Environmentalists find green panel report disquieting

House committee notes reservations

Environmentalists find green panel report disquieting

A contentious report that suggested wide-ranging changes in India’s green laws has caused disquiet in many quarters who voiced their apprehension on Friday before a parliamentary committee that is reviewing the report.

The suggestions of the TSR Subramanian Committee – commissioned by the Union Environment Ministry – have come under criticism from the environmentalists, who claim that the recommendations, if implemented, would dilute the laws designed to protect the environment, forest and wildlife.

“The report is in the public domain and apprehensions were voiced. There is disquiet on the suggestions made in the report. We will review the report and apply our mind in a carefully considered way,” Ashwani Kumar, Congress leader and chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forest said here on Friday.

Eight independent experts made presentations before the committee on the pros and cons of the report that was submitted to the government in November.

As environmental protection involves inter-generational issues, there should not be any “hurried reflection of opinion” in the report, Kumar said, adding that imperatives of environment protection were non-negotiable. The report was prepared within two months, which was the time given to the committee.

The panel reviewed six laws – 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 the Indian Forest Act, 1927.

Utmost good faith concept
One of its contentious suggestions is to introduce a new law on the concept of “utmost good faith” in environment management that needs to be followed by those seeking diversion of forest land for their projects.

Instead of regulatory approvals, the proposed legislation would ensure that the applicant is “legally responsible” for his/her statements as he/she would be “severely penalised” for deliberate falsehood, misrepresentation or suppression of facts.

Other recommendations include introduction of new concepts like “environment reconstruction cost”, “obligatory wildlife plan” and fresh classification of tree lands besides setting up of a national environment management authority with a new cadre of officers.

“The TSR Subramanian report failed to appreciate the logic behind many provisions in the laws and suggested changes without considering the long term consequences,” says one of the experts, who deposed before the House panel.

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