Environmental violations: Fines are clearly not enough

Public pressure, on the other hand, can force a government to act in the interests of the people

  • Published 3.12.18, 9:07 AM
  • Updated 3.12.18, 9:07 AM
  • 2 mins read
The National Green Tribunal's principal bench office in New Delhi.The erosion of the NGT's authority is not new - there have been governmental attempts in the past to curtail its powers Prem Singh

Can fines in India, especially those imposed by regulatory bodies, act as real deterrents? It would seem not, given the manner in which various directives of the National Green Tribunal continue to be blatantly flouted. Even though it imposed a fine on the Art of Living Foundation, headed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, for using the Yamuna floodplains for its World Culture Festival in 2016, the foundation continued to cause damage to the floodplains. It would, thus, not be unreasonable to assume that the penalty of Rs 5 crore imposed by the NGT on the West Bengal government for its failure to curb air pollution in Calcutta and Howrah will be treated with a similar lack of concern. After all, the green body had passed an order two years ago outlining recommendations for the state government to implement in a bid to improve air quality. It is clear that doing so is not a priority for the dispensation, just as environmental conservation has repeatedly proved to be unimportant for the Centre and various state governments.

This erosion of the NGT’s authority is not new; there have been governmental attempts in the past to curtail its powers. While the Supreme Court stayed a law that would have given the Centre complete control over the NGT, the continued efforts to undermine the latter’s authority bear troubling implications at a time when the inaction of the Indian government — as well as others around the world — with regard to climate change has become a matter of serious debate. Is there, then, a case for empowering the NGT to implement its orders more effectively? It must, however, also be remembered that it is not just the job of the courts or green bodies to think about conservation. It is also the responsibility of the government. In spite of this, a 2008 order by the Calcutta High Court for phasing out commercial vehicles older than 15 years — this, significantly, was also a recommendation made by the NGT in its 2016 order — is yet to be adequately implemented. One of the major reasons for the government’s inertia is the absence of public pressure. As such, not only must awareness be raised about the health hazards caused by the quality of air that citizens are forced to breathe, but the study of environmental sciences should be made a more meaningful part of the curriculum in schools and colleges, given that young people are instrumental in bringing about change. Fines are clearly not enough; public pressure, on the other hand, can force a government to act in the interests of the people.