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Bengaluru-based non-governmental organisation ESG or Environment Support Group, which works on issues relating to the environment, has asked state governments to reject the "regressive" environmental reforms promoted by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change based on recommendations of the T S R Subramanian Committee Report.
The NGO has said in an open letter that immediate attention needs to be paid to proposals of the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change to reform the environmental decision making in India. "We consider these "reforms" to be highly regressive and would cause irreversible damage to environment and human rights," the NGO said in a statement.
The ESG has said that the Environment Ministry has accepted the recommendations of the highly-controversial 'Report of High Level Committee to review Acts administered by Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change' (also known as the T S R Subramanian Committee report).
It has claimed that the committee's recommendations are oriented towards promoting unprecedented access to land, water and other natural resources to large corporate bodies and to pave the way for mega infrastructure, industrial and urban projects.
ESG has said that the ministry, to push through the reforms with the state governments' support, had called for a conclave of state environment ministers, environment secretaries and chairpersons of Pollution Control Boards in Delhi from April 6 to April 8, which will be addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Subramanian Committee was one of the first major policy initiatives of the NDA government headed by Prime Minister Modi. The purpose of the committee was to draft "specific amendments needed in each of these Acts so as to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives".
"Neither the government nor the committee cared to explain or clarify what this phrase meant," ESG has pointed out.
While preparing its report, the committee held secretive consultations with corporate bodies and lobby groups, some state governments (not all), and held public consultations in a few cities. The committee submitted its report to the Prime Minister on November 27, 2014, barely three months after it had been constituted.
The committee proposes sweeping changes to environmental, forest and biodiversity protection laws, proposing new laws to manage old laws, and promotes the establishment of a slew of new bureaucracies and the dismantling of decades-old regulatory institutions such as the Pollution Control Boards. The committee shockingly proposes that industries must be allowed to self-regulate on a self-certification model based on "utmost good faith", completely ignoring the disastrous experience India has had, most painfully being experienced by the people of Bhopal.
The Subramanian Committee recommendations are not supported by any empirical evidence and appear to have been largely an outcome of opinions held by the committee members and those they met with. And in stark contrast with well-established norms for functioning of such High Level Committees, the Subramanian Committee has, admittedly, not kept any documentation of its process, who it met with, or even minuted its proceedings and the costs incurred.
The NGO has claimed that if the Subramanian Committee recommendations are accepted, prevailing environmental decision-making norms and regulations will be grossly diluted, made extremely undemocratic, opaque and highly centralised. The very pillars on which India's environmental jurisprudence stands today will be shaken as is evident from Section 3 of the new Environmental Laws Management Act proposed which seeks to make redundant various progressive judgments of the Supreme Court, High Court and National Green Tribunal advancing environmental and social justice.