This article is written by Mahelaka Abrar, a student of Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University. In this article, she discusses the National Environment Policy of 2006 comprehensively.
Table of Contents
A rapidly expanding society like ours faces numerous political, social, economic, cultural, and environmental challenges. Every such challenge or complication is in some way or the other related to our habits, customs, and patterns of habitation. Such routine styles evidently have a direct or indirect impact on the environment. Therefore, it becomes mandatory to have thorough periodical checks on this blanket of protection that has helped mankind to thrive since time immemorial.
For this purpose, many national policies to manage the environment have been devised which includes:
- National Forest Policy of 1988
- National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992
- Policy Statement on Abatement of Pollution, 1992
- National Agriculture Policy, 2000
- National Population Policy, 2000
- National Water Policy, 2000
All of these policies have worked out strategies and plans to resolve the specific issue in which context they were formulated. However, certain underlying factors and gaps still needed to be filled to achieve a comprehensive plan for environmental management.
The National Environment Policy of 2006 was framed in this regard to extend the coverage of such already existing policies. It does not displace, but rather builds on the earlier policies. It is an acknowledgement of India’s commitment to a clean and safe environment mandated in Articles 48A and 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution substantiated by judicial interpretation of Article 21. It calls for mutual cooperation between states and their citizens towards maintaining and upgrading the quality of the environment.
Objectives of this Policy
The fundamental objectives of the National Environment Policy are listed below. These objectives outline the contemporaneous perception of the environmental challenges of the time.
- Conservation of Critical Environmental Resources: It involves protecting and conserving crucial ecological systems and resources along with vital natural and human-made heritage. These are essential for livelihoods, economic growth, and the well being of man.
- Intra-generational Equity: It includes securing equitable access of environmental resources to different sections of society with a specific focus on low-income groups which are mostly reliant on environmental resources for livelihoods.
- Inter-generational Equity: It aims at wise and judicious use of environmental resources to meet the demands and needs of the current generation without compromising with the aspirations and needs of the future generations.
- Integration of Economic and Social development Environmental concerns: It focuses on integrating environmental concerns into effective plans, programs, projects, and policies for socio-economic progress.
- Efficient use of Environmental Resource: It involves ensuring efficient use of environmental resources to reduce their use per unit of economic output, in order to reduce negative ecological impacts.
- Environmental Governance: It means applying the fundamental principles of good governance to manage and regulate the use of environmental resources.
- Enhancement of Resources for Environmental Conservation: It aims at partnering with various local communities, public agencies, investors, researchers, and academic groups to ensure higher resource flows, including finance, technology, management skills, traditional knowledge for environmental protection.
Major environmental challenges
The main environmental challenges that India faces is due to the interconnection between environmental deterioration with poverty. The state of natural resources like flora, fauna, land, water, air form an essential part of these challenges posed.
- It could be said, undeniably, that environmental degradation is a prime factor of perpetual poverty and the worst affected are often the rural poor as such degradations have a direct impact on soil fertility, water, air quality, wildlife, and fisheries. The loss of resilience in the ecosystem pushes the poor more to vulnerability.
- In the urban sector, environmental degradation is often caused due to inappropriate waste treatment, lack of sanitation, industrial pollution which directly affects the quality of air, water, and soil which, in turn, causes serious health implications amongst the urban population. Consequently, it reduces their capacity to seek and retain employment, teach or attend schools, and foster gender inequalities, all of which perpetuate poverty. Moreover, it is estimated that 20 percent of diseases caused in India are due to ecological factors.
- The increasing focus of developing and developed nations on economic growth has accelerated environmental degradation due to the unchecked use of natural resources to meet their aim and growing demands of the population. Unsustainable consumption patterns add to the aggravated condition of both- local and global life.
- Government policy failures which provide incentives for indiscriminate and excessive use of natural resources coupled with institutional failures regarding insufficient enforced rights of access to, and use of, natural resources have depleted the environment further.
- Another challenge is the emerging global environmental issues such as Climate change, ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity, etc. Multilateral programs and plans devised to meet such global challenges might negatively impact the development opportunities of developing nations.
The National Environment Policy has originated from the concept that only such developments are sustainable which value ecological restrictions and the essence of justice. The objectives of this policy are to be realized through joint partnerships, effective local legislation, strategic interventions by different public bodies. The principles of the policy are formulated to guide such actors in relation to this policy. They are enumerated as below:
- Centre for Sustainable Development Concern are Human Beings
Every human being is entitled to a safe and healthy environment that not only sustains them but also the generations to come. The development of the environment should be done in a way to fulfil contemporary demand as well as that of posterity. Human beings, therefore deserve a healthy life in harmony with nature.
- Right to Development
The right to development must be given equitably to meet the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations. The way human beings have used the environment indiscriminately and without accountability, the same they should be given a full-fledged opportunity to mend all the wrongs done to the environment.
- Development is synonymous with Environmental Protection
Environmental protection should always be viewed in the light of development as it is an integral part of it. Society can only prosper if both are considered together and not in isolation from each other. A society can only develop in a true sense if environmental considerations are taken note of before taking any major steps.
- A Precautionary method
There are many pre-existing threats to the environment that are serious and irreversible. At any cost, such challenges could not be ignored. Effective implementation of robust policies to save environmental degradation is the need of time.
- Economic efficiency
This Principle requires that the services of environmental resources be given economic value, and such value to count equally with the economic values of other goods and services, in an analysis of alternative courses of action.
- Entities with incomparable values
“Incomparable” values entities are those who possess a significant risk to human health, life, and environment. In such instances, individuals or societies would not risk anything for compensation in money or goods by these entities. Such entities would have priority in the allocation of societal resources for their conservation without consideration of direct or immediate economic benefit.
- Principle of equity
Equity in the context of this policy means both – equity in entitlements to, and participation of the public in decision-making processes regarding the use and overuse of environmental resources. The principle of justice requires human beings to be treated the same, neglecting any irrelevant differences between them.
- Legal liability
Environmental redressal mechanisms built on the doctrines of criminal liability have been proven unsuccessful and inefficient. Therefore, civil liability for environmental damage was needed. It would restrict any environmentally harmful activity and compensate, in the case of any harm done. This could be seen in the doctrine of “polluter pays” itself.
Moreover, the following approaches to civil liability may apply:
(a) Fault Based Liability
It is based on the principle that a party who breaches any pre-existing legal duty imposed upon it would be liable to pay or compensate for the harm so done.
(b) No fault-based Liability/Strict Liability
It imposes an obligation to compensate the victim for any harm done arising from failures of the other party which may not necessarily involve any breach of law or duty to care.
- Doctrine of Public Trust
The state is merely a trustee of natural resources not an absolute owner of it. The environmental resources of a nation are meant for public use and enjoyment, subject to certain necessary and reasonable conditions that are required in the national interest.
Decentralization means transferring power from Central authority to a different state and Local Authorities. This is needed so that a particular level wherein an environmental issue is pertinent could be adequately and timely addressed.
Integration means including significant environmental considerations in the policy-making process, policy research on integrated natural and social sciences related to the environment, merging or coming together of different Central, State, or Local bodies tasked with the implementation of environmental strategies and policies.
- Environmental standard setting
Environmental standards applied in one socio-economic scenario might not be relevant if applied to another society. Therefore, setting up the right environmental standard would include various considerations like human health risks involved, risks to other environmental entities, cost of compliance, technical feasibility, etc.
- Preventive action
Preventive action is necessary to prevent any environmental damage in the first place rather than restoring degraded environmental resources.
- Environmental offsetting
It is an obligation upon human beings to safeguard endangered species and natural systems that are of significance to the ecosystem. And if for any reason such protections cannot be guaranteed in a case, cost-effective offsetting measures should be taken by the proponents of such activity, to restore the loss of environmental services to the general or specific public.
Strategies and actions
The strategies to be adopted for the conservation of environmental resources in India are enumerated below.
- Land degradation
The following strategy to reduce land degradation in India is to be adopted:
- Encouraging the adoption of science and technology along with traditional land-use practices that are sustainable through research, surveys, and development works.
- Explore /pilot-scale demonstration and impart relevant farmer’s training.
- Encourage reclamation of wasteland and deteriorated forest lands through formulating strategies and adopting multi-stakeholder partnerships with local communities, investors, public bodies and land-owning agencies, etc.
- To prevent and reduce the desertification of land through numerous action plans.
The following steps are to be taken for conservation of forests:
(i) Formulating an innovative strategy to increase forest and tree cover area from the present level of 23 percent to 33 percent by 2012. This aim is to be achieved through afforestation of degraded forest lands, wastelands and tree cover on private and revenue lands.
The strategy would include the following key elements:
- Implementing multi-stakeholder partnerships which will involve the forest department, local communities, and investors with clearly defined responsibilities and entitlements for every partner, following principles of good governance, deriving environmental livelihood, and financial benefits.
- Rationalizing restrictions on the cultivation of forest species outside notified forest areas.
- Facilitating farmers to uptake social and farm forestry wherein returns are more favourable than cropping.
- Universalizing the Joint Forestry Management System all over the country
- Formulation of an appropriate and efficient methodology for restoring and reckoning environmental values.
- Giving due legal recognition to traditional rights of tribes and communities dwelling in the forest along with providing them long-term incentives to conserve the forest area.
For wildlife conservation, the following steps are to be pursued:
(i) Expansion of the Protected Area Network of the country. It should be ensured that the overall area of the Protected Area Network in every biogeographic zone should increase in the process.
(ii) Encouragement for multi-stakeholder partnerships for afforestation of land along with the formulation of similar partnerships for the development of wildlife.
(iii) Encouragement and development of ecotourism to different wildlife sites.
(iv) Implementation of measures for captive breeding and protecting identified endangered species of the wild.
The following measures are to be taken to protect biodiversity at the national level:
(i) Protection and conservation of biodiversity hotspots.
(ii) Paying larger attention to developmental projects aiming on biodiversity resources and natural heritage.
(iii) Preserving genetic material of threatened species of flora and fauna.
(iv) Conferring and giving due recognition to intellectual property rights for traditional knowledge.
Natural or man-made wetlands provide many ecological benefits. They give habitat to the aquatic flora and fauna and maintain the ecosystem of the place. However, with the passage of time these wetlands have been a victim of excessive pollution with the constant threat of drainage and conversion for agriculture and human settlements.
Therefore, it became mandatory to protect wetlands from such dangers through some actions plans which include;
(i) Setting up a legal regulatory mechanism for identifying valuable wetlands in order to protect them from degradation.
(ii) Formulating and implementing tourism strategies that are sustainable for recognized wetlands through partnerships involving public agencies and local communities.
(iii) Taking explicit account of the impact of big developmental projects on wetlands when such projects are brought into action.
- Conserving man-made heritage
Man-made heritage is at the core of the national identity of India. It is symbolic of pre-historic socio-cultural ways of people. It also adds to the economic value and livelihood of people. The following plans are devised for their sustainable use :
(i) Setting up ambient environmental standards with strict checks on air quality and taking into account its probable impact on designated heritage sites.
(ii) Drawing up integrated regional development plans with the active participation of the local community with respect to proper waste management.
(iii) The impact of developing projects on designated heritage sites must be considered at an early stage.
- Environmentally sensitive zones
Environmentally sensitive zones are areas that are identified with environmental resources of great values and which are in dire need of special care and attention for their preservation. In order to protect these resources without impeding legitimate socio-economic development of these areas, the following actions are to be taken:
(i) Identifying and giving legal status to Environmentally Sensitive Zones of the country.
(ii) Formulating area development plans for these zones with the help of scientific data and adequate participation of local communities.
(iii) Creating local institutions for the purpose of managing the environment of these areas.
- Sustainable mountain development
The ecosystem of mountains plays a significant role in providing forest cover, ensuring the flow of perennial rivers, conserving genetic diversity, providing food, and livelihood to the inhabitants and promoting sustainable tourism.
However, adverse human activities have led to the deterioration of the ecosystem of mountains by way of despoiling of landscapes, loss of genetic diversity, submergence of river valleys, deforestation, the retreat of glaciers, etc.
In light of such circumstances, the following action plan for sustainable mountain development is to be taken up:
(i) Adoption of best practice norms for infrastructure construction in mountainous regions in order to reduce damage to sensitive ecosystems and despoiling landscapes.
(ii) Encouragement of horticulture and cultivation of traditional varieties of crops through organic farming.
(iii) Promotion of sustainable tourism by adopting practices and norms best suited for tourism facilities.
(iv) Development of strategies for specific mountain capes keeping in mind different factors related to it.
- Strategy for sustainable coastal resources
The coastal environment provides many marine species with habitat. This habitat, in turn, comprises a resource base for fisherfolk, acts as a resource base for sustainable tourism, urban livelihoods, and agriculture, and provides protection from extreme weather conditions.
However, in recent times due to poorly planned human settlements, pollution from industries and such settlements, improper location of mega industries, significant degradation of coastal resources have been witnessed.
Due to such unfortunate circumstances, the following measures are to be taken:
(i) Mainstreaming sustainable management of mangroves into the forestry sector regulatory regime and ensuring that they provide continuous livelihoods to local communities.
(ii) Disseminating known techniques in the process of regeneration of coral reefs and support activities which are based on the application of such techniques.
(iii) Embodying considerations of the rising sea-level in coastal management plans.
(iv) Formulating and developing specific projects consistent with the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) which aims at ensuring the protection of the coastal environment in India.
- Strategy for conservation of freshwater resources
Freshwater resources include river systems, wetlands, and groundwater. These resources play a unique role and are intrinsically connected with other environmental entities.
(A) River Management
The following measures are to be taken for river management.
(i) Promotion of integrated approach to manage river basins by the concerned authorities keeping in mind upstream and downstream inflows and withdrawals.
(ii) Monitor authorities to check the level of pollution loads and natural regeneration capacities to make sure of water quality standards and adequate water flow.
(iii) To mitigate the impacts on river flora and fauna after due consideration.
(iv) Mandate the installation of water-saving closets and taps in the building by-laws of urban centres.
The groundwater level has been falling rapidly in many areas in recent years. Several factors have been stated for such depletion including withdrawal of agriculture, excess of annual recharge by the industrial and urban sector, etc.
In addition to this, housing and infrastructure like roads block sufficient recharge of groundwater in urban areas. Apart from this, groundwater also gets polluted because of the leaching of stored hazardous waste and extensive use of agricultural chemicals.
The undermentioned plans are formulated to tackle such menaces:
(i) The practice of non-metered electric supply to farmers should be discontinued in order to ensure efficient use of groundwater.
(ii) Promotion of systematic techniques of water use like a sprinkle, drip irrigation among farmers should be done.
(iii) Supporting practices of contour bunding and reviving traditional methods for enhancing groundwater recharge.
(iv) Mandating rainwater harvesting in urban areas and newly constructed areas to increase groundwater levels.
(v) Supporting research and development cost-effective techniques for rural and urban drinking water projects.
- Policy for Pollution Abatement
The following measures to tackle pollution is to be adopted at local and national levels :
- Water Pollution
(i) Enhancing the reuse of treated industrial wastewater and sewage before discharging them into water bodies like rivers, lakes or seas.
(ii) Setting up common effluent treatment plants on a cost-recovery basis.
(iii) Taking explicit account of groundwater pollution while pricing policies of pesticides and fertilizers.
(iv) Developing strategies to strengthen regulations on the impact of shipbreaking on marine resources.
(v) Promoting research and development in the sector of developing low-cost technologies for sewage treatment and wastewater cleaning equipment.
(vi) Developing public-private partnerships for setting up effluent and sewage treatment plants.
- Air Pollution
(i) Accelerating national programs that aim at disseminating improved fuelwood stoves and solar cookers for women of rural households.
(ii) Providing incentive-based instruments for controlling air pollution.
(iii) Providing adequate investments in mass transport systems that cause less pollution with the help of private and public partnerships.
(iv) Giving due recognition and representation to local communities and NGOs for undertaking and monitoring of environmental compliance.
(v) Promoting reclamation of wastelands through energy plantations.
- Noise Pollution
(i) Characterising different environments in order to set ambient noise standards like urban versus rural areas, educational institutions and hospital establishments versus rest of the areas, daytime versus night time in residential establishments, areas in the vicinity of airports, highways, railways versus other areas, etc.
(ii) Distinguishing between protection measures and noise standards in the context of the environment and occupational exposure to a third party.
(iii) Formulating proper noise emission norms like rating of loudspeakers, automobile horns, and fireworks to ensure that risk to any third party which is a non-participant in such activities do not exceed prescribed ambient standards.
(iv) Encouraging effective dialogue between local authorities, religious communities, state authorities, for adopting specific durations or timing for use of loudspeakers, bells, or any other sound-producing device.
- Soil Pollution
(i) Developing and implementing strategies for cleaning up of lethal and hazardous waste dumps with a specific focus on industrial areas.
(ii) Strengthening capacities of local bodies for segregation, recycling and reuse of municipal solid wastes.
(iii) Developing and implementing strategies and plans for recycling, reusing, and reducing plastic wastes, non-biodegradable wastes etc.
(iv) Promoting organic farming and supporting traditional crop varieties through research.
(v) Developing voluntary and transparent eco-labeling schemes based on science and scientific research.
(vi) Giving legal recognition and strengthening the informal sector to collect and recycle waste materials.
(vii) Developing public-private partnerships for setting and operating landfills and incinerators to treat toxic and hazardous industrial and biomedical wastes.
Process involved in the formulation
- For the purpose of preparing this Policy, inputs, and consultations with diverse groups of experts and stakeholder has been done.
- The draft of the National Environmental Policy also took extensive consultation from Government and experts.
- The draft was posted on the official websites of the Ministry of Environment and Forests in English as well as Hindi to invite responses from individuals and concerned organizations through advertisements in regional and national newspapers.
- Consultations with regard to the draft were also held with relevant Ministries of Central Government, all State/UT Governments at the meetings of the State Environment Ministries and senior officials.
- Moreover, the draft was also made open to the public from 21st August 2004 to 31st December 2004.
- For inviting suggestions and views of Members of Parliament, a copy of the draft was provided to them.
- Thorough consultation was done by the Ministry Of Environment and Forests with the representatives of significant academic and research institutions, key Industry Associations, Voluntary Organisations, and well-known individuals of the field.
- A detailed summary of different responses that came was prepared and addressal of various concerns expressed by the respondents was done. Many suggestions that were received have been duly incorporated in this Policy.
Although there are numerous pre-existing policies on the environment, a need for a comprehensive policy covering all significant aspects of the environment as well as to fill the lacuna in such policies was felt. In the light of such circumstances, The National Environment Policy (NEP) came into force to address the rising threat to the environment and devise effective measures and action plans to tackle the deplorable state of the environment. The various strategies and plans enumerated in the policy have been brought into action in different parts of the country. They have been quite successful in resolving many ecological challenges that were predominant in the country. However, a more effective and robust implementation of the NEP is the need of the time to tackle newly found emerging threats of the decade. It is, also, equally important for the general public to join hands with the government and ministries trying to work out the environmental challenges and ensure their full support in the implementation of these policies.
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