the ques­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance

Strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween ecol­ogy and devel­op­ment

Governance Now - - ECOLOGY - Karan Bhasin

The devel­op­ment tra­jec­tory for most na­tions has come at the back­bone of a strong eco­log­i­cal re­source base. in fact, economies such as those in the mid­dle East are largely based upon ex­ports of crude oil and thus in ef­fect are de­pen­dent upon their en­dow­ment of nat­u­ral re­sources. This il­lus­trates why nat­u­ral re­sources are now con­sid­ered a part of cap­i­tal stock (nat­u­ral cap­i­tal) of a coun­try. This im­plies that there is a sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­sec­tion of de­vel­op­men­tal ob­jec­tives along with en­vi­ron­men­tal ones and not al­ways would such ob­jec­tives be in a state of con­flict as nat­u­ral ecosys­tem also sup­ports the de­vel­op­men­tal dis­course from time to time.

in that con­text, it is im­por­tant to eval­u­ate how to gov­ern the en­vi­ron­men­tal and re­source al­lo­ca­tion mat­ters and de­cide on an ap­pro­pri­ate agency com­pe­tent enough to deal with such is­sues in in­dia. let us take a re­cent example of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s plan to con­struct and re­de­velop a sig­nif­i­cant area in South delhi that would re­quire cut­ting down around 14,000 trees in the na­tional cap­i­tal re­gion. This case has a typ­i­cal prob­lem as­so­ci­ated with en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance in in­dia, whereby a Pil has been filed with the ngt seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tions and stay on the project as the pe­ti­tioner claims that clear­ances given un­der this project were done with­out proper project eval­u­a­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment was not con­sid­ered. They even point out that the car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of the lo­cal ecosys­tem does not per­mit for such a mas­sive re­de­vel­op­ment project to be ap­proved in the first place.

This high­lights how the ex­ec­u­tive from time to time has of­ten not ad­e­quately weighed in the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and has of­ten dis­re­garded or sac­ri­ficed them for its agenda of

devel­op­ment. With­out ven­tur­ing into the ab­stract and philo­soph­i­cal no­tion of devel­op­ment, one can ar­gue that devel­op­ment is re­quired, more so for de­vel­op­ing na­tions that have a mas­sive pop­u­la­tion that strug­gles against hunger and de­pri­va­tion. But over here, the ques­tion is, at what cost should devel­op­ment oc­cur and who should pay the cost of such devel­op­ment?

in most cases, the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of devel­op­ment hap­pen to be the up­per­mid­dle and the mid­dle class whereas the poor hap­pen to gain lit­tle from it; though the en­vi­ron­men­tal costs are borne greater by the poor due to their lack of ca­pac­ity to abate the harsh en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions (The poor can’t switch on an ac in the sum­mers to beat the heat or buy air-pu­ri­fiers to tackle the prob­lem of pol­lu­tion).

This il­lus­trates that such pol­icy de­ci­sions should be viewed as a form of re­al­lo­ca­tion or re­dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources and if this is to be the case then where should such a de­ci­sion be ide­ally placed? The ex­ec­u­tive. as para­dox­i­cal as it may sound, the first best out­come given the mul­ti­di­men­sional na­ture of the prob­lem re­lated to en­vi­ron­ment comes from the ex­ec­u­tive. The rea­son is sim­ple; the ex­ec­u­tive should ide­ally rep­re­sent the wish of the peo­ple.

in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ences would ag­gre­gate and se­lect or elect a leg­isla­tive which then se­lects the ex­ec­u­tive. given that they both face elec­toral scru­tiny; in prin­ci­ple they are sup­posed to rep­re­sent the pref­er­ences of the voters while un­der­tak­ing pol­icy de­ci­sions. So all re­dis­tribu­tive de­ci­sions taken by the ex­ec­u­tive would in ef­fect be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pref­er­ences of the elec­torate or the peo­ple. in that con­text, any de­ci­sion taken by the ju­di­ciary may not be ei­ther Kal­dor-hicks or Pareto Ef­fi­cient and thus, be a sub­op­ti­mal de­ci­sion: or in sim­pler words, it may not make the most num­ber of peo­ple pos­si­ble happy.

The ques­tion then arises: why does the ju­di­ciary need to step in when the ex­ec­u­tive is the most com­pe­tent au­thor­ity? The an­swer to this arises largely from the fact that the ju­di­ciary can in­ter­vene only when a Pil is filed and in most cases it in­ter­venes when there is ex­ec­u­tive in­ac­tion. Thus, ju­di­cial in­ter­ven­tion, which is of­ten a case of ju­di­cial ac­tivism (or over­reach at times), is with the best in­ter­est of bridg­ing the gov­er­nance gap that ex­ists.

in the pre­sent case of South delhi, be­fore the ngt, the ques­tion is whether the ex­ec­u­tive did its job in sanc­tion­ing of the project? if yes, then it should al­low the project to go ahead and ask for a roadmap to gen­er­ate greater ecosys­tem ser­vices by greater plan­ta­tion of a mix of trees for the cit­i­zens of delhi. if the req­ui­site project was ap­proved with­out proper pro­ce­dures be­ing fol­lowed, then the ap­pro­pri­ate in­di­vid­u­als must be held up and sig­nif­i­cant steps should be taken to en­sure that the project gets go­ing so that it does not be­come a case of pub­lic fi­nance be­ing stuck in a long le­gal dis­pute re­gard­ing the as­set in ques­tion. if the project was ap­proved how­ever the ngt feels that pro­ce­dures need to be made ro­bust for fur­ther ap­provals, then it can al­ways or­der for bet­ter pro­ce­dures to be cre­ated for greater clar­ity go­ing for­ward.

Ju­di­cial in­ter­ven­tion on ex­ec­u­tive mat­ters would be in­stru­men­tal only if the in­ter­ven­tion is able to achieve the out­come as in such a sit­u­a­tion, it be­comes a breach of the doc­trine of sep­a­ra­tion of power which has nu­mer­ous in­sti­tu­tional and so­cial costs. it is im­per­a­tive that such an in­ter­ven­tion is done with a “willed-re­sult” kept in mind and cer­tain self-im­posed lim­its as ad­vo­cated by jus­tice Bhag­wati are ex­er­cised while un­der­tak­ing such an in­ter­ven­tion. Thus, the im­por­tant ques­tion here is, will the ob­jec­tive of pre­ven­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion be ad­dressed by look­ing at the said de­vel­op­men­tal project in iso­la­tion? Some­how, devel­op­ment projects should not be con­sid­ered to be in iso­la­tion as sev­eral projects are in­ter­linked and thus, even if the project is stalled and these trees are pre­vented from be­ing cut, the ques­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion still re­mains. So by stalling the project we achieve two things; the devel­op­ment of the ad­e­quate hous­ing for gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees at the said site stops while the pub­lic ex­che­quer faces nu­mer­ous costs on ac­count of re­lo­ca­tion of the project while the prob­lem of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion will largely be un­re­solved.

The essence of what i am ar­gu­ing is that the project should not be stopped any­more as the gov­ern­ment has al­ready spent sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic re­sources on it. That makes it all the more im­por­tant for the ngt to is­sue di­rec­tions as far as re­gen­er­a­tion of the loss ecosys­tem is con­cerned at the ear­li­est as de­lays in such projects can of­ten cause project costs to sky­rocket which would again come at the ex­pense of the pub­lic ex­che­quer. The di­rec­tions should ask the ex­ec­u­tive to come up with a prac­ti­cal and fea­si­ble roadmap for re­vival of the ecosys­tem so that ex­ec­u­tive in­sti­tu­tional con­straints are rep­re­sented once the roadmap is im­ple­mented. The ngt has a lot of tools avail­able to en­sure it pro­tects and pre­serves the en­vi­ron­ment; it must com­bine them to en­sure an ap­pro­pri­ate strat­egy to meet the en­vi­ron­men­tal goals but it is about time that de­vel­op­men­tal goals are equally weighed in so that the out­come achieved is an ef­fi­cient one: or, in other words, that there is no other out­come that could be at­tained that would make the most amount of peo­ple bet­ter off.

Bhasin is a re­search as­so­ci­ate at the Pahle In­dia Foun­da­tion. Views ex­pressed are per­sonal.

There is a sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­sec­tion of de­vel­op­men­tal ob­jec­tives along with en­vi­ron­men­tal ones and not al­ways would such ob­jec­tives be in a state of con­flict.

Ashish mehta

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