Recipe of Environmental Laws
Last year, just after the change in central government, under the blanket of Ministry of Environment, Forest Climate Change (MOEFCC - the new name of MOEF makes no difefrence but only speed up in giving Environment and Forest clearances) a “HIGH LEVEL COMMITTEE” under the chairmanship of former Cabinet Secretary T.S.R Subramanian was constituted. Other members of the HCL were Former Secretary to Government of India Vishwanath Anand, former Judge of the High Court, Justice A.K Srivastava and former Additional Solicitor General of India K.N Bhat.
HCL review 5 environment laws as Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was added subsequently to this list.
Amazingly from the day of its constituted 29th August 2014, only in 83 days HCL on 20th November 2014 High Level Committee submitted its report to the government.
Advocate Ritwick Dutta , Shri Manoj Mishra and Shri Himanshu Thakkar made a very good critique of this so called HCL. On 26th March, 2015 “Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment” was released the critique ‘High Level Committee: A recipe for silencing people’s voice and climate disaster’
Leading environmental Lawyers like Sanjay Parikh, Raj Panjvani, Rahul Chowdhry with some environment activists and others were present in the meeting.
Ritwick Dutta: Environmental Lawyer, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, Prof William Lockhart: Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA and Manoj Misra: Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, New Delhi gave brife presentation on the report and others were also took part in the discussion. Every one totally reject this SPEEDY WORK of MOEFCC.
If the government follow the report then implications will be very bad on environment as well as people of the country. Now People's Movements have to take the issue as they are agitating on land Bill 2015.
Advocate Ritwick Dutta presented a pin-point critique of the report which are give below.
Advocate Ritwick Dutta presentation:-
The report liberally quotes from the Isha Upanishad and highlights the need for ‘transparency’, ‘accountability’, ‘inter generational equity’ and ‘sustainable development’ one finds that there is little connection between the stated philosophy and the recommendations
The HLC report claims that it had a total of 35 to 40 meetings. This itself reveals that the HLC itself is not aware of the actual number of meetings conducted and reflects a casual approach.
RTI Response shows 30 meetings took place Only 7 meeting with 'civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGO) in Delhi, Bangalore, Mangalore, Bhubaneswar and Patna. No meetings in key states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal skipped the environmentally sensitive north-eastern region No records of any meeting in any form
Introduction of high-sounding concepts such as ‘utmost good faith’, ‘tree land trading’, ‘unique identification’ does not hide away from the fact that the only thrust of the report is to dilute the existing environmental laws.
Beyond its Terms of Reference
the HLC failed to follow its Terms of Reference and in its over enthusiasm to speedily submit its report has gone over board and recommended amendments in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 – which were not even included in its Terms of Reference
One of the specific Terms of Reference for the HLC was to to examine and take into account various Court orders and judicial pronouncements with regard to these Acts. The HLC Report does not contain any such analysis. ..only lists a few environmental cases decided by the Supreme Court more than 20 years ago.
Where are the people?
As you continue reading through the lucid prose, you get that strange feeling of missing the elephant in the room. Where are the people? Where are the millions of people who live in forests or mountains or river valleys and islands or far-flung villages, who are most affected by shoddy environmental governance?
There is hardly any mention of impacts of destructive projects on forests, communities and wildlife. The lines are clearly drawn at compensatory afforestation, raised NPV, monitised afforestation, web-based monitoring, priced databases, etc.
In the 113 page report, the word “speed” in context of speedy clearances gets repeated thirteen times. As we move from initial sagacious pages, the emphasis swiftly shifts from concern for environment to “time consuming clearance processes”.
HLC is Climate blind
Except the mention in the name of the commissioning ministry (Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change), the phrase appears only twice in the whole report – once in the preamble chapter [where it says: “We need to take heed of the very recent intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) call from Copenhagen that the earth is flirting with danger – the alarm flag has been hoisted”] (para 1.3), and once in the main report (para 7.10.4 (e)), which has nothing to do with climate change.
Utmost good faith
No physical / field verification involving ground truthing and enumeration needs to be done till stage I approval under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 is obtained. Site visits by the Expert Appraisal Committee and the Forest Advisory Committees puts ‘unnecessary stress’ on both user agency and official at field level
The High Level Committee is truly ‘high level’ - it has displayed a high level of ignorance about environmental laws, environmental issues and a high level of disdain for local democratic institutions, people’s voices and the very values of the environment it says are “sacrosanct.”