A question of governance

  • 30/10/1995

A question of governance The Supreme Court request last month to the Bar Council of India, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and The BarAssociation of Howrah, West Bengal, to devise means nincing pollution and cleansing the environment, points it dsomand-headed hydra that environmental issues have ner suday. The court issued notices seeking responses on r bmpm can participate in solving environmental ftm in the country. It frankly admitted that it is not in a him to respond to the thousands of poUution-related s nednocuning all over the country. It held that the infassociations, "the largest body of intellectuals who are sockwith the people" should help find out how the almost sw6k situation can best be dealt with.

beentially. the issue is lack of governance. In the past couple stpears, the judiciary has had to take over the work of nomental governance. The spate of closure orders issued lannsts apfinst polluting units all over the country shows dw 4nvironmental regulatory agencies have remained 9* wannolent. In fact, the apex court has even ordered ensign of officials on charges of corruption. Which n der not jug the environmental regulatory Vapsocies but also the internal vigilance it espitionima of the administration had god in responsibilities. The result has isse environmental Hades.

The apex court's efforts to enlist the mom of lawyers in its environmental singer is not a cry of anguish, nor an a in diro" back its own responsibilities. e woognition of the immensity of the is Is" and the fact that the solution gene from the people themselves and bon be routed through the lawyers Mintsups. This, therefore, should be seen as a request for es bodies zW institutions to come together for a greater issues.

There are two aspects of this request. The first is that the :om wishes to ensure that there is capable, institutionalised ctpert support in resolving environmental cases. y of environmental litigation shows that much of it I been lawyer-supported. From the deforestation of wrie Hills, Chernobyl butter, the Narmada and a projects, to Sariska, the list of instances in this regard is long.

undkr4ing message in the Court's statement is that Mestal activists and lawyers should create a common a and seek institutional support in order to convert pas on environment into legal campaigns. The effort a the cause of a Right to Clean Environment. But it must be clearly realised that the law in itself can be as much a trap as a liberating force. Courts should not necessarilyu ly be the first port of call for those concerned tvith environment mental degradation. But this has become so because of an unholy combination of mismanagement, corruption, ineptitude tude and lassitude of the environmental authorities - including ing politicians. Ideally, the courts should have to take over only if normal regulatory mechanisms fail.

The second aspect of the Court's plea is for a diversification of environmental action, so that all the struggles are not sought to be resolved within the confines of a court. Neither courts nor the law can, by themselves, alter much. They can create the bargaining endowments for activists through which social and political struggles can be strengthened. Greed and political subterfuge create environmental crises. It is only struggle that can provide discipline to replace the present greedy and mindless travesties that are perpetrated. Judicial action cannot replace struggle, but can assist it.

The biggest need of the hour is, however, to rebuild a regulatory system which upholds the laws for which it was created. Closures will do little towards that end. There is not much threat to the regula tory authorities from the court judgements on dosing down polluting units. The courts, instead of closing down errant units, can tighten the leash, gently but firmly, around the neck of the government's enviromnentad agencies, by demanding that they must ensure that the ambientpollution levels con form to the standards set by the government itself. The court should ask not only for the bringing down of pollution levels, but also put the responsibility for doing so on The pollution control boards and related regulatory authorities.

Downing the shutters of polluting units will solve little, and in addition, create an issue of environment versus work ers'livelihood. Fears on this count can be counterproductive and even lead to rnass ire against court decisions. Introducing effective governance, thus, is the ultimate resolution of the environmental crisis. If the pollution control authorities are unable to perform, they must be hauled up for their incompe tence and abetting the law breakers. The courts can put the fear of god into the regulatory authorities by hauling them up for contempt, if its orders are not carried out.

Sending the regulators to prison is the only answer. This alone will shake them up, and then the regulating authorities will demand from the political system adequate resources and the right to take independent decisions and implement them.

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