Indian Environment Service
31st Jan, 2022
The Supreme Court recently asked the Centre whether it was planning a dedicated ‘Indian Environment Service’ in the national bureaucratic set-up, as recommended by a committee headed by former Cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian in 2014.
- In August 2014, a high-level committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Subramanian by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF & CC).
- The objective of the committee was to review environmental laws in the country, and to bring them in line with the current requirements.
- It reviewed:
- Indian Forest Act
- Wild Life (Protection) Act
- Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act
- Forest (Conservation) Act
- Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act
- Environment (Protection) Act
- The report, submitted on November 18, 2014, recorded the fact that-
- India had a strong environmental policy and legislative framework but weak implementation.
- Weak implementation has resulted in environmental governance being criticised by conservation experts and the judiciary.
- As a step for the future, the committee said, “An Indian Environment Service may be created, as an all-India Service, based on qualifications and other details prescribed by MoEF&CC/ DoPT/ UPSC.”
- The committee also proposed that necessary institutional framework be created for this purpose.
- Officers dealing with environment clearances and policies currently come from the all India civil services conducted by the UPSC.
A parliament standing committee, however, rejected the report as it noted that the three-month period given to the HLC for reviewing six environmental laws was “too short”, and recommended a new committee be constituted.
History of Environmental governance in India
- The history of environmental governance in post-independent India started 25 years after Independence when the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, returned from the United Nations (UN) Conference on Human, Environment and Development in Stockholm in 1972.
- A National Environmental Planning and Co-Ordination Committee was formed by the Prime Minister with B P Pal (FRS).
- In 1972, the Central Pollution Control Board was set up followed by the state boards.
- The department of environment came into existence on November 1, 1980 followed by state departments.
- Environmental laws on water (1974), air (1981) and forest conservation (1981) were passed, as also the umbrella act of Environment Protection (1986).
- An Environment Policy and Strategy Statement was issued in the year of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992.
- Environment Impact Assessment for 32 sectors became compulsory by a notification passed in 1992.
- Environment approval committees were formed for each sectoral assessment and all power was vested with the Centre.
- In 1996, India became a nation to follow the environmental governance system with a series of further controlling notification on coastal zone management, hill development, disposal of wastes (biomedical, plastic, hazardous).
What is the proposed Indian Environment Service?
- It will be an All-India Service (AIS).
- It will act as an expert group to man positions in this field in the public and quasi-governmental sectors over the next decades.
What is the need of such governing structure?
- ‘Environment' will play a large role in the overall governance paradigm.
- The public sector, including the Central and State Governments, and various other quasi-official bodies, such as corporations, municipal boards, enforcement agencies, as well as the industrial sectors will require reliable expertise of a high order in the management of environmental issues.
- Current approval systems and monitoring mechanism function in a quasi-amateurish manner, leading to sub-optimal management of environmental issues.
The dismal state of India’s environment
It is important to understand just how dismal is the state of India’s environment.
- Majority of the rivers across the country are polluted.
- Much of solid waste is unprocessed even in wealthy parts of the country.
- Three-quarters of India’s population lives in areas where air pollution (PM2.5, the most harmful pollutant) exceeds the Indian national standard, which itself is four times higher than the global standard
- This worrying situation is fundamentally one of health. Poor air, water and solid waste disposal affect the health of India’s citizens and particularly its children.
- For example, a WHO report suggests that 10% of the children who die before the age of five do so due to air pollution.
What are the main environmental laws in India?
- Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 (Water Act), which also initially identified the powers, functions and hierarchy of the environmental agencies, the CPCB and the SPCBs.
- Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 (Air Act)
- Environment (Protection) Act 1986 (EP Act). This umbrella law enables the central government to take measures it deems necessary to protect and improve the environment, and to prevent, control and abate environmental pollution. A wide range of rules and notifications have been adopted under it, such as the:
- E-Waste (Management) Rules 2016, as amended in 2018 (E-Waste Rules)
- Batteries (Management & Handling) Rules 2001 (and the proposed draft Battery Waste Management Rules 2020)
- Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules 2016
- Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 (and a proposed draft 2021 amendment)
- Solid Waste Management Rules 2016
- Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules 2016
- Hazardous and Other Waste (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules 2016, as amended in 2019 (HW Rules)
- Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules 1989 (MSIHC Rules)
- Coastal Regulation Zone Notification 2019 (and related 2021 procedure for violation of the CRZ Notification)
- Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2006.
- Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972
- Forest (Conservation) Act 1980
- Public Liability Insurance Act 1991
- Biological Diversity Act 2002
- National Green Tribunal Act 2010
Key regulatory authorities:
- Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC)
- Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
- State Pollution Control Board (SPCB)
- District Level Authorities (that is, municipal corporations)
What are the measures to reshape Environmental Governance?
- Sincere implementation: The most pronounced solution lies in legislation, policy formulation and sincere implementation.
- Focus on sustainable strategies: By prioritizing Sustainable Development strategies through the legislature, further environmental deterioration could be mitigated.
- Checks and balances: Stringent checks and balances must be facilitated for accountability, along with improvement in transparency.
- Public involvement: Taking advantage of mass media resources like podcasts, documentaries, blogs should be encouraged.
- Activism: Climate litigation and activism also hold immense potential for positive change.
The interplay of environmental governance and socioeconomic problems is overwhelmingly complex and disturbing. However distressing these issues may seem, the government must be compelled to look towards solutions as well.