- What is, in your opinion, is the current situation with India’s environment? And how do our environment protection laws fare when compared to global standards, especially with regards to other developing nations?
In spite of the fact that India has had a very robust environment protection law since the 1960’s, in the last few years, the government has watered down many environmental laws in favour of aspirational economic growth / political agenda / big businesses / political nexus. When their focus was on Make in India, a lot of projects were given approvals at a record rate. With the onset of Covid-19, the pressure to revive the shattered economy further made the government let go of their responsibilities towards the environment. Destruction of the environment in the garb of upholding religious sentiment has also been something that’s happening around us. With regard to other developing nations, I believe we are doing just okay, considering how poor our air / water quality is. We have a lot to learn from countries that are doing better than us, like Bhutan (which is practically carbon negative). The developed countries can point us in the direction we are heading as a country to invest more protection of our natural resources.
- As the advisor of CEL of WWF-India how do you think CEL is a making a difference for the India’s environment situation, especially in getting the environment law sector its long due importance?
- The CEL offers Post Graduate Diploma courses in collaboration with National Law University-Delhi and it has recently collaborated with O.P. Jindal Global University to offer an LL.M. programme in Environmental Law, Energy and Climate Change. These courses are not just mere courses as they serve as a tool for environmental problem solving. To deal with environmental law issues, one needs to have the skill to critically investigate the issue which can be learnt through these courses as the mode of assessment and evaluation is not conventional. The evaluation scheme of each of these courses is designed in such a way that it helps the students to train their mind in thinking about an environmental issue from a holistic angle. We use this platform to engage students in discussion which revolves around contemporary environmental law issues and challenges.
- CEL engages in numerous environmental law research programmes in the national and international context.
- CEL examines the judgments passed by different courts including National Green Tribunal to understand the way the judiciary comprehends environmental matters and study what kind of mitigation measures are suggested by the courts.
- CEL undertakes capacity development of institutions in the field of environmental law.
- The Indian culture is deeply connected to our environment. We worship rivers, trees, forces of nature and yet our rivers are highly polluted, our forests vanishing under the pressure of a growing population. Why do you think such a conundrum exists and can we somehow manage to turn this situation in favor of environment protection?
Indians have historically considered rivers, trees, certain animals and forests as sacred and even then, there is environmental degradation taking place around us.
For example, take the practice of Ganesh visarjan. Earlier the Ganesh idols were made out of clay and were still considered safe. Over the years, the materials of idols turned non-sustainable and the dyes / paints used were harmful for the environment. As our rituals and practices have been part of society since hundreds of years, it would be better to educate people on finding alternative sustainable methods of those practices.
Also, there is a disconnect in our beliefs and the way we live those beliefs. Unfortunately, the greed has overtaken the humans and, in the pursuit, to have ‘more’ of everything’, the human species has successfully managed to over-exploit the natural resources. There is very little sense of the realization that natural resources are limited and they have a certain carrying capacity to take the burden of humans and human activities. There is no planet ‘B’ to live on and that’s why we have to value planet Earth in the most respectful way.
We can still turn around the situation in our favour and for conservation of nature by having strong realization that natural resources are not infinite and they have to be put to use judiciously. If there is collective action by all the countries to follow the principle of sustainable development in the letter and spirit, then we can avoid mindless exploitation of the natural resources. Needless to say, the collective action has to be geared in the right direction and with high intensity without wasting any more time. We all have to act NOW.
- Do you think our schools and law school somehow fail to create enough awareness and interest in environment and environment laws? What would you suggest to change this?
For as long as I can remember, environmental sciences / studies / law were one of the most neglected subjects. Never taken seriously and were never encouraged to be studied. And in most cases, never even offered to students. One of the issues is that the focus of studies has always been towards the core subjects / traditional learning. Our education system has not evolved in decades and still gives importance to traditional subjects / professions. Over the decades, our society has changed, how the population has grown, how we interact, how we react, how technology has evolved, and how the face of the planet has changed because of all this. However, our education system hasn’t kept up with these changes. What we need is to normalise alternate subjects of studies, develop new areas of research. It is now that few of the Indian Universities are offering courses which are specifically designed to teach environmental courses to students through interdisciplinary approach (for eg. Our LL.M. ELECC :P). Talk about climate change NOT just as a topic of environment, but make everyone understand its impact is not limited to geography or the weather but also deeply on livelihood, society and business on the whole.
I do feel that more number of schools and colleges should take the onus of imparting environment education. Environment education is the need of the day as the youth needs to understand that the environment is not an external entity to our survival. They need to be empowered to make the right decisions and to hold the decision-makers accountable for their actions.
- What was the most positive change you have seen happen in all your years with regards to policy change and effects on the grass roots level?
With regards to the environment, there is hardly anything that has had a positive impact. However, I can point out one policy decision change that had a visible positive impact on the environment as much as I could understand and notice. Around 20 years back, the Supreme Court made it mandatory for all public transport to switch to CNG in Delhi. It was a landmark judicial decision that led to absolute chaos for months to come. But the result was that within a matter of months, the pollution level in the city came down drastically. However, another policy decision nullified this positive impact, a few years later, the government allowed diesel engines in private vehicles. So sales of diesel vehicles shot up and the pollution levels broke all records within a decade.
- What do you think could be the long term effects of implementation of the draft EIA on Indian environment, economy and society as a whole?
The draft EIA Notification, 2020 has been in news ever since it was published on the MoEFCC’s website this March. If the draft EIA notification becomes the reality, then there is no doubt that we are heading in the reverse direction. It will not only lead to extreme environmental degradation but also affect the lives of each individual, in terms of their livelihood and health. Right to healthy environment is our basic fundamental right to live in this country and if the government is trying to dilute this right by passing such draft notification, then our rights are not being taken seriously.
Draft EIA if implemented would be fatal and would not just have long term adverse impact but also short-term adverse impact. Our resources would be exploited without having any proper planning and management in place, non-integration of infrastructure and environmental concerns will lead to difficult co-existence of humans and wildlife, suppressing the voice of the individual, especially by not having enough time window for public hearing will eventually to public unrest at large and people will lose faith in the functioning of the Government.