GOV & SOCIAL ISSUES
The Need of an Independent Environment Regulator
● Recently, The Supreme Court asked the government to explain why it had not set up an “independent environment regulator” to oversee green clearances.
● Supreme Court had ordered for the setting up of a national environment regulatory body to ensure independent oversight of green clearances way back in July 2011 in Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited v. Union of India, commonly known as the ‘Lafarge mining case’.
“There is a need to strengthen the regulatory processes or institutional mechanisms governing environmental clearance in India”. Critically analyze.
The need for an independent environment regulator:
● Lack of unified authority to deal with environmental management for all pollution sources impedes holistic planning and enforcement of standards.
● The environmental clearance at the national level is overseen by an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), which functions on an ad-hoc basis, without much regulatory capacity. The EAC has been questioned on many occasions for the lack of expertise of its members and chairpersons.
● To ensure stringent and frequent compliance monitoring to check if the clearance conditions are being met by the firms.
● The present environmental regulation institutional mechanism in India, which lie with pollution control boards at the state and central level, lacks regulatory capacity and independence.
● Too many regulatory bodies also led to regulatory delays.
● Most EIA reports are used as formalities and paperwork. There are so many cases of fraudulent EIA studies where erroneous data has been used, the same facts used for two different places etc.
● The major concerns regarding EIA norms, such as compliance monitoring and ex-post regularisation, could be tackled with proper standard-setting by a regulator.
● India currently ranks at 168 among 180 countries in the Environment Performance Index, highlighting our subpar performance.
Environmental Clearances Required
The environment clearance under the EIA Notification, 2006
The forest clearance under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
The coastal clearance under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011
The wildlife clearance under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
The consent from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs)
Area/issue-specific clearances from regulators like the Environment Protection Authority for Eco-sensitive Zones, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority, etc.
India’s environmental laws and regulations require a fundamental shift in the regulatory institutional mechanism. There is certainly a need for setting up a national regulator that can consolidate all clearances — environment, forests, wildlife and coastal — so that the project’s impact is fully understood and decisions are taken. This regulator should be given enough power and resources to do proper post-clearance monitoring and assessment and also impose fines and sanctions. The regulator must be transparent and accountable and promote deepening of public assessment, participation and scrutiny.