RELAXATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL NORMS AMID COVID-19 PANDEMIC: AN ANALYSIS WITH JUDICIAL RECOMMENDATION

Edited By – Tirtharaj Basu Ray


This article is written by Mudit Goswami, a law student at Amity University, Madhya Pradesh.


INTRODUCTION: –

After suspending the ‘rigid and inflexible’ labour laws around the nation to attract new investor with free hands, now governments despairing to revive hopeless economies which are currently sneaking around the lockdown. There is also a pressure on governments to bring down environmental measures, reducing environmental norms and suspend environmental monitoring prerequisites in the conviction this is important to rescue financial development.[1] With cleaner air, smokeless sky and nature returning to urban lands, it appears that, at any rate for the present, the pandemic has facilitated the human footprint on nature. However, these highlighted situations are not a matter of decision but rather a crisis. Governments are thoroughly criticized for its flexible approach to approving major industrial projects amid pandemic by environmentalists.[2] By virtue of this article, we attempt to discover the response for the present inquiry that whether government accepting pandemic as a reason to loosen up the environmental standards or not. And also try to understand the judicial aspects which throw light upon the importance of environmental conservation.

BRIEF ON RELAXING ENVIRONMENTAL NORMS: –

The worldwide economy is in a difficult situation, confronting possibly its most exceedingly terrible ever downturn. Governments are required to organize a quick come back to development, and one of the main losses of this threat is probably going to be environment-related regulations. Environmental regulations, or “green tape”[3] are often believed to postpone or impair momentary economic development. As governments look to decrease fiscal shortages and prevailing unemployment, the strain to weaken environmental security, by excluding the recovery process from a proper evaluation of projects, will be serious.

The Indian Government is debilitating the law on environmental effect evaluations to permit major industrial proposals to proceed without appropriate clearance or open discussion. Without appropriately surveying how several proposals may influence the environment or counselling neighborhood individuals, the legislature is bound to affirm improvements that are terrible for nature and local livelihood.[4] During this lockdown, governments around the world have strived to weaken the environmental regulations to attract more development and employment; to speed up the recovery process of a declining economy.[5] Relaxation of basic assurances under environmental laws means the circumstance for the world is extensively more dreadful than before COVID-19.

On March 23, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had issued draft EIA notification 2020[6], on assessing the environmental impacts of major projects viz.  industries, townships, mines etc. Along with other changes, the draft proposes to decrease the time considered for public hearings on assessments and while maintaining a strategic distance from the public hearing process completely, the draft permitting more projects or proposals. However, proposed changes could standardize endorsement of proposals that proceeded without proper clearance. This could also prompt industries bypassing environmental shields with dangerous result.[7] The draft is likewise indulgent towards development and industrialization extends that fundamentally utilize further developed advancements.

The most recent draft of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notice 2020 will replace the EIA notice 2006 that manages assessment clearance given by the national government for projects, for example, dams, mining, framework projects like airport, highways etc. Due to this flexible and freehanded approach of government, it has come under the criticism from an environmental activist.[8] EIA is required for us to get perfect air to inhale, clean water, great yield in farming. Industries do affect the encompassing nature with the effluents which are frequently released close to the water bodies. Relaxing environmental norms in such conditions, surely attract more degradation of the environment.

A Public hearing has been an important part in the EIA notification since 1997,[9] but with this draft, the notice period has been reduced from 30 to 20 days. With many concerns being raised about the EIA from environmentalists, particularly that it weakens the platform of public consultation, the Environment Ministry has expanded the date for the public hearing to the draft EIA to June end.[10] The Draft also exempts many projects from the public consultation that further diminished the public space under the umbrella of democracy, which is a reasonable expectation from the government.[11] The Environment is the surrounding in which people live or survive and without public consultation, it is an impediment to follow the path of growth.

JUDICIAL ROLE IN PROTECTION OF ENVIRONMENT: –

Our apex court has settled the importance of the environment by a plethora of cases, where the Apex court primarily relying upon the diverse legal provisions for environmental security. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been a primary way to approach a court in order to tackle environmental issues. After LG Polymers deadly gas leak, which took lives of twelve people and hundreds of local people suffered breathing difficulties, National Green Tribunal (NGT) settled absolute liability of LG Polymers and directed fifty crore rupees of compensation to the victims and for the environmental rebuilding.[12]

The Doctrine of Absolute Liability has been illustrated in Union Carbide Corporation v. Union Of India[13], which make enterprise absolute liable in case of hazardous or dangerous activity is occupied by the enterprise. Another principle which is called “Polluter Pays Principle” has incorporated under environmental regime by the judiciary in the landmark case of Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. Union of India[14], this principle provide compensatory damages to the victims of pollution or hazardous activity, similar has been settled under The Oleum Gas Leak case (M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India)[15], this principle deters the enterprise to take all reasonable care on his account.

Apex court always endorsed the specific provisions of the Indian constitution under the chapters of directive principles of state policy and the fundamental duties, which unequivocally articulated the nation promise to secure and improve the environment. Article 48-A[16] and Article 51-A (g)[17] are the specific provisions which deal with environmental protection and importance. In Sachidanand Pandey v. State of West Bengal[18], the Supreme Court observed: “whenever a problem of ecology is brought before the court, the court is bound to bear in mind Article 48-A and Article 51-A(g).”

In Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India and Ors.[19], the Supreme Court of India upheld that “Water is the basic need for the survival of human beings and is part of the right to life and human rights as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India … and the right to healthy environment and to sustainable development are fundamental human rights implicit in the right to life”.[20] Sustainable development meets the necessities of the present without sacrificing the capacity of future generation to address their own needs.  In this way the judiciary attempts to fill in the gaps where there is a frill of the legislation, also courts are incredibly discerning and careful about the idea of environmental rights, taking into account that the loss of natural assets can’t be reestablished.

CONCLUSION: –

With the current step of the government, it seems like the focus is on fast and hassle-free approval rather than proper scrutiny or discussion. Instead of focusing on the environmental protection, the latest draft of EIA 2020 sabotages the direction of the National Green Tribunal which had administered against post-facto endorsements.[21] The relaxation under the current draft could legitimize irregularities done by the industrial sector. Ecological degradation by industries also impacts on the whole populace in various manners and is probably the biggest danger being looked in the present world.

Not only India but also Canada, Australia, South Africa are looking to amend the environmental laws to hold the declining economy because of the pandemic. However, if we look into some Canadian government statistics during the global financial crisis in 2008[22], we can see that suspending environmental impact assessments invited great harm to nature. Environmental safeguard measures were hard won upon decades by campaigners, judiciary and policymakers. Relaxing them could accelerate the degradation of the environment that is already ruined by climate change and humanitarian threats.

The lockdown effects on the environment may just disappear if the government amend environment laws without proper consultation and mitigation. COVID-19 can be the opportunity to put resources into raising the move towards sustainability, not to suspend the norms in the name of the short-term recovery process of a falling economy. The Government should take this lockdown as an opportunity to restructure our economy and harmonizing the nation. This opportunity demands appropriate measures from the government as well as those citizens should also engage and assemble for the benefit of all.


[1] Amit Sibal, Covid must not be used as an excuse to ignore environment protection The Indian Express (2020), https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/covid-19-pandemic-environment-protection-pollution-amit-sibal-6393959/ (last visited July 9, 2020).

[2] Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, India’s push to relax environmental assessment rules amid pandemic draws criticism Science | AAAS (2020), https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/india-s-push-relax-environmental-assessment-rules-amid-pandemic-draws-criticism (last visited July 9, 2020).

[3]  Regulations relating to environmental concerns is also called “Green Tape”.

[4] Vinay Trivedi, Lessons from COVID-19 on reducing India’s environmental pollution Downtoearth.org.in (2020), https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/pollution/lessons-from-covid-19-on-reducing-india-s-environmental-pollution-70891 (last visited July 9, 2020).

[5] Misha Ketchell, Environmental regulations likely to be first casualties in post-pandemic recovery The Conversation (2020), https://theconversation.com/environmental-regulations-likely-to-be-first-casualties-in-post-pandemic-recovery-137941 (last visited July 9, 2020).

[6] EIA Notification 2020 by MoEFCC, (2020), http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Draft_EIA_2020.pdf (last visited July 9, 2020).

[7]  Jayashree Nandi, ‘Lax environmental norms during recession could lead to industries bypassing environmental safeguards’ Hindustan Times (2020), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/lax-environmental-norms-during-recession-could-lead-to-industries-bypassing-environmental-safeguards/story-P3mAqONXrfLsauB8321lfK.html (last visited July 9, 2020).

[8] Mayank Aggrawal, India’s proposed overhaul of environment clearance rules could dilute existing regulations Mongabay-India (2020), https://india.mongabay.com/2020/03/indias-proposed-overhaul-of-environment-clearance-rules-could-dilute-existing-regulations/#:~:text=The%20draft%20Environment%20Impact%20Assessment,of%20projects%20among%20other%20things. (last visited July 9, 2020).

[9] Arup Poddar, Public hearing and environmental protection Lawjournals.org (2020), http://www.lawjournals.org/archives/2017/vol3/issue3/3-3-28 (last visited July 9, 2020).

[10] Esha Roy, Govt extends notice period for draft EIA notification to June 30 The Indian Express (2020), https://indianexpress.com/article/india/govt-extends-notice-period-for-draft-eia-notification-to-june-30-6399286/ (last visited July 9, 2020).

[11] Vaishnavi Rathore & Arpitha Kodiveri, Shrinking Negotiations: How the Draft EIA 2020 Is Affecting Public Consultations on Development | THE BASTION THE BASTION (2020), https://thebastion.co.in/politics-and/shrinking-negotiations-how-the-draft-eia-2020-is-affecting-public-consultations-on-development/ (last visited July 9, 2020).

[12] Jayshree Nandi, LG Polymers told to pay Rs 50 crore interim relief Hindustan Times (2020), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/lg-polymers-told-to-pay-50cr-interim-relief/story-aETvfDM0f9DeOZaxWqZ29I.html (last visited July 9, 2020).

[13] AIR 1990 SC 273

[14] 1996 SCC (3) 212

[15] AIR 1987 SC 1086

[16] THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA, 1950.

[17] Id.

[18] AIR 1987 SC 1109

[19] (2000) 10 SCC 664

[20] Vrinda Narain, WATER AS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT: A PERSPECTIVE FROM INDIA ResearchGate (2020), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242459891_WATER_AS_A_FUNDAMENTAL_RIGHT_A_PERSPECTIVE_FROM_INDIA (last visited July 9, 2020).

[21] D. Raghunandan, EIA Notification 2020: Not Now, Not Ever! | NewsClick NewsClick (2020), https://www.newsclick.in/EIA-Notification-2020-Lockdown-India-BJP-Government (last visited July 9, 2020).

[22] David Dodge & Richard Dion, Economic performance and policy during the Harper years – Policy Options Policy Options (2020), https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/october-2016/economic-performance-and-policy-during-the-harper-years/ (last visited July 9, 2020).


Written By:

Author Name – Mudit Goswami

Published on – 31/07/2020