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Resolution on Dilution of Environmental Regulations

India is presently facing serious problems on the environmental front. Various industries particularly in the extractive sector, infrastructure and real estate projects, are resulting in serious and sometimes irreversible damage to the environment. This process has only intensified with liberalization and opening up of core and other sectors of the economy to private corporations including multinational companies. Despite various legislative provisions, environmental regulation has remained weak with poor capability in limited institutional mechanisms and extremely poor implementation, monitoring and enforcement.

Instead of reversing this trend and strengthening environmental regulation, the present Government, even within its first year in office, has embarked on a course to further dilute environmental regulation and undermine its legislative framework as well as the administrative and judicial structures of environmental governance. “Ease of doing business’ for the sake of accelerating economic growth has become the guiding principle and main goal rather than protection of the environment. While paying lip service to environment regulation, the Government is actually encouraging unchecked industrialization and profiteering by corporate interests at expense of the natural heritage of present and future generations.

Of particular concern is the Report of the High-level Committee on Environment Law set up by the Government under the Chairmanship of Shri T.S.R.Subramanian. Without going into details, the main thrust of the Report is to replace all existing environment legislation, specifically the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, with an omnibus legislation incorporating major amendments to these Acts and severely diluting them. The Report recommends giving free rein to environmentally destructive activities in all but a tiny proportion of forest area and reposes ‘utmost faith’ in impact assessments of project proponents themselves, flying in the face of international norms and best practices in environmental regulation. On the other hand, the Report recommends doing away with approvals by Gram Sabhas for most projects and severely curtails public participation in environmental governance, thus undermining the very basis of democracy in India. The Report further suggests measures to severely cut the scope and powers of the National Green Tribunal and judicial oversight of untrammelled executive authority further strengthened by creation of a new bureaucracy whose main task would be to ensure fast track clearances of Projects.

These provisions gravely undermine environmental regulation and participative democracy in India. They also violate Articles 48A, Article 51 A(g) and Article 39 of the Constitution, providing for and safeguarding rights to life, livelihood and clean environment of all citizens. They also violate various international treaties and agreements to which India is a party.

The XVth AIPSC rejects the Report and calls upon the Government to withdraw or reject this Report. The XVth AIPSC also calls upon the Government to stop all actions aimed at piecemeal implementation of the Report’s recommendations, thus introducing them through the back door without legislative backing or discussion in Parliament. The XVth Congress also calls upon the AIPSN constituent organizations and all citizens’ groups to raise their voice against this Report and other governmental actions aimed at undermining environmental regulation in India.