Independent Environment Regulator – UPSC GS3

Context: Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) asked the government to explain the reasons for not setting up an “Independent Environment Regulator” to oversee green clearances.
SC’s Order:
  • SC had ordered the setting up of a national environment regulatory body under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to ensure independent oversight of green clearances in Lafarge mining case.
Envisaged Functions of the Regulator :
  • Appraisal and Approval:
    • The regulator will carry out independent, objective and transparent appraisal and approval of projects for environmental clearances.
  • Monitoring and Implementation:
    • It will also monitor the implementation of the conditions laid down in the clearances and impose penalties on polluters. While exercising such powers, the regulator will ensure the National Forest Policy, 1988 is duly implemented.
Current Issues:
  • Related to Environment Impact Assessment (2006):
    • Lack of Capacity:
      • The environmental clearance at the national level is overseen by an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), which functions on an ad-hoc basis, without much regulatory capacity.
      • The state-level appraisal committees overseeing the clearance also function without much regulatory support.
      • The committees function as per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006.
    • Lack of Expertise:
      • The EAC has been questioned on many occasions for lack of expertise of its members and chairpersons.
    • Lack of Proper Legislation:
      • EAC and the state-level committees are toothless due to the lack of effective legislative power and supporting institutional capacity.
  • Multiplicity of Regulations and Increasing Cost:
    • There are too many clearances for the same thing; and none of them seem to be working for the environment or for protecting the rights of communities. Worse, they are adding to the burden of industry in terms of high transaction costs.
      • Forest clearance under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
      • Coastal clearance under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011.
      • Wildlife clearance under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
    • This multiplicity of regulations and regulatory authorities help unscrupulous elements in the industry and the government.
  • Unbiased Decision Making:
    • Lack of an independent body to oversee the entire environmental regulatory process could lead to a possible political interest in the decision making.
  • Proper Compliance:
    • The major concerns regarding EIA norms, such as the compliance monitoring and ex-post regularisation, could be tackled with proper standard-setting by a regulator.
  • Capacity and Independence:
    • The present environmental regulation institutional mechanism in India, which lies with pollution control boards at the state and central level, lacks regulatory capacity and independence.
  • Preventing Regulatory Delays:
    • Cutting down on regulatory delays is also important. This may be possible with the help of a credible independent regulator. But an optimum level of rigour in the regulatory process and standards is important for environmental protection.
Temporary Solution:
  • As per the SC till an Independent Regulator was put in place, the Environment Ministry should prepare a panel of accredited institutions from which alone the project proponent should obtain the Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Way Forward
  • Independence in standard-setting, monitoring, and enforcement are important characteristics of an effective regulatory body. Setting-up of a stand-alone independent body must precede fragmented revamping of environmental laws.
  • second-generation reform for environmental regulation, which will safeguard environment and community rights as well as reduce time and transaction costs for the industry is the need of the hour.
  • What is needed is to reduce multiplicity, remove archaic laws and streamline regulatory procedure.
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