The governance blueprint to combat major environmental problems must be institutionalised and strictly enforced
In 2018, some major policies and programmes were unveiled in India. At the international level also, two major agreements got under- way—the Rulebook for the Paris Agreement was adopted and the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol came into effect on January 1, 2019. The agenda for 2019 is clear cut: we have to set up the institutional and regulatory framework to implement the major programmes and fulfil our international obligations. Here’s my list of the top environmental priorities for 2019.
National Clear Air Programme: Our piecemeal approach to tackle air pollution must give way to the implementation of a comprehensive and integrated action plan. The National Clean Air Programme, under which more than 100 cities have to develop and implement clean air plans, must be institutionalised for effective enforcement. Without strict enforcement, all the other measures will fail.
Single-use plastics: The pledge to ban all single-use plastics by 2022 must be put into action. At present, different states have interpreted the term “single-use plastics” differently. A national definition backed up by a comprehensive plan, including the promotion of alternatives, should be put in place.
Swachh Bharat Mission: Governments come and governments go, but successful programmes must continue. The Swachh Bharat Mission is one such programme. This year, solid waste management must be strengthened to make it sustainable.
National and State Action Plan on Climate Change: In 2008, the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) were adopted. The outcome has been mixed. While the National Solar Mission and the National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency has done very well, other missions under NAPCC have not progressed as expected. The SAPCCS too have not progressed beyond documentation. It is time we revisit NAPCC and SAPCC and develop a comprehensive framework to decarbonise our economy and adapt to the changing climate. One thing we must ensure is that the division of responsibilities between the Centre and states is well defined. Currently, only Central government is responsible for cutting emissions. This must change.
National Forest Policy and Act: The draft National Forest Policy, 2018, fails to join the dots. In addition, the environment ministry has also started the process of amending the Indian Forest Act, 1927. It is imperative we get both of them right. India needs forest regulations that recognise the role and the potential of people to grow, manage, protect and use forests sustainably. For this, the forest department must shed its colonial hangover and become facilitators in community-managed forests.
National River Revitalisation Plan: It is not just Ganga that is polluted; all major and minor rivers are in the grip of pollution because of unsustainable withdrawal of water and untreated disposal of wastes. From the Cauvery to Godavari, and from the Sutlej to the Yamuna, all rivers need a revitalisation plan. Let 2019 be the year in which we unveil the National River Revitalisation Plan.
Pollution Control Boards: Pollution control boards (PCBS) are ineffective, corrupt and getting archaic with every passing year. They are not designed to regulate, monitor and enforce the pollution challenges of the 21st century. We cannot do without a frontline environment regulatory authority. It is time we reinvent PCBS and build their capacity for effective monitoring and enforcement.
(This article first appeared in Down To Earth's 16-31 January print edition)
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