By Anang Pal Malik
The National Green Tribunal was constituted following the passage of the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010.
Initially the country was given to understand that the Tribunal would hear the cases in which Environmental clearance is given or withheld by the concerned authorities, to ensure that there was no arbitrariness in the process.
But devil always lies in the details.
Problem starts with the preamble itself: it is supposed to hear cases relating to
(i) Environment protection. Now what is environment protection? Is it to keep our surroundings pristine, in the virgin state of nature? Then everything we do, harms the environment. It has not been defined. Nobody has ever been able to define what is Environment protection. Yet we have a Tribunal with powers to impose fine and prison terms for something we have not even been able to define.
(ii) Conservation of forests and other natural resources. Conservation of forests may be defined, though in many cases conservation of forest is far costlier than its clearance. But we take it that we understand Conservation of forests. But what is Conservation of other natural resources? What are all the natural resources we need to conserve? Should we stop mining coal or pumping oil to conserve them? Do we need to conserve sand and stones? Are we going to run out of sand and stones? And as far as coal and oil are concerned, certainly for a long time we would not run out of coal, and why do we need to conserve either? They are there to be used, and when we run out of both, we would have alternatives or we would just buy them. There are very large number of countries, far richer than us, who have no coal and oil, and are doing fine.
Both these terms in the Preamble itself give very wide, arbitrary jurisdiction to the Tribunal, not good or desirable for a body with legal powers.
Then there is Section 15(1)(a) in which the tribunal may order relief and compensation for damage of environment. Now, what is damage of enviornment? Isn’t farming, house building, road building, mining, and everything that disturbs our surrounding a damage of environment? This again is arbitrary term.
Similar is section 15(1)(c) “for restitution of environment for such area, or areas, as the Tribunal may think fit.” This is very very wide and arbitrary. There is no way anybody may ever anticipate what the Tribunal may think. The whole commerce and economic activities depend on the predictable behaviour of the government apparatus, and pre-defined, exact rules and procedures.
Section 17(1) also leaves the discretion with the tribunal.
Section 18(2)(e) gives a foot in the door to NGOs to become representative of aggrieved.
Section 19(1) and (3) exempt the Tribunal from the procedures of Code of Civil Procedure, and Indian Evidence Act.
But Section 19(4) gives it the powers of Civil Court available to a Civil Court under the same acts.
Section 20 says that the Tribunal will apply the principle of sustainable development. What is sustainable development? Has anybody ever been able to define sustainable development? So something that has not been defined, not legally, not otherwise, is to be used as a principle in legal proceedings.
Section 25(1) gives the Tribunal powers to sentence a person to up to three years in jail, and fine up to rupees ten crore. So here is a Tribunal that is not bound by the Code of Civil Procedure, and Indian Evidence act, but can actually sentence citizens to jail, or impose ruinous fine, or both, for “crimes” that are not even defined.
The fact is that we do not need this Tribunal. This will shutdown all economic activities in India, sooner than later, such is its vague jurisdiction, and equally vaguely defined crimes for which it is to try citizens.
All commerce and industry in the world runs, and is made possible, by the principle of “predefined, limited liability.”
If people realise that they may be jailed for some crime which is not even defined (harming sustainability, for example, or harming environment, another example), nobody would do business in India.
And without rapid industrialisation of the country, India will cease to exist.
To keep environment clean (not to”preserve” it, please note. We do not have to preserve the environment to any given state.), all we need is standards for emissions of air, and standards for water effluents. These standards can be enforced by existing government agencies. We may mark out the areas where particular types of industry can not be set up. That will take care of all our forests and ecologically sensitive areas. In fact for each plot of land in the country, we can and should have a negative list of businesses that are not to be done on it. Citizens will have this information, and would plan businesses accordingly.
The Tribunal is already on the job. It has recently banned diesel vehicles older than ten years in Delhi, with no regard to actual state of maintenance of the vehicle or the pollution certificate it may possess, or implications for supply of goods in the city, or livelihood of their drivers, cleaners, mechanics.
It has also banned construction in many areas, claiming they are raising too much dust. Without any regard to the livelihood of construction workers so rendered jobless, or prospective homeowners who would have to pay interest on loans taken.
The Delhi is so polluted not because of vehicles older than ten years, but because the money collected as road tax, instead of being spent on flyovers and elevated roads, has been spent on freebies for vote banks. Delhi by now should have had ten storey flyovers. It hardly has one storey. And second reason is it has lot of unpaved areas that let out lot of dust in its air. It has more trees than it should have, and that trap air, preventing its circulation. It has only single storey or double storey houses, instead of multi-storey towers, requiring longer and more road travels. Metro came to it at least twenty years late, again because politicians spend tax money on freebies to win elections, instead of spending it on the core functions of government, which, is to create mobility for the citizens.
As for the dust from the construction, in the Delhi proper, hardly any construction is going on. Suburbs have some construction, which has slowed to down to a crawl because of slow down of economy.
Delhi is on the eastern edge of Thar desert. The desert proper may be a comparatively small area in Western Rajasthan, but the area right up to Delhi is more like desert, than a green and fertile plain. Therefore it always has dust laden winds blowing into it, with dust such that no construction can raise. In summer Delhi sees dust storms every few days, and each storm raises more dust than raised by the construction whole year round.
The Tribunal is trying to solve problems created by wrong policies and poor governance by more regulations. It will miserably fail. Only our development will die.
Arab Spring has unravelled the whole Middle East. It has wiped out fully functioning countries in the region. It has brought unimaginable atrocities and miseries on the people. And it is not done yet. It may engulf the whole world. It started in Tunisia when a man, a fruit seller, self-immolated because his fruit cart was seized by a Municipal Inspector because he was in a no-hawker zone.
If National Green Tribunal, or Environmental “activists” think that they can put 125 crore people of India back into caves, because environment needs to be “protected,” and still the country will survive in its present form, good luck with that. Already, because of socialism and resultant regulation of business and commerce, and hence very poor economy, Indians are in a rat-trap like condition.
Mr Prime Minister, we can not afford to see whether India survives without industrialisation or not. Lives of 125 crore real, living human beings are at stake. Scrap the National Green Tribunal before it scraps India.
To read about sustainability, read here.