There are lapses in implementation of laws and court judgements
The subject of “environment” and its protection originated roughly 62 years ago, after the release of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.
It spurred global action, first by the US, which in 1970 established the Environment Protection Authority and introduced legislation to control pollution.
Then the UN decided to hold the first conference on the human environment, in Stockholm. The then prime minister Indira Gandhi was the only elected head of government to attend it.
After this, India in 1974 drafted the Water Act, to be implemented by the central and state pollution control boards set up in 1976. In 1981, we got the Air Act.
Three years later, the world’s worst industrial accident occurred in Bhopal, which prompted the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
All the Acts were wonderful. The problem is implementation. Thirty-seven years after the Environment Protection Act, we still do not have a body to implement it. This is due to the lobbying of industrial and corporate groups.
The Act, however, was a boost to the judiciary. The Supreme Court began to reach out to people affected by pollution and accepted the public interest petition concept.
But yet, there is no action on the ground. The reason is clear: local bodies are not allowed to breathe. They want to develop sustainably, but the state governments who oversee them make this difficult.
Bureaucracy adds to this problem. Authorities including the state pollution control boards and state secretariats are headed by bureaucrats whose loyalties are not to the Constitution and to people but focused elsewhere.
This is seen in the Patancheru industrial zone in Telangana that has been plagued by improper effluent discharge for decades, despite court orders and judge visits.
Another example is the Ganga Action Plan, whose provisions boil down to setup of sewage treatment plants and closing polluting industries. This has not been implemented by municipal corporations.
What is needed is a mechanism put in place by the judiciary to ensure its orders are implemented and to impose penalties in case they are not. It is only then that change will be seen.
The author is an environmentalist, academic and development activist
This was first published in the 1-15 June, 2023 edition of Down To Earth
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