per the database, 11 out of 12 most polluted cities in terms of air quality (fine particulate matter, PM 2.5) are located in India (WHO 2018b). Air quality index exceeds the prescribed national standards in almost every major city, and three-quarters of the country’s population is exposed to poor air quality (Balakrishnan et. al 2019).
Regulating land use change is a major challenge, and there has only been some marginal impact so far. While wetlands and coastal zones have been brought under some kind of regulation, the land in many other ecosystems is protected only by the cover provided by other regulation such as that of forests or wildlife. Wetlands rarely find mention as a land-use class
Most of the PM 2.5 related pollution comes from combustion-based activities fuelled by coal in industry and power plants; diesel and petrol in the vehicle segment, and biomass burning predominantly in rural areas for cooking needs. In addition, dust on the roads and constant vehicular movement adds to the PM 10 woes (UrbanEmissions.info 2016). Besides, unorganised activities such as waste burning, celebratory firecracker activities, and seasonal events such as stubble fires give a hard time finding an appropriate solution. Meteorology also plays an important role here, as pollution is not limited to source areas alone, and pollutants can even travel several miles to impact distant locations.The impact of consistently high exposure to pollution is disastrous in terms of health and economic costs. According to some estimates, crop burning alone in the northern plains of India causes an estimated economic loss of USD 30 billion annually, as it leads to acute respiratory infections measured by frequency of reported hospital visits (PTI 2019).Earlier this year, in January 2019, the government ramped up its efforts against air pollution through a nationwide launch of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). Indeed, it is a welcome step, as it addresses the challenge with a clear target of 20 to 30 per cent reduction in PM 10 and PM 2.5 concentration by 2024 from the base year 2017 (PIB 2019). Source apportionment studies in the selected 102 cities will be conducted by expert technical agencies like IITs, CPCB, etc., in a phased manner.On an optimistic note, it shall be treated as a good starting point, but adding more clarity beyond targets would be certainly useful. Regardless of all the impressive anti-pollution measures adopted by the Government, air quality, in several instances, appears to be worsening by the day. The solution appears to be in smart-governance and public awareness. For instance, India does not have sufficient air quality monitoring stations to inform policies and track progress regularly. As of 2019, 731 air quality monitoring stations are operational covering 312 cities/towns out of over 5000 cities (CPCB 2018a). Thus, most cities either completely lack the monitoring capacity or have poor information to arrive at any concrete decision. Moreover, the majority of these stations can’t monitor PM 2.5 pollutant and face frequent calibration issues (Upadhyay 2019). A model of smart governance may also address this challenge before setting any new goals towards air quality improvement.Since air pollution monitoring and control measures are made available only for major cities, it gives an impression that the small towns and villages are free from pollution. This may prevent the adoption of local mitigation measures.
Given this background, it is imperative to strengthen and reinforce several public institutions which lack the required technical and workforce capacity to implement environmental governance. For instance, State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) generally lack capacity to conduct source apportionment studies. Only the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and some other research institutions can undertake these. Thus, considering the growing air pollution problem in major cities, there is an urgent need to build capacity across the relevant institutions.
Another major concern behind policy implementation is the poor institutional capacity to handle big-ticket reforms. SPCBs face a huge capacity crunch in terms of trained manpower, lack of technical resources, high administrative burden, and specialised professionals from IT and legal sector (Centre for Science and Environment 2009). It is impossible for the SPCBs to adequately monitor the progress of current mandates and programmes without having IT-enabled systems. Extended Green Node (XGN) is a tried and tested model of smart governance, where states including Gujarat have managed to reduce their administrative burden by a significant margin. Within a few years of operation, they have managed to regulate the air and water inspection across industries in a streamlined manner. Besides, it has helped these States to keep a digital record of emissions reported by industries every month. This model can easily be replicated across all the States to further analyse and inform policies by making use of real-time information collected from industries with little effort.
Finally, the quality and accuracy of the reported data is always a point of investigation. Realising this, in 2014, CPCB issued a directive to 17 categories of industries identified as the most polluting industries. This precisely addresses the prime challenge of the lack of transparent information and is undoubtedly a great preventive measure. CPCB has now expressed its intention to expand this measure to other categories of polluting industries as well. Before we proceed ahead and take required steps, we must not overlook the questions raised on equipment quality and authenticity of data. There is no laboratory available in the country to carry out an authentic calibration and certification of Continuous Emission Monitoring System (CEMS) equipment. Certainly, quality of information should come under scrutiny; otherwise many industries must have been found non-compliant with the norms after CEMS implementation. The government needs to fix the issues around testing and calibration of CEMS before the expansion of scope and coverage of CEMS installation.
- Water – Water bodies are popularly recognised from pre-historic times as the lifeline of civilisations. This is very true in the context of India being an agrarian economy, and a large population relying on agriculture and allied activities. In the modern period, even industry and power generation activities suffer severe impact due to the unavailability of water. According to the World Resource Institute’s statistics, “between 2013 and 2016, 14 of India’s 20 largest thermal utilities had shutdowns due to water shortages (WRI 2018).” In 2018, a NITI Aayog report revealed statistics on the state of the water crisis in India. It suggested that: 600 million people face high-to-extreme water stress; 75 per cent of households do not have drinking water on premises. Around 84 per cent rural households do not have piped water access; 70 per cent of our water is contaminated. India is currently ranked 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index. It further stated that every year 200,000 Indian lives are lost due to contaminated water or inadequate supplies. The situation is likely to get worst, as 40 per cent of the Indian population will have no access to drinking water by 2030 (NITI Aayog 2018). The NITI Aayog introduced the Water Index in 2018, built on 28 key performance indicators related to irrigation, drinking water, and other water- related sectors. By linking fiscal tranfers to States with performance on water index (within other considerations), a mechanism for incentivising good water management has been enabled.
Water is a ‘State’ subject in India. Hence governance is dispersed and complex. Aside from SPCBs, India has multiple bodies at central and state level to look after conservation and corrective measures, namely – National Water Board, National Water Council, Municipal bodies, Central Water Commission, Central Groundwater Board, etc. The focus of these bodies is predominantly towards augmenting supply systems, while the possibilities of promoting productive water- use efficiency is not a mainstream subject yet (Gaur 2016). This can be understood from the fact that despite being a water-scarce country, India’s agriculture including its exports is highly water-intensive according to the Water Footprint Network (WFN) statistics. There is an increasing trend to use nature-based solutions instead of hard engineering solutions to meet present- day water challenges. Role of wetlands has been primary in meeting objectives of flood control, augmenting water supply and enhancing groundwater recharge. The discourse on ‘nature-based solutions’ or ‘hybrid solutions’ is yet to find a mainstream place.
On the supply side, the issue of the clean-up of the Ganga is in the limelight. The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) originally launched in 1986 has a record of poor implementation within an extensive institutional architecture. It could not find desired success because of curtailed budgetary support, and implementation bottlenecks. In addition, lack of public participation and difficulty in tackling non-point sources of pollution in the past had led to poor water quality in river Ganga (Dutta 2017).
NamamiGange, a flagship programme initiated by the central government in 2014, seeks to address past failures and improve governance decisions. Some of the good governance lessons are:
• Bringing States on-board through State- level committees. This ensures sustained maintenance of treatment facilities along the bank of Ganga;
• It has an extensive focus on sanitation and prevention of open defecation coupled with Swachh Bharat Mission. More than 90 per cent of villages along the river have been already declared open defecation free.
Despite these successful measures, governance challenges in the form of land availability are still to be resolved. Looking at a broader canvas, statistics from the CPCB suggests that the number of polluted river stretches in India are 351, and 31 States and Union Territories have rivers and streams that do not meet water quality criteria (CPCB 2018b). What kind of governance measures should be adopted to tackle this massive problem? Acts and legislations need to be aligned to treat water and sanitation as part of a common water cycle. The same needs to reflect in the mandate and coordination activities of agencies at both national and state levels. Recognition of the role of non-state actors in the maintenance and protection of ‘commons’ is critical. This justifies the pluralism and the collaborative governance aspects discussed previously. In addition, pollution of rivers is associated with the lack of technology for water treatment and the behavioural pattern of discharging wastewater directly in freshwater streams. Thus, technology should be part of effective governance mechanisms, and nowhere is it more evident than in the case of water.
The following specific measures could also be useful:
• Optimisation of water use: The agriculture sector is the prime cause as well as a sufferer of water-use inefficiencies in India. Unchecked, unmetered water use coupled with energy- subsidies allows overexploitation of surface and groundwater and is often leading to shortages for the domestic and industrial sectors. Experts believe that judicious use of water as per requirement would be good for both the soil and the crop. Across the States, governance reforms have to break the various barriers to overcome this challenge.
• Data for better coordination and clarity: Regulatory and governing agencies generally lack adequate and usable information on water resources within the country. Besides, multiple agencies across the centre and state jurisdiction work in silos without appropriate coordination to address a common set of issues. A centralised data repository would be an efficient way to tackle the coordination barrier (Kishore 2017). The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has a total of 22,339 observation wells to monitor groundwater, i.e. one well for a 147 square kilometre grid (CGWB 2016). Expansion of monitoring network and continuous monitoring of surface water and groundwater bodies would assist strict implementation of relevant measures.
- Waste management – India generates approximately 62 million tonnes of waste on an annual basis, out of which hardly 20 per cent gets treated and around 50 per cent may go to landfills. Major categories of waste include e-waste (15 million tonne), hazardous waste (7.90 million tonne), plastic waste (5.6 million tonne) and biomedical waste (0.17 million tonne) (PIB 2016). Waste management is predominately governed by the Solid Waste Management Rules (2016) along with a range of other rules: Plastic Waste Management Rules (2016); E-waste Management Rules (2016); Bio-medical Waste Management Rules (2016); Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules (2016); and, Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules (2016). This demonstrates that we have a very robust set of rules covering almost everything classified as waste, but implementation and regulation are quite challenging. The smallest unit to be governed over here is each individual household, not to mention the commercial and industrial activities. Despite a large network of municipal bodies in the country, segregation of waste and thereupon separate collection, transport, disposal/treatment requires close monitoring and strict regulation, which is a daunting task. Waste management needs to figure much higher in the priorities and fund allocation of the governance hierarchy at all levels. A maintenance and auditing system needs to be in place to keep a check on the challenges mentioned as these aspects are almost entirely ignored by the municipal bodies.
Strict enforcement with appropriate penal provisions is part of the fundamental solution structure to tackle the miseries of waste generation in India. Beyond this, an incentive-based approach to managing waste across the value chain would be useful. Informal workforce plays a very important role in the entire waste management value chain. A governance system that recognises them as valuable stakeholders may prove to be more beneficial. All of this shall be achieved by empowering municipal bodies and SPCBs. At the same time, rapid mechanisation is essential to ensure that human lives are not put at risk through the carrying out of hazardous tasks in sanitation and waste management. This issue is worth noting, being carried forward expeditiously in several ways in the country today. This transformation also carries a profound social message that social, caste discrimination in this kind of labour will now come to a permanent end.
Another measure is to start converting waste into a useful resource. The ‘money-in-the-waste’ has to be realised through recycling and energy generation processes. India’s recent test with plastic derived biodiesel and aviation fuel is a great example of need driven innovation. Similar attempts must be promoted for ever-growing electronic waste (e-waste) in India. E-waste is an excellent source of plastic, base metals and a wide range of exotic minerals which does not get produced in India. Suitable incentives to the recycling industry and pilots to commercial operation at economies of scale are being explored.
- Green clearances – Green clearance procedures (environment and forest clearance) are among the most effective governance instruments adopted by several major economies across the world. The underlying concept remains the same whereas operational aspects may vary in certain countries. In India, the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2006 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) requires prior environmental clearance from the concerned authorities before starting any developmental activity. The depth of assessment and approval authority (state, centre, or both) is largely determined by the nature and scale of the proposed activity. Any project activity which necessarily requires a diversion of forest land entails additional clearance procedure from forest authorities. Similarly, additional procedures are applicable in case of the project falling closer to a protected (wildlife) zone or coastal areas.
The governance system for environmental clearance is quite robust and follows global best practices as it involves stakeholder consultation (in the form of public hearing) as well. The entire procedure may take time, depending upon nature of application and severity of the impact. Involvement of forest clearance makes the scrutiny process more cumbersome. A study suggests that the majority of projects face delay at the EIA, public hearing and expert appraisal committee stages. In many cases, non-compliance of ‘terms of reference (TOR)’ incorrect or insufficient information submission by the project proponents (or their consultants) has remained a major cause of delay (Chaturvedi et al. 2014).
Speeding up the environmental approvals have been one of the priority tasks undertaken by the government as a part of the policy to ease business and development in the country since 2014. While the environmental parameters to be scrutinised and protected remain the same, the procedures have been digitized and made time-bound. Single window environmental clearance tracking system known as PARIVESH is to be seen as the latest improvement and evident measure in this direction (PIB 2018). The average time taken for environment clearance has come down to a mere 170 days from 600 days (Dasgupta 2018).
Earlier, a study conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) in 2014 suggested the following measures to improve the governance around green-clearances (Chaturvedi et al. 2014):
• Creation of an Environmental Clearance Service Cell within MoEFCC to assist project developers in adhering to the specified guidelines as per the Terms of Reference (ToR), to assist in getting clearances across various departments and ministries, and as a manager of detailed information system aimed at regular monitoring and analysis of projects at the individual level and from a macro perspective.
• Overhauling the public hearing process to a longer-term public participation process that seeks to build public trust, address concerns and institutionalise EIA follow-up process for a smoother conclusion of the public participation process.
• Creation of an Environmental Clearance Information System (ECIS) within MoEFCC for regular reporting, analysis and monitoring of projects, both at the level of individual projects and all projects taken together within different categories.
India and climate governance
The United States and China together account for a disproportionate share of global greenhouse gas emissions and are indeed the titans of global warming. In 2014, the US President Barack Obama and the Chinese President Xi Jinping announced complementary efforts to limit emissions, paving the way for the Paris Agreement. And yet, with President Trump’s planned withdrawal from the Paris Accord, and the mutual mistrust between the US and China fueled by trade issues, the climate future is generally seen as being quite uncertain.
The climate policy has acquired a special status even in the domestic arena for India. The formation of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change brought together high-level officials to develop a detailed coordinated plan to tackle issues related to climate change in India. The outcome, the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), consisting of eight national missions, provides support to climate policy-oriented governance. The eight national missions focus on the areas of solar energy, energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water, the Himalayan ecosystem, forestry, agriculture and knowledge for climate change. The missions aim to integrate a broad set of environmental objectives into the appropriate policy areas.
India has nearly 18 per cent of the world’s population and yet its share of global GHG emissions is only around 3 per cent. Therefore, per capita, GHG emission in India is around 1/4 of the global average. India’s per capita GHG emission in 2014 was 1.8 tonne CO (MoEFCC 2018), which is far lower than that of developed countries. Therefore, labelling India among the largest emitters in absolute terms is clearly mistaken, since this ignores the size of our population. As a matter of fact, India has been at the forefront of promoting sustainable lifestyles.
In terms of global climate governance, India has ratified the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the increase of global average temperatures to well below 2°C and make efforts to limit it to 1.5°C by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. India has an ambitious goal of achieving 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022. This goal is being achieved by several proactive policies being implemented as a part of India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change, which includes the National Solar Mission. Other initiatives include National Offshore Wind Energy Policy 2015, Priority Sector Lending 2015, and the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) Scheme. REC scheme mandates power distributors to increase their power procurement from renewable energy sources.
To engage the large scale industries with high Specific Energy Consumption (SEC), Perform, Achieve and Trade (PAT) scheme was launched under the National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency. It sets SEC targets for a number of designated consumers. The scheme encourages firms to lower their energy consumption to reach the Bureau of.
In terms of global climate governance, India has ratified the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the increase of global average temperatures to well below 2°C and make efforts to limit it to 1.5°C by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. India has an ambitious goal of achieving 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022
Energy Efficiency (BEE) specified targets, to earn Energy Savings Certificates (ESCerts) which they can use to trade at a later stage. India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) includes, among other things, fiscal policies in the climate action domain. For instance, a cess on domestically produced and imported coal has been used towards National Clean Energy and Environment Fund (NCEEF). The other new policy initiatives also aim to strike a balance between the existing trend of economic development and overall environmental welfare. The transparency and MRV protocol required as per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is increasingly getting recognised in some government departments. However, since CO needs to be evaluated economy-wide, the reduction of reporting gaps require that the governance gaps in administrative capacity, technical know-how and financial support are expeditiously addressed.
Environmental governance is increasingly becoming contested and divisive and needs to move forward to cooperative solutions which require promotion of greater dialogue, understanding and patience—a call on all actors. Without such cooperation matters will come to a head and crisis will ensue. It also requires a deep interdisciplinary understanding of science, economics and policy aspects to ensure that environmental regulations are fair and implementable. Such capacity requirements need to be strengthened in public institutions.
Any policy or action of governance that is aimed at social equity, public welfare and sustained economic development, has to be fully supported by the three pillars—the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. These three build necessary checks and balances, not through acrimony but through a systematic process of mutual understanding, cooperation and course-correction, where required. In India, the role of each of these pillars of democracy has to be lauded where environmental governance is concerned, even though much remains to be seen in actual manifestation in the field. Science and technology, print and electronic media, formal and informal educational systems also play their role in policy implementation and delivery.
Governance thus benefits from two-way interaction with all stakeholders, to create the right ambient conditions for life and livelihood of the people and the safeguarding of all living and non-living entities—which is the essence of environmental governance.
(The writer is former Cabinet Secretary)
Courtesy: The Journal of Governance, Special Issue on Environment, IC Centre for Governance