Implementation of Forest Laws in India

News: Between 2014 and 2019, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has granted over 11,500 environment and forest clearances. However, the Government’s development roadmap is criticised for ignoring the climate change conservation commitments on account of weak political will and the absence of an effective compliance mechanism.

Constitutional Provisions:

  • Article 48Aof the Constitution specifies that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
  • Article 51Afurther provides that every citizen shall protect the environment.

Statutory Provisions:

  • Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
  • Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
  • Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
  • National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act, 2010
  • Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011
  • Environment Impact Assessment(EIA), 2006

Issues:

  • The Union Environment Ministry has less than 80 officials for field verification under green laws, who are expected to visit thousands of project sites at least once a year.
  • In 2006, a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)blamed the “absence of strong political will” for significant funding limitations faced by all environmental institutions in India. This condition has remained the same more or less.
  • Instead of strengthening the monitoring mechanism and applying effective punitive tools, successive governments have relied on amnesty (post-facto clearance), incentives (subsidies)or self-certification that helped cut non-compliance.
  • The Green legislations in India are silent about the public participation as regards environmental protection.
  • There is a need to involve the citizens in environmental protection to check arbitrariness and raise awareness and empathy towards the environment.

Examples:

  • Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP):
    • Ever since it was proposed in the mid-90s, KBLP has been considered unviable by several experts for its immense environmental cost.
    • The project was rejected in 2011, only to be revived with a techno-economic clearance in 2016.
    • In 2017, its forest clearance was made conditional on compensating for the diversion of 17 sq km of forest land by adding an equal extent of revenue land to the Panna tiger reserve.
  • Arunachal Pradesh:
    • For 17 years, both the Environment ministry and the state have been ignoring the most crucial condition imposed by the Supreme Court in 2004for clearing the 2,000-MW Subansiri project
    • The Ministry issued the final forest clearance to the twice-rejected 3,000-MW Dibang multipurpose project despite being made aware that Arunachal had not complied with the key precondition of declaring the catchment forests as a national park.

Way Forward

  • Independence in standard-setting, monitoring, and enforcement are important characteristics of an effective regulatory body. Setting-up of a stand-alone independent body must precede fragmented revamping of environmental laws.
  • A second-generation reform for environmental regulation, which will safeguard environment and community rights as well as reduce time and transaction costs for the industry is the need of the hour.
  • It is needed to reduce multiplicity, remove archaic laws and streamline the regulatory procedure.