On 29th August 2014 the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change of the Government of India (hereinafter referred to as MoEF & CC) set up a High Level Committee headed by former Union Cabinet Secretary Mr. T. S. R. Subramanian, IAS (Retd.). This Committee was given a comprehensive mandate: to review all laws and judgments pertaining to environment, wildlife and forest protection, and also those relating to pollution control, and then produce a report with specific recommendations for reforms in law and governance. This enormous and complex exercise of review of laws and judgments, and governance practices, followed by the formulation and presentation of a report with recommendations for amendments to existing laws, was to be completed within 2 months.
The deadline for completion of the Committee's tasks was extended by a month, and the final report was submitted by the Committee to Shri. Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change with Independent Charge on 18th November 2014.1 The report was not made public at that time. However, it was leaked, and it soon became available on various websites of media and environmental and social action groups. Soon after, an embarrassed Ministry also made the report available on its website.
In our critique of the High Powered Committee Report, we find that the entire exercise has been undertaken in a hurried manner, without sufficient inquiry into the relevant factors, without addressing concerns of a range of communities, especially those which are indigenous and natural resource dependent, and without at all considering the importance of consulting elected representatives from Local Government, Legislatures and the Parliament. This report, thereby, is an outcome of a comprehensively democracy deficit effort, and promotes a schema for environmental reforms, which, if adopted could result in widespread chaos in environmental governance and jurisprudence, and also would result in irreversible damage to the environment, cause widespread loss of natural ecosystems and could further fuel fundamental violation of human rights in a country where discontents over environmental decisions are become increasingly contentious.
There are elements in the Committee's report that are worth taking note of and possibly implementing. But these are few and far between, and a bulk of the Committee's recommendations are based on an extraordinary reliance on the capacity of technical bureaucracy to deliver good environmental governance, on market forces to meet environmental management objectives, on a slew of new regulatory and judicial forums to police the system, without actually making an effort to enquire and justify if such comprehensive makeover in the environmental decision making system is essential at all. Neither does the Committee formulate its tasks clearly, nor does it make any effort to clearly explain the basis of its recommendations. In light of which, what the Committee recommends comes across as a set of confusing proposals which if implemented could confound the environmental governance system quite fundamentally.
With this in view, and in the interest of present and futures generations of the country, and also in securing the extraordinary biodiversity of the region that has evolved over billions of years, we urge the Government of India to comprehensively reject the recommendations of this Committee. In the national interest we urge the Government to repeat the exercise ensuring terms of reference are clear and not caged by catch phrases that confound more than clarify, by involving an inter-disciplinary committee consisting of women and men, experienced and expert members, and drawn from various geographies, supported by a deeply democratic process and with sufficient time and space for public consultations nation-wide, so that the outcome would be recalled as a monumental effort that not only secured national interest, but also that of a world precariously edging towards runaway climate change induced impacts.
A copy of the critique of the High Powered Committee Report, entitled “A Non-trivial Threat to India's Ecological and Economic Security”, may be accessed at: www.esgindia.org.
The Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, in its 263rd Report lambasted the TSR Subramanian Committee and recommended to the Ministry to disregard the report and repeat the exercise in a deeply democratic, transparent and accountable manner. The following is an excerpt from the conclusion of the Parliamentary Committee's review:
"The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, instead of proceeding with the implementation of the recommendations contained in High Level Committee Report, should give due consideration to the views/opinion and objections raised by stakeholders including environmental experts. Some of the essential recommendations of the HLC have been doubted and would result in an unacceptable dilution of the existing legal and policy architecture established to protect our environment. Further, an impression should not be created that a Committee whose constitution and jurisdiction are itself in doubt, has been used to tinker with the established law and policy. Should the government wish to consider specific areas of environmental policy afresh, it may consider appointing another Committee by following established procedures and comprising of acclaimed experts in the field who should be given enough time to enter into comprehensive consultations with all stakeholders so that the recommendations are credit worthy and well considered which is not the case with the recommendations of High Level Committee under review."
Environment Support Group
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