ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES THAT MISSED THE MARK!

The Indian government has undertaken several environmental policies and initiatives both conservative and compensatory in nature, yet have failed to achieve their goals of environment preservation. The policies firstly aim to compensate for the loss caused to the environment by projects in terms of heavy taxes or imposed fees. Secondly, they may also redefine the existing systems in order to tackle the environmental concerns. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks India on the 168thplace out of 180.  The statement says that as one of the world’s most significant emitters of greenhouse gases, India is not on track to decarbonize quickly enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and that there has been no overall improvement in India’s environmental performance over the past decade. 

On a closer look at the policies, it can be noted that while some have just failed to translate into better ground management, many of them downright miss the focus area of the problem and thereby become insufficient in making a notable impact. This article will analyze some of such policies and initiatives and identify the gaps in their formulation and implementation.

COMPENSATORY AFFORESTATION FUND ACT 

Forest lands in India that are cleared by government or private companies must be compensated for by identifying equivalent non-forest land and afforesting it. The fee imposed on such projects is collected under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund. This act allows the provision of the money collected to be released by the forest department in the afforestation projects. 

However, it is imperative to understand that a ‘forest’ when defined as only a tree/ plantation cover leaves behind the several characteristics that essentially makes it what it is. Ricardo Carrere and Larry Lohmann clearly define the difference between the two. They write – “A forest is a complex, self-regenerating system, encompassing soil, water, microclimate, energy, and a wide variety of plants and animals in mutual relation. A commercial plantation, on the other hand, is a cultivated area whose species and structure have been simplified dramatically to produce only a few goods, whether lumber, fuel, resin, oil, or fruit.”

Undoubtedly, the ecological functions of forests cannot be compensated for through large scale monocrop plantations. 

Another inherent factor that helps maintain forests in their original sense are the indigenous people who own and cater to them in the most suitable manner. Indegineous have the knowledge of cultivating and harbouring forests and lands according to their needs which helps to retain their ecological and social functions.  This act however, makes it easier for government authorities to  seize lands from the local people – both forest dwelling and other communities. 

With a ‘compensatory’ policy in place, destructive projects are easily granted the clearance. The forest dwelling communities are consulted which is only weakening of the requirement of consent. They hold absolutely no say in this trade of their land. Industrialists and lawyers also manage to find their way around the loopholes in the Forest Rights Act 2006 – which was an environmental justice framework designed to protect these communities. Indigenous people often lacking access to education are unable to file complaints and follow through the tedious legal procedure for the very law that was put together to protect them and their habitats. 

Other communities too fall victim to public pressure and are often manipulated to give up their lands for the compensatory plantations. It can be noted that more and more degraded land is being diverted for afforestation which is very worrying as it renders plantations with very low survival rates. It leaves large portions of public land with no ecological sensibility and livelihood sensitivity. 

SWACHH BHARAT ABHIYAN 

An initiative launched by the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or The Clean India Mission has been lauded for its effectiveness. With the purpose of eliminating open defecation and improving solid waste management, it has also been described as the most significant cleanliness campaign. While the movement did gain national importance and helped bring light to the discourse of cleanliness, it failed to build a sustainable relationship between individuals and the waste they generate. 

With Urban India being the world’s third largest garbage generator, India is turning into one big garbage dump. The problem is at its peak and while it is important to treat and manage the waste that is produced, it is equally important to regulate the quantity and quality of the waste being produced. A common cause behind the various concerns in our waste can be traced to overconsumption and waste generators. The overflowing landfills and the increasing deaths of the waste pickers can all be curbed through primary waste management. This was even incorporated in the Waste Management Act 2016. The clause stating “Every waste generator shall segregate and store the waste generated by them in three separate streams namely biodegradable, non-biodegradable and domestic hazardous wastes in suitable bins and hand over segregated wastes to authorized rag pickers or waste collectors.” This was in alignment with the priority to move from reliance on waste dumps that offer no environment protection, to waste management systems that retain useful resources within the economy. This practice, however, is followed very rarely. 

One cannot deny that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been widely known and promoted. The highlights included not only several cleanliness drives but also many celebrities and politicians addressing it and coming out on the streets to do their part. This is exactly where the waste producers responsibility could have been included in the movement and used the existing momentum to communicate the gravity of the problem to all the citizens.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan taught people the language of cleanliness without developing any simultaneous sense of responsibility or behavioral commitment. The focus always lay on the importance of cleaning without incorporating factors that determine cleanliness. This has made the public myopic, and rather than managing the waste they generate, they only start to get rid of it from their daily surroundings. 

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT DRAFT 2020 

For a notification released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the EIA Draft has no solution to offer to the existing environmental threats or climate change crisis.  It is in fact a step completely in the opposite direction. Some of its highly problematic causes include

Post Facto Clearance – This allows projects and companies with absolutely no environmental safeguards to undergo operations without any prior environmental clearances. Recent accidents such as the Vishakhapatnam gas leak and the Bhagjan Blowout in the oil fields of Tinsukia are evidence to the high risks imposed on the people and the environment even with regulations in place. This clause will cause severe damage to all except the capitalists responsible for the damage. 

Shortened Public Consultation – The new draft has reduced the time allotted for the public to be made aware of the project proposals in their locality and gauge their feedback from 30 to 20 days. With the lockdown in place, information dissemination has become more tough. This will provide a ticket to the industrialists to exploit the people and the resources as the local people will never become aware of it. 

Amendment in the clearance requirements for industries – The draft notification has a big bearing on the construction and building projects. Earlier buildings of 20,000 m2 required an environmental clearance. This has now been moved to buildings of 1,50,000 m2 which is equivalent to the size of an airport. 

The draft includes several other statements that allow a reduced distance of industries from protected areas and very less stringent rules. The EIA draft has no ecological aspect to it and strives for an economic development at the cost of the people and resources they possess. 

Apart from the policies mentioned above, several others such as the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and several bans on wildlife trade have no presence on ground level. Environmental writer Mr. Chandra Bhushan states how several environmental policies in India are designed using a top down approach, with an inadequate understanding of ground realities, leading to failed implementation. 

Vanshika Mittal is a third year student at Ashoka University, pursuing Economics and Environmental Sciences.

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