Centre to consult Bangalore’s public on green norms

Trees cut on Kanakpura Road (Pic: Environment support group)

If you are a person who worries when the city starts flooding during rains as there is no room left for water to go, with storm water drains and lakes continuously being encroached, or one who worries about the environmental degradation happening in the city of Bangalore, this is your chance to stand up and say what you want.

The Karnataka Department of Forests, Ecology and Environment has issued a circular, inviting the public to participate in the public consultation organised in Bangalore on September 27, 2014, by the High Level Committee to Review Environment and Forest Protection Laws of India.

The consultation will be held from 12 noon to 1.30 pm, at Room no. 419, Vikasa Soudha, according to an advertisement released by the Forests, Ecology and Environment Department. The consultation will review the following acts:

1) Environment (Protection) Act – 1986
2) Forest (Conservation) Act – 1980
3) Wildlife (Protection) Act – 1972
4) The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974
5) The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act -1981

The Committee was set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. It has T S R Subramanian, former Cabinet Secretary as its chairman, and two officials as secretaries — one from MoEF and one from Gujarat. Other members of the committee include two former bureaucrats, one lawyer and one ex-judge. The order for the constitution of the committee can be seen here. The consultation in Bangalore would be the last one in line. People can also comment on the portal http://forestsclearance.nic.in/suggestion.aspx.

The ad given by the Dept of Forests, Ecology and Environment

ESG suspects dilution of environment norms

A press note from Bangalore-based Non-Governmental Organisation Environmental Support Group (ESG) says that this is an effort from the government to fundamentally revise existing laws, rules, notifications, circulars, orders and guidelines. However, there is a cause for concern. “Every time such an effort has been made in recent decades, it has resulted in dilution of environmental norms and standards,” notes ESG. It points to the “vaguely worded” term for the Committee: “to recommend specific amendments needed in each of these Acts to bring them in line with current requirements /objectives.”

ESG, headed by Leo Saldanha, has submitted a letter to the Committee, suggesting that the exercise of amending environmental and forest laws is best undertaken only after the MoEF comes out with a White Paper on the reforms proposed, which could then be discussed and debated nation-wide in a transparent, democratic and publicly accountable manner. ESG says this suggestion comes in the backdrop of “haziness of the language employed in defining the key purpose of constituting the Committee,” and the lack of clarification on what “current” “requirements” and “objectives” entail. ESG says the Government has not acknowledged the letter till date.

The Committee comes in the background of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statements expressing the commitment to limit the time and effort taken to grant environmental and forest clearances to various developmental projects. Other possible objectives, as ESG suggests, are,

  • Several high impact projects which the Government terms are critical to sustain a high growth rate for India (per GDP terms) are likely to be exempted from transparency, democratic participation and assessment procedure according to the current environmental and forest clearances review.

  • Urban infrastructure and construction projects are likely to pass through quickly through the environmental clearance process, even though they may have significant environmental and social impacts.

ESG fears that the Subramanian Committee might give a set of recommendations that could potentially dilute existing legal frameworks, and seriously compromise existing rights of participation in environmental decision making, and potentially limit the possibility of benefiting from various progressive judicial pronouncements, especially of doctrines such as the Polluter Pays Principle, Principle of Intergenerational Equity, Principle of Prior and Informed Consent, Public Trust Doctrine, etc.

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