Though India has successfully incorporated environmental aspects into the policy framework way back in 1985, it is in the previous decade, more especially since 2014, proactive environment conservation initiatives were undertaken by the Union Government. This pro-active approach is evident from reorganization and renaming of the erstwhile Ministry of Environment and Forests as the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to deal the with ever increasing threats to the environment from multiple sources.
It is against this backdrop, it is necessary to understand the new pro-active approaches adopted by the government to deal with environmental challenges and outcomes of it.
New methods to deal with environmental issues are –
1. Public Private Partnership: Previously, the government was alone responsible for funding and executing the environment conservation measures. Over the last three years, the emphasis was on public private partnership (PPP) to leverage the capital, technology and human resources available to the private sector. For instance, PPP Model was adopted for forest conservation. As part of this initiative, the participating companies are allowed to undertake reforestation measures and utilize the newly developed forest produce for commercial purposes. The PPP model ensures lesser imports of forest produce, unregulated use of forest resources and unburdening the exchequer.
2. Use of technology: The information and communication technology has been leveraged to a great extent for real time monitoring of pollutants from industries, status of natural resources and wildlife and address grievances. The deployment of satellites to monitor forest cover and water bodies, web-based application on Integrated Waste Management System, deployment of drones for surveillance in deep forests, use of camera traps for wildlife census illustrate the use of technology in the environmental management.
3. Active International Collaboration: It includes collaborations at the bilateral and multilateral level for the protection of the environment. It is evident from the signing of bilateral agreements and MoUs on renewable energy resources with the developed countries like the USA and Germany, the submission of Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs) to the UNFCCC and the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement on 2 October 2016. The launch of the International Solar Alliance involving 121 countries of India indicates its leadership role on the global stage.
4. Timely amendment of Rules: The policy environment has become dynamic to address ever growing environmental challenges. The release of separate notifications specifying rules for management of E-Waste, Plastic Waste, E-Waste, Construction & Demolition Waste and Biomedical Waste in 2016 indicate the government's intention to alter the decades-long policy eco-system.
5. Procedural Reforms: The procedural reforms were aimed at increasing the transparency, curbing red tape in environmental clearances and decentralization in decision making. The launch of the Web Portal for obtaining Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Clearances is outcome of this reform.
6. Broad-based campaign: Previously, only the government agencies were involved in spreading the awareness about the environment conservation. However, in the last few years, with the initiatives like Chintan Shivir, School Nursery Programmes and Climate Change Special Express, the government could successfully increase the participation of civil society and school children and educational institutions in the environmental conservation.
Impact Analysis of the Environment Conservation Measures
The major impacts of recent environment conservation measures are -
1. Forest cover: As per India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2015, which was released in December 2015, the total forest cover of the country has increased by 3, 775 square kms in two years. As a result the total forest and tree cover has reached 79.42 million hectare, which is 24.16 percent of the total geographical area.
2. Wildlife population: As per the estimate released by the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum in 2016, the number of wild tigers has gone up to 3,890, from the earlier 2010 estimate of 3200. It is a good sign since the population of tiger is a keystone species and considered as a better parameter to gauge the state of wildlife population.
3. Pollution levels: Despite a series of measures, the quality of air and water pollution has been deteriorating due to various reasons. The reports suggesting that nearly 80% of India’s surface water is polluted and worsening air quality index are still the cause of concern and illustrate the need for strengthening of the existing policy measures in this regard.
4. Administrative Efficiency: The performance of the administration has improved in recent years due to procedural reforms and deployment of technology on a large scale. As a result, the average time needed to give an environmental clearance has declined to 109 days over the last three years from the erstwhile 600 days.
In contrast to the earlier approach of enacting new legislations and launching new schemes, the recent environment initiatives have a new vigour that includes not only the enlargement of the issues covered such as climate change, reforestation, protection of wildlife, etc, but also includes new methods to deal with environmental challenges.
Despite the renewed efforts by the government, the environmental problems are still persisting due to multiple factors like – growing population, fossil-fuel based industialisation, lack of effectiveness in the implementation of rules and regulations. It is high time, the government, corporate sector and the civil society should come together to build a sustainable environment to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.
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