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TSR Subramanian Committee report (To review the processes, laws and Acts of the MoEF & Climate Change)
Feb 06, 2015

A High Level Committee (HLC) has been constituted by Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change to review the following Acts administered by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change.

(i) Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

(ii) Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

(iii) Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972

(iv) The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act,1974

(v) The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981

The terms of reference of Committee were as follows:-

(i) To assess the status of implementation of each of the above Acts vis-a-vis the objectives;

To examine and take into account various court orders and judicial  pronouncements relating to these Acts;

To recommend specific amendments needed in each of these Acts so as to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives; and

To draft proposed amendments in each of the above Acts to give effect to the proposed recommendations.

Committee has submitted its repot in November 2014 The committee’s recommendations focus on “streamlining” and “fast-tracking” green clearances for industrial projects. The committee, however, seems to have overlooked the issue of rights of the people affected by such projects. Some of it recommendations are:

a) The Committee finds uneven application of the principle of separation of powers as established by the Constitution of India, in the administration of environmental laws. The state – arbitrary, opaque, suspiciously tardy or in-express-mode at different times, along with insensitivity – has failed to perform, inviting the intervention of the judiciary. Judicial pronouncements frequently have supplanted legislative powers, and are occupying the main executive space. The administrative machineries in the Government in the domain of Environment & Forests at all the levels, authorized to administer by Parliament’s statutory mandate, appear to have abdicated their responsibilities. The doctrine of proportionality, principles of sustainable development and inter-generational equity, doctrine of margin of appreciation – these have been the basis of judicial orders in the matters of environment and forests laws. However, the perceived role of ad-hoc committees in decision-making and implementation appears to have reduced the MoEF&CC to a passive spectator, with little initiative except waiting for the Court to say what next. The Committee’s aim is to restore to the Executive the will and tools to do what it is expected to do by the statutes.

A new umbrella law which makes National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and State Environment Management Authorities (SEMA) statutory bodies, as opposed to the ad-hoc monitoring bodies which presently exist has been recommended.

The principal aim of Environmental Laws should be to ensure enhancement of environmental quality parameters and maintenance of ecological balance. Conservation management postulates intertwining of natural sciences with an awareness of social science perspective. Global warming, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and potential for conflict growing out of competition over dwindling natural resources are the current focus of humanity and should occupy the centre stage in policy formulation.

The primary focus of environmental and forest governance in the country needs to be re-aligned through a series of structural and process-oriented changes. While the pace of diversion of forest land has decreased in recent years, the target of 33% of land area as forest cover is a long way off; the more disturbing aspect is that the quality of forest cover has seen a secular decline. New forestation policies to attract investment of growing forests in private land, and providing a statutory safeguard – a classification of ‘treelands’ as distinct from ‘forest’ has been recommended.

The Committee also has recommended identification of ‘no go’ areas, which are in forest areas or inviolate zones – primarily with the criteria of over 70% canopy cover and ‘Protected Areas’ which should not be disturbed except in exceptional circumstances, and that too only with the prior approval of the Union Cabinet.

The Committee has recommended revisions in ‘Wild Life Protection Act and Rules’; and sought obligatory preparation of wild life plans. Enhanced punishment for offences under the WLP Act, with a stronger process for registration and prosecution has also been suggested. Eco sensitive zones around protected areas need to be demarcated unambiguously at an early date

A new project clearance mechanism, based on the ‘single window’ concept, with  unified, integrated, transparent and streamlined process, which would also significantly reduce the processing time, has been recommended.

Some of the new institutional arrangements proposed include creation of an Environment Reconstruction Fund (ERF); establishment of a high quality National Environment Research Institute; creation of a new All India Service – Indian Environment Service; regular review of quality of forest cover and forest management; creation of a national ‘data base’ etc. Attention has also been drawn to the need to deal effectively with urban waste, as also air-pollution in cities, primarily caused by motor vehicles

The Committee recommended for MoEF&CC to undertake a comprehensive review of departmental forest management policies, practices and procedures, to initiate wide-ranging improvements and reforms. This preferably should not be an internal exercise, and should include independent knowledgeable experts from India and abroad, as well as qualified researchers.  

A new model ‘umbrella’ law, ELMA, to give a statutory cover to the above has been recommended, incorporating inter-alia the concept of utmost good faith, as also the proposed national institutions and agencies. ELMA will, inter alia, strengthen the process of dealing with and penalising/ prosecuting non-performance of conditions of project clearance.

To deal with vehicle emissions which are the major cause of deterioration of air quality in urban areas, a concerted multi-pronged effort needs to be launched to not only to contain it, but to improve the situation in relatively short time.

Application of science and technology – Science has been a companion in the quest of mankind’s advancement and growth. Over centuries the application of science and innovative technology has been used as a tool for expansion of resource base. However, except stand-alone scientific methods and applications, available technology is often not currently applied in the management of natural resources like forest and ecosystem services. The Committee lays high stress on high value geo reference database captured through satellite imagery and analysed by IT applications.

m) In view of the key role played by the power sector, as also mining of various minerals in national development, NEMA may have a suitable cell, with specialisation, to speedily deal with environmental approvals in these sectors, with due regard to environmental considerations.

A ‘green awareness’ programme need to be sponsored, including interweaving issues relating to environment in the primary and secondary school curriculum

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) management has not been given requisite attention hitherto. New systems and procedures for handling MSW need to be in place early, for effective management of MSW and with accountability. Cities should set a target of reaching 20% of current levels in 3 years time to work out a mitigation plan.

Environmental mapping of the country, using technology, should be undertaken as an on-going process

Report also  recommended that MoEF&CC may identify a number of technical institutions, including some IITs, private and public engineering colleges, as well a laboratories of the CSIR and other agencies nationally, to act as technical reference agencies on specific areas relating to air, water pollution and related areas. This will assist in identifying technical certification requirements in the process of monitoring the implementation of approval conditions, and verifying emission/ discharge levels by industries; would also facilitate in providing credible and acceptable evidence in the course of prosecuting defaulters.

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