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Panel report on environmental laws flayed


GUWAHATI, Jan 9 � A group of environment lawyers and environmentalists, headed by advocate Ritwick Dutta, environmentalist Himansu Thakkar and Manoj Mishra, has described the report of the High Level Committee (HLC), constituted by the Union Government to review the environmental laws of the country, as a recipe for climate disaster and silencing the people�s voice.

The HLC, constituted on August 29, 2014 by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to review various environmental laws, submitted its report to the Central Government on November 20, 2014.

The HLC comprised former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian as the chairperson and former Secretary to the Government of India Vishwanath Anand, former High Court judge AK Srivastava and former Additional Solicitor General of India KN Bhat as members.

It was entrusted to review the 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.

The terms of reference of this committee were to assess the status of implementation of each of the above Acts with reference to the objectives, examine and take into account various court orders and judicial pronouncements relating to these Acts, recommend specific amendments needed in each of these Acts so as to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives, and draft proposed amendments in each of the Acts to give effect to the proposed recommendations.

To perform the above task, the HLC was given only months� time. It later sought an extension by a month, which was given.

Dutta, Thakkar and Mishra alleged that the recommendations of the HLC are concrete attempts at dismantling the basic structure of India�s environmental law. The report is against the Constitution of the country. It violates Article 21 of the Constitution since the interests of business and industry have been given paramount importance, overriding the right of the people to clean air, water and balanced ecosystem.

If the HLC recommendations are accepted, the State will abdicate its protective role mandated under Article 48 (A) of the Constitution and will rather rely on the �utmost good faith� of the industry, they said. Though the report highlights the need for �transparency�, �accountability�, �inter-generational equity� and �sustainable development,� one finds that there is little connection between its stated philosophy and the recommendations, they said.

Dutta, Thakkar and Mishra further alleged that what the HLC really prescribes is a series of recommendations to expedite projects. The recommendations include a single window approval process, a fast-track treatment for linear and power and coal projects, �a special procedure� for �strategic� and �national projects.�

There is also an introduction of what can be termed as the �private trust� doctrine as opposed to the �public trust� doctrine. Under this �private trust,� there is implicit trust in whatever information is submitted by the private business entities under the concept of �utmost good faith� and at the same time, there is a sense of suspicion on the community by requiring the people to prove their �bona fide� and by limiting public participation to only those the HLC describes as �genuine local people.�

In sum, in less than three months, the HLC has not only suggested radical changes that would undermine all of the laws it was tasked to review, it has also recommended changes to render less effective a number of laws it was not charged to review and has also recommended a brand new piece of legislation to be strangely called the Environmental Laws (Management) Act or ELMA. This legislation will prevail over all contrary court judgments issued in past decades or the provisions of any environment law promulgated till date, said Dutta, Thakkar and Mishra.

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