Environmental Governance


  • Environmental Governance consists of  the rules, procedures, policies, practices  and institutions that shape how humans  interact with their environment. Good  environmental governance takes into  account the roles of all stakeholders  that impact the environment. 

  • Environmental resources play a  significant role in economic progress  and improvement of quality of life of  the society and good environmental  governance is an important means  of ensuring it. Environmental  resources are under pressure because  of developmental activities. The consumption of natural resources  viz., water, air, land and biota, in the  production process of economic  activity, the discharges from it and the  quality of life improvement shall have  to keep in mind the finite resource base,  the rights of people, legal framework  and the implications of one's actions. 

  • Both environmental governance and  good governance ideally lead to  sustainable development, a major  departure, however, comes in the form  of good environmental governance  reflecting sustainable quality of  life improvement not only from the  viewpoint of human/community needs,  but also from the larger societal point  of view while keeping in mind the finite  resource base and the implications  of actions within and between the  generations (Pearce 1992).

  •  However, given the common objective  of sustainable development, it can  be affirmed that the principles of  good governance can also usher in  good environmental governance.  The common goal of sustainable  development of the society has several  aspects, which include laws, policies  and mechanisms of implementation,  institutions, equity, gender sensitivity,  national and international conventions,  democratic processes, participatory  decision making and respect for  diversity. 

Constituents of Good  Environmental Governance: 

  • Social and political leadership and  bureaucracy that are well informed  and concerned about sustainable  development, that prepare the people  at large for sustainability imperatives,  and that keep the distant future in focus  as much as present. 

  • Institutions that are functioning  democratically with transparency,  accountability and synergy. Participation of stakeholders at  different levels in decision-making and,  where possible, in implementation. 

  • Focus turned on the basic development  needs e.g., poverty eradication and  protecting the environment. 

  • Laws and policies reflecting viable  reconciliation of the country’s  development needs conservation  imperatives, geographical and cultural  diversity, equity and gender concerns. 

Constitutional Provisions for  Environment Protection: 

  • Union list contains environmentally  appropriate subjects like atomic energy  and mineral resources; regulation and  development of interstate rivers and  river valleys; airways, aircraft and air  navigation; highways; shipping and  navigation in national highways; major  ports; regulation of mines and mineral  development; development of oil fields  etc. 

  •  List II contains public health and 66 sanitation; agriculture; communication;  preservation, protection and  improvement of stock and prevention  of animal diseases; water; land; etc. • Under List III or Concurrent List,  contains subjects like forests, protection  of wild animals, and mines and mineral  development, population control and  family planning, minor ports, factories  and electricity. Article 262 gives exclusive power to  Parliament to enact a law for the  adjudication of any dispute or complaint  with respect to the use, distribution or  control of waters of, or in, any interstate river or river valley. 

  • In exercise of the power conferred  under Article 262, Indian Parliament  has enacted The Inter-State Water  Dispute Act, 1956. And the jurisdiction  of all Courts, including the Supreme  Court, is barred with respect to such  disputes, which are to be settled by the  Tribunal established under The InterState Water Dispute Act, 1956. 

  • Article 248 confers the residuary powers  of legislation on Parliament. It grants  exclusive power to Parliament to make  law on any subject matter not covered  by the State or Concurrent lists. 

  • Article 253 empowers Parliament to  make laws for implementing any treaty,  agreement or convention with any other  country/countries or for implementing  any decision made at any international  conference, association or other body.

  • Article 51(c) provides that the State  shall endeavour to foster respect for  international law and treaty obligations.  These 2 Articles, thus, legitimize the  Parliament enact acts on any entries in it  provided it is necessary for the purpose  of implementing the treaty obligations  of India. In fact, 2 major and vital Indian  environmental laws, The Air [Prevention  and Control of Pollution] Act of 1981  and The Environmental [Protection] Act  of 1986, have been enacted under these  Constitutional provisions. 

  • Likely, the National Environmental  Tribunal Act of 1995, The National  Environment Appellate Authorities Act,  1997 and The Biodiversity Act, 2002  were enacted by the Indian Parliament  pursuant to the Earth Summit of 1992.  The United Nations Conference on  Human Environment also gave rise to  the Constitutional (42nd Amendment)  Act, 1976. 

  • The Constitutional (42nd Amendment)  Act of 1976 also included Article 48A  and Article 51A(g) in the Constitution.  Article 48A casts an obligation on the  Indian State to protect, to improve  the environment and to safeguard the  forests and wildlife of the country. 

  • Article 51A(g) imposes a fundamental  duty on the Indian citizens to protect  and improve the natural environment,  including forests, lakes, rivers and  wildlife, and to have compassion for  living creatures. Thus, the duty to  protect and enhance the quality of  environment in India is the duty of the  Union, States and the citizens. 

Local Government:

  •  The panchayat can handle agriculture;  minor irrigation, water management  and watershed development; animal  husbandry; land improvement and  soil conservation; fisheries; social  forestry; rural housing; drinking water;  fuel and fodder; electricity and nonconventional energy sources. 

  • The municipality can undertake town  planning; regulation of land-use  and construction of buildings; urban  forestry, protection of environment  and promotion of ecological aspects;  provision of urban amenities and  facilities like parks and gardens; cattle  ponds and prevention of cruelty to 67 animals; and regulation of slaughter  houses and tanneries.  

History of Environmental  Governance in India: 

  • The history of environmental  governance began 25 years after  Independence when the then Prime  Minister, Indira Gandhi, returned back  from the United Nations Conference on  Human, Environment and Development  in Stockholm in 1972. 

  •  The National Environmental Planning  and Coordination Committee was set  up by the Prime Minister under the  chairmanship of B P Pal (FRS). In 1972, the  Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)  was established followed by the state  boards. The department of environment  was created on November 1, 1980 and  various state departments afterwards.  Environmental laws on water (1974),  air (1981) and forest conservation (1981)  were enacted, and also the umbrella  Environment Protection Act 1986.  

  • An Environment Policy and Strategy  Statement was published in the same  year when the UN Conference on  Environment and Development in 1992  was convened. Environment Impact  Assessment for 32 sectors made  mandatory by a notification of 1992.  Environment approval committees were  set up for each sectoral assessment and  all powers were vested with the Centre. 

  • In 1996, India became a nation to  follow the environmental governance  system with a series of further  controlling notifications on coastal  zone management, hill development,  disposal of wastes (biomedical, plastic,  hazardous). Public Interest Litigation  provided justice through the Supreme  Court and high courts. 

Need for Environmental  Governance: 

  • Dismal state of India’s environment: 3  in 5 monitored rivers across the country  are grossly polluted. Much of our solid  waste is not processed even in wealthy  parts of the country for instance 90% in  Maharashtra and 48% in Delhi. 

  • Rising Level of Pollution: 3/4th of  India’s population lives in areas  where air pollution (PM2.5) exceeds  the Indian national standards, which  itself is 4 times higher than the global  standards. In fact, 72 out of 640 districts  in the northern region have emissions  more than 10 times worse than the  global standards. In the recent Global  Environmental Quality Performance  Index, India ranked 177th out of 180  countries.  

  • Impact on Heath: Long-term exposure  to outdoor and household air pollution  contributed to over 1.67 million annual  deaths from stroke, heart attack,  diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung  diseases and neonatal diseases in India  in 2019, according to the State of Global  Air 2020 . For instance, WHO report  suggests that 10% of the children who  die before the age of five do so due to  air pollution. 

  • Impact on vulnerable sections: The  poor people are the worst affected  due to environmental destruction.  The livelihoods of fishers, farmers and  forest communities are affected by a  degraded environment, and the poor  are far less able to insulate themselves  against dirty water and air than the  rich. Pollution makes the impact of  poverty worse. 

  • Economic impact of environmental  degradation: A degraded environment  itself impacts the economy negatively:  pollution adds excessive public health  burdens; degraded environments  cannot provide ecosystem services like 68 filtering waste and buffering against  storms; and degraded resources affect  the livelihoods of the poor. Moreover,  as we transition toward a knowledge  economy, high-skilled talent will refuse  to live in toxic urban environments. 

Way Forward: 

  • Going green can actually be a road  to growth in a world where there is  growing attention towards the world’s  oceans, forests and climate. The world  is undergoing a renewable energy  revolution, which gives competitive  advantage to countries best placed to  seize the moment. 

  • Ideas of the circular economy, waste  generated from one industrial activity  forms input for another activity,  promising efficiency gains with both  environmental and economic payoffs.  Increasingly, there is more scope  for growth through enhancing the  environment than by devastating it.

  •  Finally, sustainable growth needs  smarter environmental governance.  Currently, every environmental issue  is desperately waiting for the decisive  judicial or administrative enforcement.  Rather we have to combine effective  regulation, behavioural change and  technological solutions to meet multiple  social and ecological objectives