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Unraveling the Threads of Environmental Policy Development in India

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Unraveling the Threads of Environmental Policy Development in India

06 Nov, 2023
Environmental Policy Development in India

India, a land with an array of landscapes and civilizations, is confronted with a broad range of environmental issues. From urban air pollution to deforestation in its rich woods, the country is grappling with the need for strong environmental legislation. The dilemma of environment and development has persisted throughout human history. To some extent, the history of human civilization is the history of explorations into how to properly manage the connection between man and the environment during its evolution.

The Arthashastra by Kautilya, written between 321 and 300 BC, covered environmental policy and featured rules to control a variety of environmental problems.

It is crucial to remember that environmental policy is made up of two primary terms: Policy and the environment:

  • The term ‘environment’ relates to physical ecosystems, but it can also include a social dimension (quality of life, health) and an economic dimension (resource management, biodiversity).
  • A policy is a “course of action or principle adopted or proposed by a government, political party, business, or individual.”

The globe has become increasingly sensitive to environmental challenges in recent years, notably since the early 1970s. These challenges span several professions and arise at many spatial scales. Two international conferences on environmental policy development, one in Stockholm in 1972 and another in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, influenced Indian environmental policies.

This blog will dive into the historical, legal, and business perspectives of India’s environmental policy development. We will also look at recent events and speculate on the future of Indian environmental policy.

Historical Context for Environmental Policy Development

Evolution of environmental policy in India

India’s environmental policy journey began prior to independence, when the emphasis was on conservation and resource management. Following independence, the country underwent considerable changes in environmental policies as a result of increased awareness and concerns.

Pre-independence era (1853 to 1947):

  1. Shore Nuisance (Bombay and Kolaba) Act, 1853
  2. The Elephant’s Preservation Act, 1879
  3. The Fisheries Act, 1897
  4. The Factories Act, 1897
  5. The Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act, 1905
  6. The Bombay Smoke Nuisance Act, 1912
  7. Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act, 1912

Independence to the Stockholm Conference (1947 – 1972):

During this time, laws were in place to regulate activities such as illegal logging, forest destruction, uncontrolled urban growth, etc. The following laws were in effect:

  1. The Factories Act of 1948: The Factories Act of 1948 requires that liquid effluents, gases, and fumes generated during a manufacturing process be treated before final disposal to reduce unwanted impacts. During this period of time, the emphasis was on economic development, and environmental concerns took a back seat in policymaking.
  2. The Mines and Minerals Act of 1957 (Regulation and Development): The Mines and Minerals Act of 1957 (Regulation and Development) has had a tremendous impact on India’s establishment of environmental policy. This act has played a significant role in determining how the nation balances environmental protection and economic development over the years. The Act has undergone multiple changes to more effectively address environmental issues since it was initially passed with a primary focus on regulating mining operations and supporting natural resource development

Post Stockholm Conference to Bhopal disaster (1972-1984):

The Stockholm Conference on Environment and Development had a significant impact on environmental policy development, leading to a constitutional amendment, followed by significant laws like the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981, as well as the establishment of organisations like the Central and State Pollution Control Boards for carrying out the Acts’ provisions.

Key milestones in environmental policy development

Throughout its history, India has witnessed crucial milestones in environmental policy development,

  • A number of concepts have been developed over time to aid policymakers. The ‘polluter pays’ principle, which holds polluters accountable for the costs of environmental damage, and the precautionary principle, which states that an activity is not permitted when there is a chance that the consequences will be irreversible, are examples of such guiding principles, some of which have gained a legal basis in some countries.
  • Since the early 1970s, end-of-pipe solutions have been replaced by prevention and control in environmental policies. These solutions depend on reducing negative impacts. Additionally, if a negative outcome was unavoidable, it may be offset by investing in nature in locations other than the ones where the harm was done, for instance.
  • Regulations pertaining to the environment have a big impact on Indian enterprises and industries.  They need to make sure they aren’t breaking any rules. Although compliance comes at a price, it shows a company’s dedication to environmental policy development.

Threads of Environmental Policy

There has been a lot of work done in the previous two decades to build environmental policy. Let’s get into more depth about the guiding concepts of environmental policy development:

The Polluter Pays Principle (PPP)

Numerous economists have argued for the past two decades that businesses that release polluted effluents into the environment need to be forced to pay a fee for doing so that is proportional to the amount of environmental harm they do. The Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) has been proposed by OECD as a general framework for environmental policy.

The User Pays Principle (UPP)

It is regarded as being a component of the PPP. The long-run marginal cost of using a resource and any related services, including any treatment expenses, should be covered in full by all resource users, according to the principle. When resources are used and consumed, it is used.

 The Precautionary Principle (PP)

The precautionary principle’s primary goal is to ensure that an activity or substance that poses a threat to the environment is prevented from having a negative impact on the environment, even if there is no conclusive scientific evidence connecting that particular activity or substance to environmental damage. This notion is highlighted in notion 15 of the Rio Declaration1, which states that where there are dangers of serious or irreparable damage.

Legal Perspective of Environmental Policy Development in India

Constitution and Environmental Protection

There are several Directive Principles of State Policy listed in the Indian Constitution. Environmentalism was not included in the Constitution until 1976. However, some environmental measures were added to the Constitution in the 42nd amendment of 1976. The Directive Principles of State Policy now include Article 48A2

The Ministry of Environment and Forest was established in 1985 after the National Council for Environmental Planning and Policy was established in 1972.

Regulatory Bodies and Their Roles

In India, three primary organizations —the State Pollution Control Boards at the state level, the Central Pollution Control Board at the national level, and the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change adopt, carry out, and enforce environmental regulations. The enacted laws are as follows:

  1. Wildlife Act (Protection) of 1972
  2. The Water Act (Prevention and Control of Pollution) of 1974
  3. The Air Act (Prevention and Control of Pollution) of 1981
  4. The Indian Forest Act of 1927
  5. Forest Conservation Act of 1980
  6. Environmental Protection Act of 1986
  7. Public Liability Insurance Act of 1991
  8. Biological Diversity Act of 2002
  9. Energy Conservation Act of 2001
  10. The National Green Tribunal Act of 2010

Recent Developments

The government’s policy commitments to environmental protection and sustainable development were discussed in the Union Budget 2023–24. The government faced a challenge while developing these policies in the budget because it had to decide how to strike a balance between economic growth and sustainable development, which are at odds because of the impact of climate change and its rising economic costs. On the one hand, the government wants to grow the economy to $5 trillion by 2025 and $26 trillion by 2047, while on the other hand, it has set a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2070. 

Union Budget’s first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement (2021–30) contained policy actions for meeting commitments to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The climate commitments include a widespread ‘LiFE’ (Lifestyle for Environment) movement, a 45 per cent reduction in GDP emission intensity from 2005 levels by 2030, and the addition of an additional 2.5–3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in additional forest and tree cover by 2030. Major cities have adopted the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which aims to reduce suspended particle matter (SPM) by 20–30 per cent by that year.

Landmark Cases

While the passage of various laws during this time was viewed as a progressive move, the next stage in the development of the environmental regime was the jurisprudence that resulted from case laws.

Numerous instances in the realm of environmental law have resulted in historic verdicts. The Indian Constitution’s Article 48A also makes reference to the need to conserve the environment. In addition to Article 48A3 and Article 51-A (g)4.

In places where there was no legislation enacted to safeguard or preserve the environment, activists asked courts for rules and regulations.

  • Vellore Citizen’s Welfare Forum v. Union of India5

The precautionary principle was directly applied to the circumstances by the Supreme Court in this instance. The Tamil Nadu Tanneries Case is another name for this case.

By virtue of Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 under Section 3(3), the Central Government was required to create an authority that would carry out the ‘Precautionary and the Polluter Pays Principle’. The Supreme Court ordered the tanneries to establish joint effluent treatment plants after ruling that the tanneries were causing environmental pollution

  • M.C. Mehta & Anr. Etc v. Union of India & Ors. Etc6

The idea of “public liability” was introduced in this case. Another name for it is the “Oleum Leakage case.” Additionally, this case established the “Deep Pocket Principle.” In this instance, the court decided that no factory could engage in risky operations close to any residential area.

  • M.C. Mehta v. Union of India7

The Supreme Court ruled that the State was required under Article 39(c), Article 47, and Article 48A to ensure public health as well as to preserve and enhance the environment. The Court emphasized that sustainable development is one of the tenets of environmental law.

  • Jagannath v. Union of India8

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that any shrimp factory that wants to be established in the ecologically vulnerable coastal area must undergo a stringent environmental test, keeping in mind the extent and content of Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution. The Apex Court suggested that before permission is granted to erect commercial shrimp farms, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) be conducted.

  • Susetha v. State of Tamil Nadu9

Highlighted the idea of sustainable development, which is the balancing of progress with environmental protection so that it can last for centuries. The Supreme Court ruled that Indian legislation must be based on the idea of sustainable development.

Business Perspective in terms of Environmental Policy Development

Environmental Regulations and Corporate Responsibility

New environmental laws in India have been seen as more about opportunity than oppression. Businesses may anticipate stricter enforcement, simplified legislation, and additional clauses to better safeguard and enhance environmental health. No matter how stringent, these new requirements will present opportunity.

The goal of Environmental CSR is to lessen any negative consequences that your company’s operations may have on the environment. With strategies like waste management, recycling and eco-friendly office and business travel policies, firms in India can be on the right track to implementing more profitable and sustainable models for long-term success.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (importance)  

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a vital tool for assessing the environmental impact of development initiatives. In India, EIA is critical for environmental policy development, environmental protection and supporting sustainable development. EIA aids in the design and implementation of environmentally friendly initiatives by methodically examining potential implications.

One of the most successful environmental policies of the 20th century was EIA. 37 years ago, there was no EIA; today, it is a formal process in many nations, and it is used in more than 100 nations. The early 1970s saw the adoption of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1969 in the United States, which established EIA as an obligatory regulatory mechanism.

In India, environmental impact assessments have been used for more than 20 years. When the Planning Commision requested that the Department of Science and Technology conduct an environmental assessment of the river-valley projects in 1976–1977, the process got under way. In accordance with the Environmental (Protection) Act of 1986, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), Government of India (GOI), issued an EIA notification on January 27, 1994, requiring environmental clearance (EC) for any activity that is expanded or modernized or the establishment of new projects that are listed in Schedule 1 of the notification. Since then, 12 changes to the 1994 EIA notification have been made.

The chart below describes the whole process of Environmental Impact Assessment: 

Sustainable Business Practices

Despite the fact that environmental conservation and improvement are expressly spelt out in the Indian Constitution, the government didn’t begin to really priorities these issues until the 1970s. And that was in response to the Stockholm UN Conference in 1972. But India has gone a long way since then. The nation has switched from following suit with environmental regulations out of necessity to leading the world in sustainability initiatives. 

“Sustainable development is the kind of growth that satisfies current needs without compromising those of future generations.”10

The primary components of sustainable development are as follows:

  • Rising income per capita
  • Use of natural resources with discretion
  • Protecting resources for foreseeable future generations
  • EU-aligned Waste Management Laws 

Several waste management laws have been revised in India in 2016. To bring India’s waste management in line with that of other regions, most notably the EU, new regulations on hazardous waste, e-waste, and plastic trash management were among those that were updated. Authorities added Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to these regulations, which places heavy obligations on producers and businesses who sell goods on the Indian market.

These businesses are now governed by the “polluters pays” principle, which aims to reduce the negative effects on the environment throughout the product’s lifetime.

This strategy necessitates the establishment of mechanisms for gathering, “channelizing” (or passing via multiple channels such as dealers) and returning things at the end of their useful lives by facilities producing or putting goods on the market in India. 

  • Environmental Laws Supporting Sustainable Development  

One of the few nations in the world that requires CSR spending and reporting is India. Particular companies (i.e., those with a particular net value, turnover, or net profit) are subject to sustainability reporting requirements under the Companies Corporate Social Responsibilities Policy Rules (2014) and the Companies Act (2013). The requirements for these businesses include creating a CSR Committee, allocating at least 2 per cent of average net earnings to CSR endeavors, and publishing an annual report on CSR in their annual board report.

Future Prospects

The role of technology in environmental policy development

The evolution of environmental policy benefits greatly from innovation and technology working together.  Environmental innovation, usually referred to as EI, is essential for fostering synergies between sustainability and competitiveness in the direction of a cleaner planet.

One of the immediate possibilities is to blend environmental policy development with nanotechnology. A subset of green technology known as “green nanotechnology” makes use of the ideas behind “green chemistry” and “green engineering.” Through the use of less material and renewable inputs when available, it decreases the consumption of energy and fuel.  There are numerous potentials uses for green nanotechnology, including the elimination of impurities and toxins from water and more efficient energy sources, such as batteries.

The chart below represents all possible ways where green nanotechnology can be applied.

Several other technologies that can be deployed by business houses in India to embrace sustainable practice are – air pollution control systems, wastewater treatment systems, and green building designs. These practices can be employed by the business houses in  India.

Conclusion

As we unravel the complicated threads of India’s environmental policy development, it becomes clear that the country is at a crossroads. Balancing economic progress with environmental conservation, embracing sustainable practices, and raising public awareness are critical to ensuring India’s future is greener and more sustainable. Every citizen, business, and policymaker play an important role in this journey.

Since then, environmental policy development has been essential in India, and businesses must follow the right practices to promote a sustainable future. Recognizing the ‘right to environment’ as a fundamental right has underpinned the environmental policy development process in the post-1990 economic liberalization era in India. The long-term benefits of implementing sustainable practices are obvious. Businesses can lower their ecological footprint, cut expenses, attract more eco-conscious customers, and contribute to global environmental improvement by incorporating sustainability into their operations.

However, environmental policy development is more than just implementation; it also includes monitoring and reporting to analyse the progress and efficacy of established sustainable practices. Companies must report on metrics and targets on a regular basis to verify that they are on track to meet their objectives.

Read our Article:Environmental Justice Issues In India

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