HLC report without meaningful consultations: Parliamentary panel

A Parliamentary panel has recommended formation of a new committee to consider afresh specific areas of environmental policy after it found the objections raised by experts on the proposals of a high-level committee constituted to review green laws as "valid".

PTI| Last Updated: Jul 21, 2015, 16:19 PM IST

New Delhi: A Parliamentary panel has recommended formation of a new committee to consider afresh specific areas of environmental policy after it found the objections raised by experts on the proposals of a high-level committee constituted to review green laws as "valid".

The Standing Committee on Science and Technology and Environment and Forest in its report said three months given to the high-level committee (HLC) to review six green laws was "too short" and there was no cogent reason for hurrying through with the report without comprehensive and meaningful consultations with stakeholders.

"An impression should not be created that a committee, whose constitution and jurisdiction are itself in doubt, has been used to tinker with 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," the committee chaired by former union minister Ashwani Kumar said.

It further said that the new committee should comprise of acclaimed experts in the field who should be given enough time to enter into comprehensive consultations with all stakeholders so that the recommendations were credit worthy and well considered which is not the case with the recommendations of the HLC under review.

The Environment Ministry had in August last year formed a HLC headed by TSR Subramanian to review six key green laws concerning protection and conservation of environment, forest, wildlife, water and air.

The HLC had submitted its report in November last and the recommendations witnessed widespread criticism as it was hurriedly prepared and lacked consultations.

These laws include Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Indian Forest Act 1927. The Parliamentary panel asked Environment Ministry instead of proceeding with the implementation of the HLC recommendations, it should give due consideration to the views and objections raised by the stakeholders.

"Some of the essential recommendations of the HLC has been doubted and would result in unacceptable dilution of existing legal and policy architecture established to protect our environment," the committee said.

The committee said while deposing before it, almost all the representatives of civil societies, NGOs and experts expressed "serious reservations" on the HLC's recommendations.

The committee noted that while an objection was raised with regard to composition of HLC as none of the members had any expertise in the field of environment and wildlife, further objections were raised whether the Environment Ministry was empowered to constitute an HLC.

It was also submitted that HLC did not hold "enough and adequate" public hearings to elicit public views as only a few select groups were invited. It was noted that although the HLC recommended a new law - Environment Laws Management Act but how will it be harmonised with present environment protection act as well as water and air act is still to be worked out.

The committee in its report said that the recommendations of HLC will not empower regulatory agencies to safeguard environment but in many cases the HLC report will lead to multiplicity of institutions and authorities with little strength in the institutions.

Another objection raised during the deposition was that the HLC report had not holistically addressed the issue of rooting out arbitrariness from the process of enforcement and the recommendations do not touch upon the challenge posed by lack of institutional capacity on part of the regulatory and enforcement institutions to monitor the enforcement of existing laws.

Another objection raised by the stakeholders said that the HLC report was silent on ways to ensure greater public participation in strengthening and securing environment.