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Environment — Awareness — Enforcement

The protection and preservation of environment is a pressing issue. Every person, organization and institution has an obligation and duty to protect it.

Environmental consciousness deserves to be propagated at all levels. environmental conservation can be achieved if we all share a single thought, the thought of creating a better world to live in, the thought to give a better deal to everyone, human or otherwise, to the present as well as to the future generation who all have to share the Almighty’s great gifts of clean environment and abundant natural resources on this planet earth. Environmental protection encompasses not only pollution but also sustainable development and conservation of natural resources and the eco-system. Environmental degradation can be either localised such as the depletion of a nation’s forest resources, or global, such as destruction of the ozone layer. The focus of discussion today revolves around examining the extent to which awareness about the environment has percolated into public consciousness, and making a frank appraisal of enforcement measures adopted so far in protecting the environment.

The Government of India as well as our Parliament is increasingly supportive of stringent environmental legislations and Regulations. Various legislations have been enacted by Indian Parliament in last about 30 years to tackle the problem of environmental protection. Various Rules and Regulations have also been framed. Despite these legislations, Rules and Regulations, protection and preservation of environment is still a pressing issue. Today, the necessity of environmental awareness and enforcement is more demanding and urgent than ever before. The first question we have to ask ourselves is why despite provisions in Indian Constitution providing for Environmental Protection and many statutory provisions, the environment degradation continues. The answer to this question is quite simple. The main cause for environment degradation is lack of effective enforcement of various laws. If I may say, though quite regretfully, that there is also lack of proper, effective and timely enforcement of even orders passed by courts, though it is a matter of some satisfaction that in last about two decades, the Supreme Court has pronounced number of judgments and orders and issued various directions with the objective of securing the protection and preservation of environment and enforcement of human rights of citizens, Right to Life in Article 21 of Constitution of India means something more than survival of animal existence. It includes right of healthy living. Therefore, when we talk of environment degradation, we talk of violation of rights under Article 21. We talk of violation of constitutional rights of poor – children and future generation. For protection of these rights, there has to be stringent enforcement coupled with increased level of awareness. The Supreme Court’s orders and directions cover long range of areas whether it be air, water, solid waste or hazardous waste. The field covered is very vast such as – vehicular pollution, pollution by industries, depletion of forests, illegal felling of trees, dumping of hazardous waste, pollution of Rivers, illegal mining. List can be unending. The Supreme Court has passed orders for closure of polluting industries and environmentally harmful aqua-farms, mandated cleaner fuel for vehicles, stopping illegal mining activity, and protecting forests and architectural treasures like TajMahal. Landmark Judgment of 1996 expanding the definition of forest to its ordinary dictionary meaning, ban imposed on all non-forest activities on forest land without prior approval of the Central Government, the directions to constitute Expert Committee in each State to identify forests, directions for movement and disposal of timber, constitution of High Power Committee to deal with forest, the order constituting Central Empowered Committee for monitoring the implementation of orders in forest matters, orders on commercial vandalism indulged by various companies including multinational companies by painting advertisements on rocks around Rohtang Pass and Manali area in Himachal Pradesh, and the constitution of Environmental Protection Control Authority. The propagation and real and effective implementation of all these can go a long way in motivating people which would help in tackling the problem of environmental degradation. Various High Courts in the country have also passed similar orders. 

Various government records recognize the problem of environment degradation. Number of Annual Forest Reports issued by the Government of India mention about rapid depletion of forests though the said reports also mention that there has been some check because of the orders of the Supreme Court.

The environmental problems of today whether it is air and water pollution, ozone depletion, land degradation, deforestation, destruction of ecosystem or mismanagement of waste all damage our natural environment and life on earth. None can afford to be complacent considering enormity of the problem and large area to cover. Take for example, threat to forest and wildlife. There is tremendous pressure on forests and unsustainable removals and threat of massive destruction and wild life habitat. Every person and institution has to play the assigned role to the best of one’s capability to save India’s forest and wild life.

What is needed most is commitment and dedication to the cause of protection, preservation and conservation of environment. While many people recognise that environmental pollution is an extremely urgent problem but when placed in the context of seemingly more immediate problems such as poverty, crime, corruption and religious and social conflicts, the environment often loses. 

The inter-relationship between environmental degradation and many of India’s serious problems is often over-looked. It is necessary to stress on the relationship between destruction of environment on one hand and social as well as health problems on the other. It is especially the poor and illiterate who are most exposed to environmental pollution. It is necessary to enlighten them of the link between social and environmental problems. This realization can propel environmentalism to the top of national agenda. Who has suffered the most whether it be Bhopal Gas Tragedy or any other similar disaster? It is the poor and illiterate. It is this class which is exploited most – whether in case of illegal felling of trees or of killing of animals – vested interest mislead them – misguide them. This class has to be educated about the need to protect environment for their self-preservation as well. It can be done by medium of Television, Radio and Print Media. They can increase environmental awareness or even help remedying environmental problems. The communication media can play a positive role in the protection and preservation of environment. They can play an active role in alerting people about environmental damages, corporate failure to meet its legal obligations and truthful analysis of new legislations. 

The basic responsibilities of the communication media may include: 

  • Reporting and publishing the truth

  • Conducting thorough probes into issues relating to violations

  • highlighting the failure of government officials

  • Not succumb to the pressure tactics adopted by governmental officials/ anti-social elements

  • Forcing others to avoid making political mileage from issues relating to the violations.

The emergence of the Internet as a source of information, with its vast reach and accessibility, has been an extremely important development. The only drawback is the difficulty in ascertaining the reliability of source. Also this medium is available to only a limited population in our country. In the light of this, television and the print media can play more important role. Further, the radio has a large audience in the rural areas. Issues such as forestry, nutrition, women’s health, children’s rights, overall development, could occupy a top slot on a regular basis. Audio-visual media could relay on various documentaries on the environmental abuses, and facilitate awareness by interviews with environmental activists.

Let me make a mention of a programme which came on Radio some years ago. In the programme All India Radio addressed issues such as water, air and noise pollution, deforestation, solid waste disposal, organic farming and other topics. It was a 52-week episodic radio serial called “Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum”. This series was built around the story of a rural background in which a factory settles near a small village. It received wide publicity and was quite popular. Such programmes and serials can be of considerable support in spreading awareness among the masses. 

The press has been very active in keeping the public well informed about various burning issues. The print media need to be more vigilant in exposing environmental issues. The role of the print media is of the utmost importance as the courts and other bodies, like the National Human Rights Commission, do take cognisance of reports published in the newspapers. Therefore, the Print Media must ensure truthful reporting. The glare of publicity can also result in prompt punitive and preventive action by authorities. The only caution that needs to be exercised is that in the zeal to expose violations, and in targeting violators, the media should refrain from actually trying an alleged violator.

Regarding Television, though, there are several channels completely devoted to environment and nature issues, endangered species and wildlife, but what is important is the making of interesting programmes by Doordarshan, targetting at raising environmental awareness because large number of masses watch Doordarshan. The environmental initiatives on television can be successful, if they are interesting. The programmes are to be customized to the requirement of the audience, be it rural or urban.

The school education can significantly promote environmental awareness. Environmental education became an integral component of the National Policy on Education in 1986. It was declared that there is a need to create consciousness of the environment which must permeate all ages and all sections of the society beginning with the child. Environmental consciousness should inform teaching in schools and colleges and should be integrated in the entire education process. Though environmental education has been integrated into the National Curriculum Frame Work, and as a result of directions issued by the Supreme Court, Environmental Science was made mandatory for undergraduates and Environmental Studies was introduced as a subject for students of Class 1 to 5, but environmental education problems are still far from over. The question still being examined is whether environment should be taught as a separate subject or it should be infused with other subjects. These problems require early solution. A child right from the beginning has to be taught how to act in a more environmental friendly manner for which besides schools, the village elders and government officials can also play a pivotal role. 

The emergence of NGOs represents an organised response by the civil society, especially in those areas in which the State has either failed to reach or done so inadequately. The importance of Public Awareness and NGOs involvement in environmental protection is acknowledged worldwide. It was also highlighted in Rio-Conference in 1992. UNCED supported NGO involvement in an unprecedented manner.

On 29 April 1999, the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, while addressing the NGOs Forum on Global Issues, specifically recognized the importance and role of NGOs and asid that NGOs have a long and proud history of fighting against tyranny and providing humanitarian assistance to the victims of conflict and natural disasters. NGOs armed with e-mail and Internet have been proved more powerful than landmine. The Nobel Committee has recognized their work, awarding its peace prize to NGOs, the Church and academic groups and others. But NGOs have also come in for a less welcome sort of recognition. They have been denied access to meetings and information.

NGOs have been taking a number of steps to promote discussion and debate about environmental issues, outside the broad spheres of popular media and the educational system. Advocacy and awareness is especially crucial in promoting concepts such as sustainable development, natural resource conservation and the restoration of ecosystems. NGOs can sensitize policy makers about the local needs and priorities. They can often intimate the policy makers about the interests of both the poor and the ecosystem as a whole. In providing training facilities, both at community and government levels, NGOs can play a significant role. They can also contribute significantly by undertaking research and publication on environment and development related issues. It is necessary to support and encourage genuine, small, local level NGOs in different parts of the country which can provide much needed institutional support specific to the local needs. 

NGOs can make the following contributions:

  • Conducting education and citizen awareness programmes in the field of environment

  • Fact-finding and analysis

  • Filing public interest litigations

  • Innovation and experimenting in areas which are difficult for government agencies to make changes in

  • Providing expertise and policy analysis

  • Providing factual and reliable information with a network of professional expert staff

  • Remaining independent while passing relevant information to the public and governmental bodies

  • Solidarity and support to environmental defenders

  • Working in collaboration with the government for capacity building and promotion of community participation in environmental awareness and protection

  • Working out at the grassroots level and reaching far-flung areas with or without the government invitation.

As already indicated, we do have strong Constitutional, Legislative and Institutional arrangements concerning the environment but nevertheless there have been serious problems in implementation. It is said that early years of our independence were spent in pursuing a development oriented path at the cost of issues such as pollution control and ecologically sound industry. May be that was necessary at that stage. I need not comment on it. It is easier to criticize than act. All the same, it can be said that most of the development projects and industrial infrastructure in the past have been created with little environmental concern. This was mainly because knowledge of environmental impact and impact assessment technology was not fully developed at that time. As a result of which a number of development projects and industries caused adverse impact of a magnitude. The ramification of Bhopal disaster have not yet been resolved. The damage done to the environment and on lives was profound. Until recently business houses have been negligent towards their wider social, ethical and environmental responsibilities. This situation is gradually changing. The burden of these lost decades of absence of environment concern still persists in the form of the occasional bureaucratic and other insensitivities which further means heavy responsibility on the shoulders of every person and institution.

Corporate social responsibilities
Companies should commit themselves to reducing their environmental impact and should create a set of environmental principles and standards and should have environmental audit. Companies should recognize that to be effective, an environmental policy needs to be adopted by employees throughout the organization, not just by those whose work is related to the environment. Towards that end companies should engage in a variety of activities, especially education, to help employees understand the environmental impact of their jobs and to support their efforts to make positive changes. To help ensure that their products and processes are environmentally responsible, companies should buy greener products and materials from their suppliers. Products themselves may be made more environmental friendly, with regard to the control of emissions, noise, reduced health and safety risks, and reduced energy requirements. Both potable water and agricultural water is becoming scarce in India. Over use of underground water leads to increase in salinity. The water team, therefore, must ensure optimum use of water in all processes and ensure minimization of its waste in industry.

It is necessary to emphasis that problem of environmental degradation can be tackled only by concerted efforts by every person, organization and institution and by extremely stringent enforcement of the laws. We have to educate, spread awareness, involve and motivate every child, woman and man in the country to conserve the local flora and fauna, soil and water resources and all other gifts of God which are national properties and belong to all and to none individually.

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