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Environmental Policies in India since Independence.

As we moved forward to development, we chose industrialization and heavy urbanization. But since our resources were limited, these activities put a load on the environment which further led to degradation of the environment at various levels. Human choices have become the major factor for the pollution of air and water resources, extinction and poaching of animals, degradation of ecosystems, and so on. Any environmental problems humans face need an immediate solution for future generations and sustainable development.

“We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our future generations.”

There is an urgent need to make everyone familiar with climate change and for effective legislation to take place. The Indian Government legislated some acts to protect the environment and its resources. But did the Indian Government manage to implement those legislations successfully? There are laws written somewhere but are those laws helping anybody on a grassroots level?

The United Nations Conference on Human Environment, Stockholm, 1972, paved the way for India to ensure environmental protection by setting up an authority named National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning (1972) which was later evolved into the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1985. The development of ‘green politics’ or ‘eco-greens’ or the ‘green movement’ in Germany and North America in the early 1980s boosted the formation of the ‘green network’ and the ‘green movement’ throughout the world, including India. The Government of India reflected upon the degradation of the environment and crafted some Environmental Safeguard Policies. As years passed, more and more policies were implemented but none of them were as effective as they should have been. We are still facing what we faced in 1972- the degradation of the environment – with climate change glaring its teeth in our eyes. We will be looking at various policies and social movements that raised a variety of issues both in rural and urban areas related to forest, agriculture, industrial pollution, tourism, etc.

 Why do we need Environmental Safeguard Policies?


Whether we like it or not, we all rely on Mother Earth to live healthy and happy lives. Failing to provide proper care for the environment can damage the very resources we need to survive. We need safeguard policies to monitor the upcoming environmental risks, define measures and processes to effectively manage risks, observe the development's environmentally destructive side, and reduce its impacts. A lot of NGOs and public awareness groups pressurized the government to implement safeguard policies as well as create awareness among people about the issues.

A study divided the environmental struggle into five categories:

  1. Forest based
  2. Land use
  3. Development Projects (dams, mining etc.)
  4. Pollution created by industries
  5. Over-exploitation of marine resources

 All contemporary environmental movements fall under the aforementioned five categories. We will be looking at the issues around which the movements were launched.

1.     Forest and land-based issues – Some of the main issues of this category are the right to access forest resources, Non- commercial use of natural resources, Land degradation, and the lack of social justice and human rights. In 1973, the farmers of the Chamoli district took it to the public sphere and protested Deforestation. This movement was named ‘The Chipko Movement.’ Gradually it started gaining attention and a large number of women participated in it. Sundar Lal Bahuguna was the lead environmentalist in this movement. Around this time, the Appiko Movement also took place.
The Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 was implemented only because of the Chipko movement. The theme of the man-nature relationship is central to environmental movements. And, these movements focused on consumption, production of natural resources and protection or conservation of natural resources.


2.     Development Projects – This category of issues can further be classified in 3 categories. The common issue of this category is the failure to maintain the ecological balance.

      Dams and irrigation projects- The problem here is the environmentally destructive development that led to the neglect of the tropical forests. Poor ecological balance and the rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced is also there. Hence, to protect the tropical forest (Silent Valley) from being flooded by a hydroelectric project - Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) decided to speak up against the state. It was started in 1973. The KSSP educated local people about the issue by publishing a report and received concrete support. Consequently, in 1979, Protection of Ecological Balance Act of 1979 was legislated by the Government of Kerala. Some major movements from this category are: Narmada Bachao Andolan, Tehri Bandh Virodhi Samiti.

      Power Projects – This category also deals with the same issues as dams and irrigation projects. The major movements that generated public opinion against power projects are Jan Andolan, Koe- Karo Jan Sanghatana in Bihar and the Anti-mine project in Doon valley.     

      Industrial plants/ Railway Projects/ Airport Projects – Excessive industrial plants and development projects always lead to deforestation and land degradation. The repetitive resettlement issue can be understood better with this documentary called ‘Writing with fire’ by Rintu Thomas & Sushmit Ghosh, set in the backdrop of an increasingly polarized world. The movements under this category are, Protests of Kakana, and Amravati Bachao Abhiyan against a large chemical complex.


3.     Industrial  Pollution – Earlier, there were only an amount of industries that produced smoke but as technology developed – it caused a lot of air and water pollution. We need stricter pollution control measures and compensations for the damage that has already been done. The Government also needs to focus on the prevention of reckless expansion of industries without considering design, locational factors, and livelihood issues of the local population. Some movements from this category are Zahiro gas morcha in Bhopal, Ganga Mukti Andolan, and Movements against poisoning of Chaliyar River in Kerala by Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP).


4.     Exploitation of Marine Resources – It includes the protection of Marine Resources and Implementation of coastal zone regulations. Again, The movement broke out in Kerala with National Fishermen Forum working for traditional fisherfolk and Chilka Bachao Andolan, Orissa. 

Environmental Legislations Enacted by the Government of India.

1. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 – The act was enacted by parliament in 1972, later it was amended many times in 1982, 1986, 1991, 1993, 2002, and 2006. It provides wildlife-related terminology and contains six schedules as mentioned;
- Schedule I and Part II of Schedule provide sheer protection, offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties whereas, penalties for Schedule III and Schedule IV are much lower despite the species being protected.
- Species listed under Schedule V may be hunted freely.
- The specific endemic plants in Schedule VI are prohibited from cultivation and planting.
This Act also provides for setting up and management of National Parks and sanctuaries and on matters related to restrictions in those areas.

2. The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 was enacted on 23 March 1974 and amended in 1988. The objective of this act is to maintain or restore the wholesomeness and purity of water. There are two regulatory bodies under this act; the Centre Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB).

3. The Water Cess (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1977 – This act came into force on 7 December 1977 and was later amended many times. It provides for the levy and collection of a cess on water consumed by persons carrying on certain industries and by local authorities. It contains 17 sections and 2 schedules.

4. The Forest (Conversion) Act, 1980 – The Forest Act was the first law that gives the right of access to forest resources, bans the non-commercial use of natural resources, and prevents land degradation. This Act came into force on 25 October 1980 and was amended in 1988.

 5. The Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 –  This Act provides for the prevention, control, and abatement of air pollution. India’s participation in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment turned out to be very effective for the preservation of natural resources including preservation of the quality of air and control of air pollution. Enacted on 29 March 1981 and later amended in 1987.

6. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 – This Act was passed under Article 253. This was passed in the wake of the Bhopal gas tragedy in December 1984. It was enacted to achieve the UN conference on the human environment, 1972- Stockholm declaration. There are two statutory bodies under this act;
- Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee
-National Coastal Zone Management Authority

7. National Water Policy, 1987 – It aims to monitor the planning and development of water resources and their optimum utilization. It was later reviewed in 2002 and in 2012 to intensify the efficiency of managing water availability and the usage of water in an integrated manner.

8. National Forest Policy, 1988 – Its target is to maintain ecological balance safeguarding the interest of tribals protect their human rights and provide them social justice i.e., involving them in local livelihood opportunities. It was reviewed again in 2018 and the final draft was accepted in 2019 which mandates the livelihood security under this policy.

9. The Public Liability Insurance, 1991 – This act came into force on 22 January 1991 and was amended in 1992. Its purpose is to provide immediate relief to the persons affected by an accident happening while handling any hazardous substance; has 23 sections and one schedule.

10. National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992 – It regulates the consumption of natural resources by incorporating traditional knowledge for environmental protection. It also maintains institutional development for research, provides training, and gives a better understanding of environmental conservation and sustainable development. It also launched a strategy for one-horned Rhinos in India and Nepal which are in the vulnerable category of IUCN.
11. Policy Statement for the Abatement of Pollution, 1992 – It enforces stricter pollution control measures, and compensation, through CPCB and SPCBs. It also prevents reckless expansion of industries without considering design, locational factors, and livelihood issues of the local population.

12. The National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995 – This act was enacted on 17 June 1995; has 31 sections and one schedule. It is An Act to provide for strict liability for damages arising out of any accident occurring while handling any hazardous substance and for the establishment of a National Environment Tribunal for effective and expeditious disposal of cases arising from such accidents, to give relief and compensation for damages to persons, property, and the environment.

13. The National Environment Appellate Authority, 1997 – This Act was enacted on 26 March 1997. It hears appeals regarding the restriction of areas, in which any industry or other shall not be carried or shall be carried out.

14. The National Population Policy, 2000 – Its main objective is to achieve a stable population by 2045 through strategically managing the Total Fertility Rate (TFR).

15. Biological Diversity Act, 2002 – It was implemented to give effect to CBD, Nagoya Protocol. It checks biopiracy, and protect Biodiversity Authority and local growers through a three-tier structure of central and state boards and local communities.

16. The National Environment Policy, 2006 – Its objective is to achieve sustainable development, by incorporating environmental consideration into the development process.

17. The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 – This Act was enacted on 2 June 2010; It has 38 sections and 3 schedules. This is an Act to provide for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property. It also has provisions for penalties for offences and the power to make rules.

18. National Agroforestry Policy, 2014 – Its objective is to increase sustainable agricultural production by combining tree farming with agriculture.

19. Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 – The CAF act manages funds collected for compensatory afforestation. It also means that whenever forest land is converted for non-forest purposes like industry or mining, the agency pays for planting over an equal area of non-forest land.

 Critical Evaluation:

The ineffective implementation of norms would remain on top despite the multiple faults that are presented in our system. In the struggles around the issues of forest and land-based resources, we noticed that the main participants were tribal people and other communities depending on the resources for their survival, and hence they resist state intervention which limits their rights and control over resources. But Policies in India are crafted in such a way that they do not only promote the natural resources but they promote the constant use of them and their control over them. There is also no real progress toward achieving multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), which has been neglected for the sake of ‘ease of doing business.’

Non-prioritization of efforts to empower local communities and use their traditional knowledge for governing and tapping opportunities to mitigate climate change. Most of the Government legislated Acts were the outcomes of the movements that were led by local communities and yet the Government does not prioritize them or their needs. According to Guha, “In the traditional system, it is considered that it was the responsibility of the rulers to protect the customary rights and interests of his subjects. When the ruler fails to do so or impinges on the rights of the people the resistance and revolt are traditionally sanctioned by custom.” And, when the traditional custom of resistance does not remain effective with the changed reality, people resort to confrontation. For which, the government needs to imply the policies as effectively as they have been written because Niti & Nyaya must go hand in hand.

The rapid changes in the environment and increasing destruction demand effective upgradation of legislated acts such as the current Wildlife Act that neglects the conservation of marine ecosystems. The constant monitoring by CPCB (Centre Pollution Control Board) and SPCB (State Pollution Control Board) will reduce carbon emissions from industries, and vehicles, and improve the capabilities of environmental norms. Meanwhile, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society organisations (CSOs) can strengthen the legislation by continuously monitoring the impact of these policies. Ecological balance is the centre of all environmental struggles so it should be placed at the topmost rather than being ignored. By making the implementations more effective, India can boost its potential and achieve goals in a sustainable way like Clean Water and Sanitation, Climate Action, Sustainable Cities and Communities, etc., 

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