Climate Crisis: India’s Green Laws may not be as green as they seem

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Written by Satya Muley, Founder of the legal firm Satya Muley & Co

Have we realized that the grass is no longer greener or often seen in urban India as it used to be some two decades ago. It is not just the green grass, but there are less sparrows, warmwinters, or unseasonal rains that is now becoming the new norm in a tropical country like India.
Draughts are becoming longer, tropical storms are becoming more severe, glaciers and snow mountains are melting faster than ever. Sea levels are rising threatening the very existence ofsome prominent cities like Mumbai and several coastal areas across the globe along with the estuarine ecosystems.

We as common human beings may be not even conscious about these changes as life too has become very fast for many due to various factors including technological advancements.

This Planet Is Not Ours!

This planet belongs to the future and the future generations of mankind along with the entire ecosystem. We have an intergenerational responsibility to protect the planet, its climate and the entire ecosystem.

If we cannot improve upon what was handed over to us by our earlier generations, we do not have any right to let it deteriorate by any act of ours which is detrimental to our planet.

It is a fundamental right of our future generations to receive this planet from us in at least the shape and form as it is in now.

The Supreme Court of Philippines in Oposa Vs. Factoran pronounced that “Every generation has a responsibility to the next to preserve that rhythm and harmony for the full enjoyment ofa balanced and healthful ecology” Simply put, we cannot enjoy the fruits of our planet and environment and at the same timeignore our duty to protect it.

Globally, there are several conventions, country specific laws in place, but where does India stand on this subject? When the masses are busy with their own chores, the laws and conventions are to come into picture to ensure the intergenerational and other duties are well performed.

How Green Are Indian Laws?

India does have a plethora of legislation, but not one which is comprehensive let alonematching the requirements to arrest climate change, the implementation of whatever laws we have is also a big question mark.

In India too, the Judiciary had to take the lead to adopt, evolve, and implement various doctrines, principles and precedents which have played a fundamental role in overall evolution of environmental laws in India.

The Governments over several decades have beennudged to enact, amend, improve the Environment laws in India.

The very fact that the Environment Protection Act 1986 was enacted 14 years after thedecisions taken in the U N Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, tells us how serious we as a nation have behaved in the past in context to environment protection.

Yes, we do have Air Pollution Act, Water Pollution Act, Forest Conservation Act, Wildlife Protection Act and National Environment Tribunal and National Green Tribunal who deal withenvironment related subjects.

But when it comes to fact checking one can very well judge by understanding how global principles such as ‘Polluter Pays’ are now transformed into ‘Pay and Pollute’ in India. Such a situation does not help when it comes to intergenerational responsibility. Existing laws prescribe punitive measures more than preventive measures. Preventive measures are the need of the hour.

Indian Legal Fraternity Taking the Lead in Protecting Environment

Instead of the Government taking the initiative, at present, it is the legal fraternity that has taken the lead in environment protection in India.

The landmark Public Interest Litigationsand matters such Bhopal Gas Tragedy led the Indian Judiciary to formulate the doctrine of absolute liability in the sphere of environment protection in context to hazardous industries.

Precedents inform us that the rights to livelihood and clean environment are of grave concern to the Indian Courts whenever they issue a direction in an environmental case. Prominent lawyers and NGOs have taken it upon themselves to fight for the cause.

The Indian Judiciary since it has enlarged the scope of public interest litigations to environmental issues, also has a task to weed out frivolous petitions and maintain the bona fide ones.

The fact remains that metro cities such as Pune, Indore, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and similar ones who still have some green and open spaces are struggling to prevent them from beingusurped by the greedy powerful elites.

The High Courts of these jurisdictions have multiple PILs being heard to protect the environment. Even though the Judiciary is proactive, the state and the vested interests do their best to delay and derail such PIL’s.

Breaking the Barriers to Renewable Energy in India

One cannot conclude the debate on environment protection without talking about the much-needed thrust for promoting green and renewable energy. Investing in clean and renewable energy generated from wind, water and sun have although been promoted across the globe,but the reality is not much has materialised in the past two decades or so.

India has also very recently started taking initiatives in the right direction by way of the formation of policies and institutions such as the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Solar Energy Corporation of India among others.

India also promotes foreign investment in the renewable energy sector in India.

Foreign investors are encouraged to invest in BOT projects in the clean energy sector. Since 2015 the Union and State Governments have implemented favourable policies to encourage renewable energy. However, this can be easily termed as too late and too little.

Way forward
The current laws regarding renewable energy include Electricity Act, 2003, the Energy Conservation Act, 2001 etc. These Acts are inefficient for addressing present problems. India’s energy sustainability aspect is not aptly dealt with in existing legislation.

India’rapidly growing economy is creating huge energy demand. Since there is no specific legislation addressing the renewable energy domain, the legislative gap leaves scope for arbitrariness.

Hence, there is a need for a comprehensive legislation for renewable energy in India for sustainable development. A dedicated legislation will provide clarity and can improve investment in this domain.

The Government so far has maintained silence about the future legislations on green energy. The other environment protection laws need a revamp to include the prevention of damage aspect too.

Additionally, involving various stakeholders in the society, holding them accountable for even the smallest of infractions that can severely affect the environment is the need of the hour.

None of us can afford to ignore that it is the Constitutional duty of the State as well as every individual to endeavour to protect and improve the environment.

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