Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Insights into Editorial: A proposal for Indian Environmental Service

Context:

The Supreme Court has asked the Government if it will create an Indian Environmental Service (IES) as recommended by a committee headed by former Cabinet secretary T.S.R Subramanian in 2014.

Environment’ will play a large role in the overall governance paradigm. The public sector, including the Central and State Governments, and various other quasi-official bodies, such as corporations, municipal boards, enforcement agencies, as well as the industrial sectors will require reliable expertise of a high order in the management of environmental issues.

 

What is the T.S.R Subramanian committee report on environment?

  1. The Subramanian committee was set up in August 2014 to review the country’s green laws and the procedures followed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
  2. It suggested several amendments to align with the Government’s economic development agenda.
  3. The report submitted to then Union environment minister had suggested amendments to almost all green laws, including those relating to environment, forest, wildlife and coastal zone clearances.
  4. The committee had three months to submit its report. After it did, a Parliamentary Standing Committee rejected the report on the grounds that it ended up diluting key aspects of environmental legislation designed to protect the environment.
  5. The committee suggested that another committee, with more expertise and time, be constituted to review the environmental laws.

 

What did the T.S.R report recommend?

  1. The report proposed an ‘Environmental Laws (Management) Act’ (ELMA), that envisioned full-time expert bodies: National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and State Environmental Management Authority (SEMA) to be constituted at the Central and State levels respectively to evaluate project clearance (using technology and expertise), in a time bound manner, providing for single-window clearance.
  2. To accelerate the environmental decision-making process, they suggested a “fast track” procedure for “linear” projects (roads, railways and transmission lines), power and mining projects and for “projects of national importance.”
  3. The Air Act and the Water Act is to be subsumed within the Environment Protection Act.
  4. The existing Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Boards, which monitor and regulate the conditions imposed on the industries to safeguard environment, are proposed to be integrated into NEMA and SEMA once the new bodies come into existence.
  5. It also suggested an appellate mechanism against the decisions of NEMA/SEMA or MoEF&CC, in respect of project clearance, prescribing a three-month deadline to dispose appeals.
  6. The report also recommends that an “environmental reconstruction cost” should be assessed for each project on the basis of the damage caused by it to the environment and this should be added into the cost of the project.
  7. This cost has to be recovered as a cess or duty from the project proponent during the life of the project.
  8. At the tail end, it proposed a National Environment Research institute “on the lines of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education” to bring in the application of high-end technology in environment governance and finally, an Indian Environment Service to recruit qualified and skilled human resource in the environment sector.

 

About TSR Subramanian Committee:

  1. The Committee was constituted to review the processes, laws and Acts of the Ministry.
  2. The Report was a historic achievement that would strengthen processes to balance developmental commitments and environment protection.
  3. The recommendations of the Report would enhance Ministry’s efforts to avoid undue delays and ensure transparency in clearances and implementation of projects.
  4. Lauding the efforts of the Committee for submitting the report in a short span of time, the Minister stated that Ministry would expedite consultations with all stakeholders for the timely implementation of the recommendations of the Committee.

 

Has the report been accepted by the Government?

The Centre never formally accepted this report and neither constituted a new committee as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

However, many of these recommendations are implicitly making their way into the process of environmental regulation.

The Government has proposed rewrites to the Forest Conservation laws, set timelines to the pace at which expert committees that appraise the suitability of infrastructure projects must proceed, as well as sought to make existing laws consonant with court judgements.

 

How did the subject of the IES come to the fore?

  1. The Supreme Court was responding to a petition filed by a lawyer, whose counsel pointed out that matters of environment required special expertise.
  2. Currently matters of environmental regulation rests on scientists recruited into the Ministry of Environment and Forests as well as bureaucrats from the Indian Administrative Services.
  3. The apex court expressed reluctance at getting into administrative matters of the Government but nevertheless asked the Centre if it expects to go about constituting such a mechanism.
  4. The country’s response to environmental issues has mostly been reactive, with action being taken only when a problem arises.
  5. While this has entailed death and destruction, it cannot be denied that progress has been made to minimise damage, like in the case of Odisha that has reduced losses due to cyclones.
  6. Environmental issues may need an active approach which includes harnessing of resources, ensuring sustainability, creating awareness and an early warning system to minimise risks.

 

Conclusion:

Today our entire environmental governance is centered on clearances—environment clearance, forest clearance, wildlife clearance, clearances for ecologically-sensitive areas and clearance from pollution control boards.

We must build on the exercise of reforming environmental governance. The process must involve reforming our laws, strengthening our institutions and streamlining the processes.

Current approval systems and monitoring mechanism function in a quasi-amateurish manner, leading to sub-optimal management of environmental issues.

It is now proposed that a new Indian Environment Service be created, as an All India Service, which will act as an expert group to man positions in this field in the public and quasi-governmental sectors over the next decades.

The new committee should consider all these together and come out with actionable recommendations.