Need for Independent Environment Regulator

News: Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) asked the government to explain the reasons for not setting up an “Independent Environment Regulator” to oversee green clearances.

Need for an independent regulator:

  • The green bench of the Supreme Court has been dealing with forest-related issues for almost two decades.
  • The bench has experienced major problems with the way environment and forest clearances are granted.
  • It has had to deal with poor Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports and bad decisions of the Forest Advisory Committee which recommends diversion of forestland for developmental projects.
  • It has found conflict of interest in the way an EIA report is prepared and forest area is identified, demarcated and finally diverted for non-forest uses.

Order of Supreme Court:

  • SC had ordered the setting up of a national environment regulatory body under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986to ensure independent oversight of green clearances way back in Lafarge Umiam Mining Private Limited v. Union of India case (2011), commonly known as the Lafarge mining case.

What will the regulator do?

  • The regulator will carry out independent, objective and transparent appraisal and approval of projects for environmental clearances.
  • It will also monitor the implementation of the conditions laid down in the clearances and impose penalties on polluters. While exercising such powers, the regulator will ensure the National Forest Policy, 1988 is duly implemented.

Related issues:

  • The environmental clearance at the national level is overseen by an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), which functions on an ad-hoc basis, without much regulatory capacity. The state-level appraisal committees overseeing the clearance also function without much regulatory support. The committees function as per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006.
  • The EAC has been questioned on many occasions for lack of expertise of its members and chairpersons.
  • EAC and the state-level committees are toothless due to the lack of effective legislative power and supporting institutional capacity.
  • There are too many clearances for the same thing; and none of them seem to be working for the environment or for protecting the rights of communities. Worse, they are adding to the burden of industry in terms of high transaction costs.
  • Forest clearance under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
  • Coastal clearance under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011.
  • Wildlife clearance under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  • This multiplicity of regulations and regulatory authorities help unscrupulous elements in the industry and the government.