A view of the Athirapally waterfall. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel asked the Environment Ministry not to clear the Athirapally hydel-power project.
The idea of a new, independent regulator to protect the environment has been revived by the forest bench of the Supreme Court in the Lafarge mining case. The apex court has ordered by mandamus, a new authority to be set up under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for appraising projects, enforcing conditions and imposing penalties on polluters. This is to be done by March 31, 2014. The Environment Ministry had responded to the court in November 2013 that it had enough means to regulate the environment through existing institutions and procedures. The court was not convinced.
The idea of a new regulator seems to grab eyeballs and attention from all quarters. It also seems to have little resistance in principle for three reasons. Firstly, this government and its Environment Ministry have lost practically all their supporters among citizens due to the manner in which they have dealt with environmental and forest clearances. Any move to take away decision-making powers from them will only improve the situation.
Secondly, the Supreme Court seems to want to shake the status quo by bringing in a new regulator. Most environmentalists believe that the system deserves to be shaken. They also have great faith in the Supreme Court’s wisdom on complex matters of governance. Thirdly, there is a real fear about opening up the laws on grant of clearances even though everyone agrees that we can barely expect good decisions without several amendments to green laws. So creating a new institution is at least doing something.