By Sarthak Kanoria, Christ Church College, Kanpur.

Gandhi’s saying, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed” is highly relevant today, in comparison to the time when he said it. The progress made by India in the economic sphere is overshadowed by the deterioration in the quality of its environment. The health emergency recently declared in Delhi aptly signifies the seriousness of the problem we as a nation are facing because of pollution.

The State has taken many steps to address the challenge of pollution. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, and The Environment (Protection) Act 1986, amongst others, are legislations that have been enacted to deal with the challenge. The statutory authority of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was formed under the provisions of The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, and later was rendered powerful under The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981. Its functions include advising the Central Government on matters related to control and abatement of water and air pollution, preparing and implementing national plans for control and prevention of water and air pollution, coordinating the activities of State Pollution Control Board(s) (SPCB) and providing them with technical assistance. 

But the measures taken till now do not look to be working efficiently. It is quite evident from the fact that the country’s national capital, New Delhi, has a severe pollution problem that occurs frequently and this year a health emergency has been imposed. The presence of 7 Indian cities in the world’s 10 most polluted cities (Greenpeace & AirVisual report based on PM 2.5) also points to the need for novel innovative solutions for tackling the menace of pollution.

The emergence of new challenges such as the increasing menace of plastic pollution (according to a CPCB report, India generates close to 26,000 tonnes of plastic per day and around 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste remains uncollected eventually ending up in the natural environment), the rise in generation of e-waste which was not much of a problem during the time when the previous legislation was enacted, steep rise in morbidity and mortality due to pollution, rapid increase in urbanisation, rapid population growth leading to increased construction activities and also the government’s push to reduce red tape to promote ease of doing business and the country’s ambitious goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2024-2025, have all brought forth new challenges for us to tackle which not only requires a unique and modernistic approach, we also need to update the previous legislations while taking inputs from their strengths and weaknesses and also taking inputs from world’s best practices that have proven to work efficiently.

Certain inputs for the Environment Protection Law(s) that could be considered are:

  1. A unified law that amalgamates within itself the plethora of laws dealing with pollution to provide a unified framework for action against pollution and also to reduce paperwork and compliance costs so that more focus can be given to tackling pollution than fulfilling formalities.
  2. Constitute a Central Agency to publish reports on the status of pollution through empirical evidence and scientific collection of data. Based on the current status and desirable status, the agency shall advise the Centre/State governments for steps to be taken. This report and advice could be tabled by the President in the Parliament and discussions could be held about actions taken and if not, the reasons for not taking the much required action could be examined. This will also improve the accountability of the executive to the legislature.
  3. The State Pollution Control Boards could set targets for their respective States. Taking the inputs of SPCBs, the Central Agency could set a national target.
  4. Using the spirit of Competitive Federalism, the law must incorporate provisions for fiscal incentives for best performing States to motivate enthusiastic participation of State governments.
  5. As per a recent survey, all 10 of the world’s fastest-growing cities are in India and it is indeed the urban agglomeration that causes the largest amount of pollution and also contains the largest population that gets affected by the pollution, hence the law must give due focus on Municipalities even though it’s a State subject. But the Centre must utilise its capacities to improve the capacities of Municipalities. The Central Agency under the law could be given the mandate to provide technical assistance to municipalities. To inculcate competitive spirit in municipalities, to achieve city-specific environment standards, provisions for fiscal incentives for achieving desired targets in control and prevention of pollution, could be an important part of such legislation.
  6. Preparation of long term plans with due consideration to new challenges that may arise in the future by all three tiers of government is necessary and their review by elected representative bodies of all tiers at regular intervals should be made mandatory.
  7. Creation of a central repository that contains best practices both within and outside of India with proven results that can be utilized by the stakeholders.
  8. The one most noticeable failure of the present Environment Protection Laws is their inability to make people follow rules and regulations and imbibe civic sense which is one of the most important factors that could take us a long way in preventing pollution. The littering, throwing garbage in rivers, and non-cooperation by business units are some issues that need to be addressed. The new law must encompass measures that bring about behavioral change in people and one method to bring this change could be ‘imposing monetary penalties’ on individuals. The law must give the respective authority the power to levy fine if an individual performs prohibited activities. Its effective implementation will bring about a behavioral change as was seen after passing of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 which increased compliance manifold owing to the heavy penalties.

    These are certain legal measures that could be taken to promote the Ease of Living for Indians, however, many initiatives could even be taken under current laws that require political and national will. As an example, we could look towards the city of Pentrovenda, Spain, where with the help of different policies cars have been virtually banned in the city. Tremendous positive results have been observed in the city since; air pollution decreased by about 61% since 2013, noise pollution due to horns and engine noise nearly reduced to zero. The people of the city supported the policy by re-electing the Mayor 4 times even though initially they were not in favour of this policy. This measure could particularly be applied in New Delhi where vehicular emissions are a huge source of air pollution.

    In the fight between growth & environment protection, we must remember that both concepts, in the end, aim at the betterment of human life and hence we should not try and view them as antagonistic to each other. The challenge of development and pollution must be tackled through the cooperation of all stakeholders. The laws for the protection of the environment are not an attempt to slow growth or development but to promote progress that would preserve the environment in its pristine form so that we and our future generations could enjoy our life without the threats that currently are arising from pollution.