Environment Support Group in collaboration with Institute of Public Policy and Centre for Labour Studies of National Law School of India University (NLSIU)
REPORT OF NATIONAL CONSULTATION ON PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS IN INDIA
18th July 2022, Bangalore
On 30th June 2022, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) issued a series of public announcements on its website inviting public comments about its intent to amend the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991. A day later it issued another Notification, again only in its website, inviting comments on amendments the Ministry proposed to India’s umbrella environmental law – Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. It did not stop there. On 9th July 2022, the Ministry issued yet another notification inviting public comments to amendments it proposed to the Indian Forest Act, 1927. All of these Notifications, which contained the text of the Bills proposing changes in existing law, were in English, and not in any of the Scheduled Languages of India – except in one instance when an Hindi translation was also provided.
Apart from the fact that the notifications were all issued only on the Ministry’s website and in English, the commenting period for the first four laws was merely 20 days and in the case of the Forest Act three weeks. The notification instructed that responses would be received by email or post. There was no effort whatsoever by the Ministry to reach out across the length and breadth of India in any form – be it by local advertisements drawing attention to the amendments proposed, or by requesting state governments to reach out through its district administrations. There was absolutely no effort made at all to ensure that the linguistically, geographically, culturally, politically diverse populations, living in diverse biogeographic zones in a massive country, had even a remotely reasonable chance to fathom the implications of what was being proposed and be able to respond with even a cursory application of mind. In effect, the notifications served the purpose of a ritual online ‘consultation’, which has become a pattern with the Ministry in recent years.
In much the same way, on 16th December 2021 the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was tabled in the Lok Sabha without any prior public debate or consultation. This had drawn widespread criticisms and there were nation-wide calls for open, public and democratic consultations and debates. Opposition members in Parliament supported this demand in the Lok Sabha and forced India’s Environment Minister Shri Bhupendra Yadav to refer it for review by a Joint Committee of both the Houses of Parliament. On being constituted, the Parliamentary Committee invited public comments on the Bill through major newspaper advertisements, and also extended the opportunity of a personal hearing to a cross-section of representatives from various sectors. Following this process, the Committee tabled its report in the Parliament on 2nd August 2022. Even as this process was underway, it was rather disconcerting that the Ministry had chosen to rush through major amendments to all of the other laws it administers in the manner described.
This approach which lacks any intent of engaging with the wide public, and also with State Governments and Legislatures, whilst amending existing laws, amounts to treating democratic decision making as a ritual and effectively sidesteps Constitutionally mandated federated system of governance. This is deeply worrying given changes proposed have far reaching and irreversible implications, and fundamentally alter the very characteristics of these environmental laws. Besides, the changes proposed would have a fundamental and probably irreversible bearing on India’s environmental jurisprudence, especially given that environmental laws have a direct and fundamental bearing on fundamental rights of peoples of India, particularly natural resource dependent communities.
Responding to this worrying situation, Environment Support Group in collaboration with Institute of Public Policy and Centre for Labour Studies of National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, organised a nation-wide half day hybrid consultation on the proposed amendments to India’s major environmental laws at NLSIU campus on 18th July, 2022. The workshop involved interventions from a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Legal Scholars, Political leaders, retired Senior Bureaucrats, Environmental Lawyers, Journalists, Social and Environmental Activists, Academicians, etc., and provided deeper insights into implications of the proposed amendments. There was unanimous agreement that proposed amendments were regressive and that they must be comprehensively rejected.
On the basis of this discussion and agreement arrived at, a statement was issued calling on the Ministry to “Stop Destroying India’s Progressive Environment, Forest And Biodiversity Protection Jurisprudence”. This statement has been widely circulated and endorsed, and is annexed at Annexure A. A discussion note contextualising the consultation is annexed at Annexure B.
Please find attached the report of the consultation.