- GS-2: Role of civil services in a democracy.
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
A proposal for Indian Environmental Service
Context: The Supreme Court has asked the Government if it will create an Indian Environmental Service (IES) as recommended by a committee headed by former Cabinet secretary T.S.R Subramanian in 2014.
What is the T.S.R Subramanian committee report on environment?
- The Subramanian committee was set up in August 2014 to review the country’s green laws and the procedures followed by the Environment Ministry.
- It suggested several amendments to align with the Government’s economic development agenda.
- The report submitted to then Union environment minister, had suggested amendments to almost all green laws, including those relating to environment, forest, wildlife and coastal zone clearances.
- However, a Parliamentary Standing Committee which scrutinised the report rejected it on the grounds that it ended up diluting key aspects of environmental legislation designed to protect the environment.
- Parliamentary committee suggested that another committee, with more expertise and time, be constituted to review the environmental laws.
What did the T.S.R report recommend?
- Dedicated Legislation: The report proposed an ‘Environmental Laws (Management) Act’ (ELMA), that envisioned full-time expert bodies—National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and State Environmental Management Authority (SEMA).
- Also, the Air Act and the Water Act is to be subsumed within the Environment Protection Act.
- The existing Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Boards are proposed to be integrated into NEMA and SEMA once the new bodies come into existence.
- Accelerate environmental decision-making process: NEMA and SEMA would evaluate project clearance (using technology and expertise), in a time bound manner, providing for single-window clearance.
- To accelerate the environmental decision-making process, they suggested a “fast track” procedure for “linear” projects (roads, railways and transmission lines), power and mining projects and for “projects of national importance.”
- Appellate Mechanism: It also suggested an appellate mechanism against the decisions of NEMA/SEMA or MoEF&CC, in respect of project clearance, prescribing a three-month deadline to dispose appeals.
- Environmental Cost: The report also recommends that an “environmental reconstruction cost” should be assessed for each project on the basis of the damage caused by it to the environment and this should be added into the cost of the project. This cost has to be recovered as a cess or duty from the project proponent
- Research Institute: The report also proposed a National Environment Research institute “on the lines of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education” to bring in the application of high-end technology in environment governance
- Dedicated Civil Service: Finally, the report recommended an Indian Environment Service to recruit qualified and skilled human resource in the environment sector.
Has the report been accepted by the Government?
- The Centre never formally accepted this report and neither constituted a new committee as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.
- However, many of these recommendations are implicitly making their way into the process of environmental regulation.
- The Government has proposed rewrites to the Forest Conservation laws, set timelines to the pace at which expert committees that appraise the suitability of infrastructure projects must proceed.
How did the subject of the IES come to the fore?
- The Supreme Court was responding to a petition filed by a lawyer Samar Vijay Singh, whose counsel pointed out that matters of environment required special expertise.
- Currently matters of environmental regulation rests on scientists of the Ministry of Environment and Forests as well as bureaucrats from the Indian Administrative Services.
- The apex court expressed reluctance at getting into administrative matters of the Government but nevertheless asked the Centre if it expects to go about constituting such a mechanism.
Connecting the dots: