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The Union, Delhi High Court, AAP, NBCC and Trees produced a new controversy on the 25th June 2018. One to ponder upon!

National Buildings Construction Corporation Ltd. has attracted an approval from the Union in November 2017, for cutting around 16,000 trees to give shape to the redevelopment plan of half a dozen colonies in the South Delhi region, which was surprisingly approved way by the authorities, fortunately on which, the Honourable High Court has put a temporary stay till 4th July asking “Can Delhi afford to cut off trees for the development of roads and buildings?”

Looks like the summer heat evaporated the memory of the smog last winters!

This has provided kick to the popular blame game between the ever so eager political parties and authorities concerned (or not).

One of the concerned officials have raised objections and asked the forest department to check whether the number of trees to fall could be reduced and some could be trans-located.

But why even consider? India as a whole cannot afford to lose the least of it's remaining forest cover. Instead, afforestation should be given way, not only on wedding anniversaries, annual days or birthdays of celebrities, but regularly. Also, as the citizens of Delhi, we would be highly obliged if we could be made party and asked whether we vote for development or the trees?

Sadly, despite all the heat on land and social media and the stay order from High Court, the locals in Sarojini Nagar caught 10 labors with axes chopping trees, on a contract with NBCC.

The environment impact assessment clearance for the projects shows that 11,000 out of 13,128 trees will be cut in Sarojini Nagar, 1,465 out of 1,513 in Nauroji Nagar, 3,033 out of l3,906 in Netaji Nagar and another 520 in Kasturba Nagar. The figures for RK Puram are yet to be released. These areas with low intensity government housing and green shades are the lungs serving lungs of Delhi.

The incident enraged the public and Delhi saw a 'Chipko' moment on the 25th Morning of June, where 1000s of Delhites took to streets to protest against the felling of trees in the region.

The matter will be heard by the Green Tribunal on the 2nd and by the High Court on 4th July. It will be ironic and a plain suicidal if trees of this figure are cut down in an area like Delhi. Fingers Crossed!

A Broad Analysis Of the Present Scenario

Stating the very obvious, India is caught up in an 'Implementation Crisis' underscored by the fact that it is one of the most polluted countries in the world and has been ranked 141st out of the 180 countries surveyed with respect to the environmental governance by the EPI (Environment Protection Index) 2016. These crisis do not pertain to the environment specifically, but to every social and legal problem and laws in India.

The main Legislations related to the environment presently are primarily for Air and Water Pollution control. They are -

  • Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974
  • Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981
  • Environmental protection (Environment Protection Act,1986),
  • Forest Conservation (Forest Conservation Act, 1980) and
  • Biodiversity Protection (Biological Diversity Act,2002)

Read more about these and various other acts on this link - http://envfor.nic.in/division/water-pollution

The main Authorities/Administrative Bodies involved in this field are -

The Central Government (Of Course)
The State Government
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
State Pollution Control Board (SPCB)
Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF)
The L-G of the State and other influential personalities from different political parties.

ISSUES in the Administration of Laws

Considering how vast our motherland is and the level of administration it needs, the makers of law kept in mind one thing, 'diversification'. Where diversification of 'laws' for different fields proved to be beneficial and less ambiguous, diversification of 'authorities' has proved to be otherwise in this case. How and who has to control the issues relating to the same is chaotic and thus - “the cooks spoil the broth”. The control of the government is overshadowing and the independence of the authority that is much needed is hindered.

The MoEF is the main governing body of the country when it comes to issues relating to the environment. This body is not specifically incorporated for environmental issues but other fields like climate analysis too. MoEf is the body that gives approval to the projects to set up after an Environment Impact Assessment (EPI) and as the body is totally under the control of the Govt, approvals depend on how influential you are to jack-in with the officials of the ruling party. In 2009, a discussion paper released by MoEF proposed to form a separate and completely independent 'National Environmental Protection Authority' to take heed of the matters as such, which unfortunately got spiraled in the tornado of politics. Alas! Then come CPCB and SPCB, which are the so called boards for pollution control with the leading members elected from the state and central Government itself, but are not independent in their functions and have to get the actions approved before any action is taken, law made or penalties awarded. (MoEF is the Governing body whereas, CPCB and SPCB are the control boards, the hands of MoEF). The Political parties and L-G like authorities are also involved in such cases, as are they involved in the one at hand. Read more about administration to get more clarity on the issue on this link - http://www.moef.nic.in/sites/default/files/GeneralAdministration.pdf

As there is no distinguished official or body of officials to decide different matters connected with the environment, the chaos that we witness presently in the NBCC case take place, as every official from L-G to the officials of AAP and the officials of BJP are responsible and involved in the matter, either directly or indirectly, which leaves only one to suffer - Environment, yet with that, all of us. The authorities that are responsible for taking the decision are totally in control of the government and thus dissolve voiceless in the issue.

Following which, secondly, the structure of penalties for the industries having adverse effect on the environment are not scary enough to have the deterrence that is much needed to make a difference in India, which again comes under the ambit of Implementation Crisis. As per the research, the penalties in India for violations of Air and Water Act is UPTO 3 Months imprisonment plus Rs. 10,000/- fine or both, whereas, the same in America and other countries like Canada, Italy, Dubai, etc starts from $2,500.00 (Rs.1,71,000/-) which is too heavy for the purse of the citizens(About 20 times what Indian Acts impose) and they have to comply with the laws. However, the income index of America per person is almost 7 times the Indian income, but still, the penalties imposed are 10 times what we have falling upon us. No wonder the administration in US and like countries is much better than India.

Lastly the most important, basic and yet ignored factor is the mindset of the people and how they are educated about the environment that we derive our life from. Lack of educational cover, lack of sensitivity across the country and disregard coupled with ignorance towards the environment has been the most disturbing factor contributing to the consequences that we face today, both mentally and physically.

The National Green Tribunals made for the speedy disposal of cases relating to the environment are the only fairly successful unit working towards saving the environment and putting defaulters to justice now. However, courts are adjudicatory bodies and should only be consulted when administration/executive cannot control things on their own, not every single time.

Steps that can be Taken to Tackle the Issue.

First and foremost, there should be an independent and separate supreme body made for taking care of matters related to the environment. The hierarchy system with a plethora of levels is not the system India seeks. The various stages that a decision/law has to trickle through renders it ineffective and inefficient. Moreover, it magnifies the gravity of the Implementation Crisis adversely affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of the body and the law that it makes.

Secondly, there is an urgent need for a proper liability and penalty system, under which the time taken is less and the subsequent effect with which a penal action colludes with the defaulter is more. Also, these laws should be made with the intent that our constitution itself was made and should not be left to the whims and fancies of the political parties. This is when the issue of Implementation Crisis would be properly tackled. A big step towards enhancing the civil liability penalty is in the process with the Indian government who has proposed the Draft Environment Laws Amendment Bill, 2015. This bill will introduce civil liability to the tune of 50 to 100 million in Indian Currency.

In a study by the Auditor General and Comptroller of India in 2016, it was discovered that “costs of defiance, non-adherence and violations are lower than the costs of compliance” i.e - Defying a law and paying for it is easier for the industries than complying with it which brings us to the third factor that is mindset.

The mindset that steers Indians is one to frown upon. The officials are more concerned with the salary and perks that the job offers than the responsibility and honor of the job. Corruption is another factor that contributes. To tackle the same, the first and foremost step is education. The environment should be left untainted by the stains of politics and should be dealt with selfless intentions. People do not understand the severity of the issue now and like every other thing, they wait for things to get to the verge before moving a limb in aid, and that too only when it tears upon their comfort zone. People enjoying a cozy couch in an air conditioned room do not and may not ever know the wrath that a common man is facing due to the pollution they least contribute to. Those who pollute are far away from it and those who don't are the best acquainted. The principle that should be applied to every law and field is the 'Polluter Pays' principle. It is only then that we can see a brighter future and avoid a smogged and smoked one.

To conclude, this is just the gist of efforts that we have to put for the administration and disposal of environmental issues and a lot has to be changed and amended on the road less travelled. It is high time to make the stitch to save the coming nine. The Delhi High Court should be appreciated for it's zest in taking action against companies like NBCC and putting a stay on the attempts of abetting Delhi's suicide. Hope for the decision to be pro-green and anti-gray.

Post your views and suggestions on the same and contribute to the cause.


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