Skip to main content

Government of India committee walks out of its "public consultation" on changes in environmental laws

By Our Representative
Ever imagined a top Government of India-appointed committee walking out of a public hearing organized by it to consult influential groups on an important policy issue? This is what happened on September 27 in Karnataka, where the High Level Committee headed by TSR Subramanian, former Union Cabinet Secretary, constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change to review environment, pollution control and forest conservation laws, at Vikas Soudha, the high security office complex of the Government of Karnataka.
Advertisements that the committee would be visiting the Vikas Soudha were issued by the Karnataka Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment on September 21, 2014, followed up by various press releases inviting the public to interact with the Committee. But finding strong reactions of groups known for taking up environmental issues, in an unprecedented move, in less an hour Subramanian got up and said “We will end the joke here!” and walked out! He was followed by the rest of the Committee members, who included Justice AK Srivatsav (retd Judge of the Delhi High Court) and KN Bhat, Senior Advocate.
According to insiders, Subramanian remarked several times during the meeting that the public was “wasting the Committee's time and there was no point continuing with this procedure”, and despite the fact that those who had gathered for the hearing protested such a remark, he continued making such remarks. A statement issued by participants said, “Members of the common public who had travelled great distances to engage with the committee protested Subramanian taking them for granted and dismissing their views as of trivial concern.”
Though they demanded the Committee return, neither did the High Level Committee return, nor did any official of the Ministry of Environment and Forests or Karnataka Environment Department come back to explain the behaviour.” The flashpoint came when a representative from Mavallipura district sought to speak, saying he represents a community impacted by mal-development and waste dumping in his village, but he was brushed aside.
The earlier “irritant” was of Bhargavi Rao of the Environment Support Group, who wished to know how law could be reformed when forest officials were unaware of biodiversity protection laws that had been passed over two decades ago. Rao asserted, “This rushed exercise in reviewing environmental laws had all the trappings of making light of people's fundamental rights and concerns.”
Even before the public hearing began the authorities’ behaviour was not friendly, the statement suggested. “When various individuals and representatives of public interest environmental and social action groups turned up for the meeting, the police prevented their entry at the gates. It was only following a spot protest that the police consented to allow them to participate in the consultation. Despite this indignifying experience, all who gathered proceeded to the meeting hall with the intent of engaging with the High Level Committee”, it added.
The meeting commenced with introductory remarks by Subramanian. Broadly, he shared that the intent of the Committee was to hear views from across India on the type and nature of changes that were required in the environmental and forest protection laws. He stated that the Committee had the mandate of the Government to propose necessary changes that would help improve the quality of life and environment. But he said the need to ensure development was primary, as the country was very poor (over 80% were poor he claimed) and thereby it is found essential to streamline environmental clearance processes that thwarted growth.
“Subramanian also shared that it was a matter of concern to the Government that several development projects were getting mired in litigation on environmental grounds, leading to needless delays. Concluding his introductory remarks he said the Committee was not in any manner guided by the Ministry and their recommendatory report would be submitted to the Union Government”, the statement said.
When the turn of the public came, “a submission was made by the Karnataka Planters Association about procedural difficulties in securing forest clearance and conforming pollution control norms, and sought amendments for the benefit of plantations.” Thereafter, “ACF Anand, an RTI Activist, suggested that all environmental laws must be translated so that it would be understood by all and thus the compliance rates improved.”
Speaking next, Leo F Saldanha of the Environment Support Group requested the Committee to address the basis for its functioning, and whether the terms of reference (TOR) constituting the Committee was sufficient for such a massive and onerous task that involved fundamentally reviewing all environmental laws that were intricately linked to Right to Life, Clean Environment and Livelihoods. He sought to know what it meant, as is main TOR, “(t)o recommend specific amendments needed in each of these Acts so as to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives".
Saldanha argued that “it is disturbing that Subramanian unilaterally rules a legitimate concern over vague and weak TORs as being of trivial concern, when, in fact, it would have been fit and proper for the Committee to have first explained in the interest of public accountability and transparency how they found the terms rational and acceptable to them. And in case the terms were acceptable, then the High Level Committee, unshackled as it were by the bureaucratic norms of the Ministry, could have provided a clear note on the nature of the reforms being considered and also explicated on the procedure of consulting and receiving criticisms from various sectors, peoples, regions, geographies, etc”, the statement said.
“Vinay Sreenivasa of Alternative Law Forum submitted that the process by which the Committee was conducting the consultation was rather opaque. The vague TOR and the fact that the Committee was constituted by a Government that sought to belittle the importance of the National Wildlife Board and rush pet projects through the clearance mechanism, seemed to suggest the entire exercise appeared to be merely ritualistic. Aruna Chandrasekhar of Amnesty International - India sought to know what specific amendments were being proposed or demanded by industry/corporate sectors, and requested the Committee put it all out”, the statement said.
It further said, “Prof Puttuswamy wanted to know how a High Level Committee sought to improve environmental laws when notifications of Ministry were being issued to dilute the laws. Priti Rao asked for decentralised solid waste management. Vijayan Menon shared that even though he was not an official, he had walked into the Committee's immediately preceding engagement with Government officials where a clear set of amendments were being proposed. He expressed surprise that this presentation was not being made for the benefit of the general public.”

Comments

hemen varma said…
Shame on MR. TSR and his committee - do they not understand that development cannot take priority over life. Does the government not understand that they represent the people - it does not own them ! Does the government not understand that "public hearings" are meant for "hearing the public" and NOT for "lecturing or haranguing the public". Mr. Modi, who is advising you ? Do you want to lose all the goodwill you have earned even before the year is out ? Pls give up this obsession on training to impress the "foreign investors" and spare a thought for the people of India who have put you there to look after them and not to betray their interests and welfare in the name of some elusive development that has never made a difference.

TRENDING

Call to support IIM-Bangalore professor, censured for seeking action against Uniliver

Counterview Desk
Sections of the Indian Institute of Managements (IIMs) across India have strongly reacted to the decision to censure Dr Deepak Malghan, a faulty at IIM-Bangalore. Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil, who is faculty at IIM-Tiruchirapalli, has sought wider solidarity with Dr Malghan, saying, "The administration has censured Deepak for merely suggesting a meaningful action against Hindustan Unilever for their abysmal environmental record" by “disinviting” it for campus placement.

Actionable programme for 2019 polls amidst lynch mobs, caste violence, hate mongering

Counterview Desk
Reclaiming the Republic, a civil rights network, has released a document prepared under the chairmanship of Justice AP Shah (retired) -- and backed, among others, by Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander, economist Prabhat Patnaik, Right to transparency activist Anjali Bhardwaj and social scientist Yogendra Yadav  (click HERE for full list) -- with the "aim" of putting forth policy and legislative reforms needed to “protect” and “strengthen” the Constitutional safeguards for India’s democratic polity.

Noam Chomsky, top scholars ask NRIs to take stand on human rights violations in India

Counterview Desk
Renowned world scholars, including Noam Chomsky, James Petras, Angela Davis, Fredric Jameson, Bruno Latour, Ilan Pappe, Judith Butler, among others, have issued a statement castigating the Narendra Modi government for allegedly creating an environment of fear through arrests, intimidation and violence.

India under Modi "promoted" crony business, protected financial fraudsters, fueled bigotry

By Sandeep* and Rahul Pandey**
Narendra Modi's ascension to power was accompanied with jubilation and expectation. His supporters were expecting an end to era of corruption and initiation of good governance which was described as Achche Din. His party's adherence to idea of nationalism was believed to make India a vibrant country and guide India to be a world leader. He gave the slogan of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas' conveying that his government was for all.
Corruption The government system is infested with corruption. A minimum of 10% is siphoned off from government schemes and projects, some of which goes back to political party in power and remaining is pocketed by various administrative, executive and political functionaries. This corruption continues and has increased. Now an additional Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) person working as Official on Special Duty or some equivalent position in every government department also has a share in this booty.
The Narendra M…

Inviting Rajapaksa to India "insult" to 1,40,000 Tamils killed by Sri Lankan army

Counterview Desk
In the context of Sri Lankan opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa being invited in India, about 75 human rights activists*, claiming to be concerned about rights violations during the civil war in Sri Lanka, especially in 2009, have joined together to express their dissent through a statement.

A Godse legacy? BJP rulers have "refrained" from calling Gandhi Father of the Nation

By Dr Hari Desai*
What an agony! On one hand, the entire India is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but on the other side, so-called Hindu Mahasabha members have been found mock-enacting the killing of the Mahatma and celebrating the murder by distributing sweets!

No aadhaar, no ration? Hard blow by Gujarat govt on poor and marginalized

By Pankti Jog*
Only those who have aadhaar registration and linked it with ration card will get ration from a Public Distribution System (PDS) shop. This decision of the Gujarat government has hit very badly thousands of poor and marginalized communities of Gujarat, especially during the drought year.

Post-advisory, Govt of India appears reluctant to ban e-cigarettes, "harmful" to kids

By Rajiv Shah
Is the Government of India dilly-dallying over the issue of banning e-cigarettes, which have been declared by anti-tobacco activists across the world as providing “an entryway to nicotine addiction”, especially among the kids? It would seem so, if the latest developments are any guide.

Not just Indian women engineers, men too face sexual harassment at workplace: US study

By Rajiv Shah
A recent research, carried out jointly by two US-based non-profit organizations, Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Center for WorkLife Law (WLL), based at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, has found that 45% of women engineers as against 28% of men engineers complained that it was perceived as “inappropriate when women argued at work, even when it was work-related.”

Poser to Modi: Why is Gujarat not fulfilling Constitutional obligations to minorities?

Counterview Desk
In an open letter, Mujahid Nafees, convener, Minority Coordination Committee (MCC), a Gujarat-based civil rights organization, has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi on infringing upon MCC activists’ constitutional right to protest. Nafees says, they had no other demands except that the Gujarat government should move towards fulfilling the constitutional obligations towards minorities and international treaties to which India is a signatory.