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Structuring A Sustainable Environment In The Covid Era

The novel coronavirus disease though is a cruelty to the world’s society and economy it has a greater positive impact on the environmental regulations around the world. The countries those accepted COVID-19 as a serious problem had less impact of the disease. Strict measures were taken to save the lives of the people, even if it costs financially. There was continuous communication of the problem and various stakeholders joined hands to overcome this tragic situation.

Every country that has not accepted and delayed this process has failed miserably. The same equation of acceptance, strict measures, communication and collaboration could be applied in dealing with the much serious problem of environmental degradation. COVID-19 has put a foundation that the environment can be protected from massive pollution with people participation.

 First, accept the problem of environmental pollution and climate change. With the passing of year nearly 1.2 million people die in Delhi the National Capital Region because of air and water pollution. Accept the fact that 15 out of 20 most polluted cities are located in India. The Central and the State Governments are not ready to accept the problem of pollution unless an order is given against them by the Supreme Court or the National Green Tribunal (NGT). No Indian study has shown that pollution reduces lifespan.

Therefore, no means of valid communication of the serious issue. No governmental authority has still taken any strict measure to control pollution. It is always the NGT and Supreme Court that deals with these matters. Collective efforts are required to approach this problem. Proactive stakeholder engagement is required for effective policy making.

The government decides standards and notifies in haste without involving the stakeholders. Such decisions do not have the positive impact on the industries and other stakeholders. Not considering this a serious issue has made our cities with no means of healthy living making it more vulnerable to pandemics like COVID 19. Unless we accept it, it is going to comeback in a much worse form.

Environmental Regulations And Covid-19

Environmental laws are essential for human survival. This pandemic is an opportunity to accelerate sustainability. The global economy is facing recession. Once the lockdown is lifted, the first casualty is going to be environmental regulation. In India, environmentalists point out that the government provides clearance on projects without any public consultation or assessing its impact on the environment for the sake of development of the economy.

Weakening the environmental regulations will result in rapid depreciation in the ecosystem and will have a serious effect on climate change. The Canadian government for instance, during the global financial crisis 2008, exempted the projects that were designed to stimulate the weakening economy from environmental impact assessments. Slashing an environmental legislation makes no economic sense.

A research study from Oxford University states that, the projects that cut out carbon emissions created more jobs and delivered higher returns. The pandemic has limited movement, consumption, economic activities and release of polluted emissions. Therefore, the use of natural resources has been slowed down. The amount of carbon dioxide continues to rise due to the increase of usage in plastics.

Activities to conserve bio diversity and eco system have been reduced resulting in illegal dumping of medical wastes. The lockdown has also led to postponement of vital negotiations of environmental governance. The huge pressure on the environment post pandemic must be effectively dealt by the government and its agencies. They must keep in mind that reduced pollution, better quality of air, water, sanitation, and waste management will reduce vulnerability and improve resilience and sustainability.

A Wake- Up Call!
The improvement in the environment is a result of worldwide lockdown and reduced human activity. The global pollution levels have been decreased drastically. Air pollution has come down and resulted in blue skies in the most polluted areas and water bodies have become clear in the midst of the chaotic situation. People in India are breathing cleaner air since the declaration of nationwide lockdown.

Even worldwide, there are improvements in the environmental conditions which are being witnessed after several years. But this situation is expected to be short-lived. Once the lockdown is removed, government and private individuals insist on opening the factories and industries in order to recover the economy. When this is not done cautiously, there is the beginning of another crisis.

This pandemic is a break from the past. India always had plans to handle climate change. But it could not be made possible because there was no break from the past. The government must take this as a wake-up call to ensure protection of environment. It is something important to consider that the people of a state are the drivers to change. One lockdown has managed to make a difference that we could not make in the past decades.

Considering this on the serious note, the government, the people, the media must come out as a strong force to make a movement for the change to happen for sustainable future. The government is only an enabler and a source of funding to sustainable projects. The innovation and solution rests on industries and individuals.

Legal Changes Necessary To Maintain Environmental Gain Post Lockdown

The lockdown has proved to be a boon for the environment and its non human inhabitants as it is evidently seen that the environment has revived itself considerably in this span of time. Now one of the challenges is to maintain this unexpected environmental gain in the post lockdown era where one of the main concerns would be to re-build the fallen economy of the country through rapid industrialization.

This lockdown has thought us that for a happy and healthy lifestyle it is necessary that development and environmental good coexist. It is unwise to use one as a trade-off against another. Maintaining balance between them is essential for long term stability in a society.

To face the environmental crisis India has made a plethora of laws like the Air Act 1981, Water Act 1974 etc, but the major step towards sustaining nature was taken by the establishment of the environment Act, 1986 which confers power on the central authority to protect, regulate and formulate laws regarding environmental protection.

Although these laws mark the formation of a framework for environmental governance, they lacked in various spheres such as, in providing a mechanism for handling and disposal of hazardous waste, procedural and communicational aspects etc. Later the NGT was established under article 253 of the constitution which in turn brought the 3 principles of environmental justice- the Precautionary, the Sustainable development and the Polluter Pays Principle.

The SC adopted the Polluter Pays Principle which advocates that a polluter must financially compensate for polluting the environment, as a guiding principle. Though this principle acted as a deterrent it did not do much good in reviving the environment as the damage done was irreversible.

The compliance for the matters like proper handling and disposal of waste and such related matters was depending upon the polluter under this principle, but now it is time for a shift from compliance-based approach to stringent enforcement approach as the former has failed to robust the environment. It is time for the government to establish its own treatment plants to and remain connected with industries and direct municipal authorities to build a proper sewage system for efficient waste management and bring such necessary amendments in the respective acts for ensuring a smooth shift -in of approaches.

This surely needs huge amounts of financing but the same is a minor loss compared to the environmental benefits which can be reaped like the Ganga Action Plan. Moreover, the Public Trust Doctrine as held by the SC encourages the government to protect the resources for the use of public rather than allowing the payment of damages for environment exploitation by few for the satisfaction of their personal greed. Thus, the government should take all necessary measures and make necessary legal changes to convert this worldwide crisis into an ecological opportunity and also sustain the same.

The EIA Notification-A Concern

Recently the government has promulgated a draft notification regarding the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Rules, 2020. This notification does away existing EIA Rules, 2006, it is a matter of great concern for the environmentalists because it permits the regularisation environmental violation in return for fines.

This notification advocates the Polluter Pays Principle again which has failed to save the surrounding. This draft was placed before the public to present their views in writing followed by a public hearing. The union environment minister has stated that necessary amendments will be made after considering the views put forth, the outcome of the same is not clear.

Balance is the key for long term stability, with time the growth in technology and other inventions, discoveries in numerous fields has spiked the rate of development which in turn has led to the development of the nation and its economy. This upliftment has helped human life progress and become luxurious in comparison to the olden days.

It is known that pros and cons are converse of one another; anything which is advantageous in one’s perspective is disadvantageous from other’s view point and to this development is no exception. Development certainly is a boon for us humans but is not so for the environment. In our craving for development we have mercilessly exploited the natural resources forgetting their limited availability.

Through such actions we brought upon ourselves the hazardous effect of pollution of the air, water, land and so on. Furthermore, we faulted in not considering this pollution as a serious predicament requiring urgent National attention, thus we ended up making ourselves vulnerable to pandemics like the COVID-19. After all, protecting the environment is not an option but a mandate under the Constitution as given under Article 48(A) and 51(A)(g).

This lockdown is a perfect time for us to sit back and rethink our past actions and understand their outcomes to bring about a change in them and shift back to the green path our ancestors have walked on, leaving behind the path of environmental destruction we have currently taken while equally concentrating on development and making sure that the balance remains.

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