Environmental Regulations in India
- Rama Mohana R TuragaRama Mohana R TuragaIndian Institute of Management Ahmedabad
- and Anish SugathanAnish SugathanIndian Institute of Management Ahmedabad
Pollution is one of the greatest causes of premature deaths and morbidity in the world, and this burden of pollution is disproportionately borne by the lower and middle income countries such as India—home to more than one-sixth of humanity. In India, due to the compound effect of its large population and high levels of environmental pollution, the human cost of pollution is among the highest in the world. The environmental degradation is partly a consequence of the development model pursued after independence in 1947 based on large-scale industrialization and exploitative resource utilization, with scant consideration for sustainability. Moreover, it is also due to the failure of the environmental administration, governance, and regulatory infrastructure to keep pace with the magnitude and pace of economic growth in India since economic liberalization in 1991.
Ironically, India was also one of the early pioneers of integrating environmental considerations into its legislative and policy-making process beginning in the early 1970s. The federal and state environmental regulation and policy framing institutions set up during this era, along with environmental legislation such as the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, are comparable in design, stringency, and comprehensiveness to other contemporary command-and-control environmental regulatory regimes in many industrially developed economies. However, the widening gap between de jure expectations of environmental compliance and the de facto state of affairs has been a great concern for environmental governance in the country.
The ongoing debates discuss several mechanisms to address the regulatory failures. The first is a greater emphasis on strengthening institutions and mechanisms that foster transparency and public disclosure by pollution sources with the intent to increase access to and credibility of information on pollution. Proponents argue this will help mobilize groups such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the general public to pressure the industry and government to improve regulatory enforcement. Second, there have been calls for wider adoption of market-based instruments that are more efficient than the traditional command-and-control approaches on which India relies. Again, information is a prerequisite for the functioning of such market-based regulatory mechanisms. Third, the legal infrastructure to facilitate expedited hearing of environmental litigation is being created. With the establishment of the National Green Tribunal in 2010, India is one of only three other countries in the world to have an exclusive judicial body to hear environmental cases. This is potentially a significant step in providing greater access to environmental justice. An emerging view, however, argues that the prevailing economic development model is incompatible with ensuring sustainable development and requires a radical rethink.