Speeches
01 March 2010

Further discussion on the motion for consideration of the National Green Tribunal Bill, 2009 moved by Shri Jairam Ramesh on 15th March, 2010

Shri Jayant Chaudhary (Mathura) : Mr. Chairman, Sir, I stand to speak on the National Green Tribunal Bill.

It seems that the very usage of the word ‘green’ in the name of the Tribunal is perhaps to convey a strong message that the Tribunal, the Ministry and the Government is here to protect the environment and to address the wrongs and to just add nation’s growth trajectory to be well attuned to the need for equity, sustainable development and environmental consciousness. So, I welcome the usage of the word ‘green’ in the name of the Tribunal.  Especially because our country is seen as a developing country; largely rules, procedures and laws related to environment have then given consideration only in passing.

I read that the Minister himself had recently commented on the high rate of environmental clearances that are granted in our country.  There are so many examples, that I want to give, of political will and industrial might coming together in making institutions that are meant to protect the environment appear as mere by standards.

 

You know what happened in Uttar Pradesh with acres and acres of erstwhile green areas being converted into self-serving, concretized memorials and parks.  You have a proposal in Andhra Pradesh for conversion of reserved forest area into a memorial.  In today’s paper, I read about 70,000 trees being felled in Ghaziabad’s lone forest area, according to a Report by the Ministry of Environment.  So, seriously in some quarters, it is actually said that MoE should be branded MoEC, that is, Ministry of Environmental Clearances.  In that light, I think, there is a need for a redressal mechanism which is accessible to the common man.

Also we must give certain attention to the legislation that is already there, to the institutions that have already been created in this space. Previously Members have commented on NEEA and NET.  They have really been like mythical yeti and unicorn.  They have been on paper but they have not been there as institutions.

About NEEA, there was an RTI activist who found out that none of the members actually did any site visits.  They went to Shirdi and Benaras on religious tourism, nothing to do with any investigations they were actually carrying out.  So, given that experience, we do acknowledge the need for a redressal mechanism but then the question does arise that where previously we have failed, how this new Act signify a change in regime, a change in the thought regime, if I may say so.

I would also like to point out – given the experience of NET and also recently a publication came out with an article on this issue – that there are several Acts enacted by Parliament and they are not being notified. In fact, since 2004, three legislations passed by Parliament have not been notified.  Also selective notifications are undertaken.

In the PNGRB Act, for instance, there was a selective notification. In the Food Safety Act, there was a selective notification done by the Ministry. Therefore, Section 1 sub-section (2) is the standard practice now, that is, to leave it to the discretion of the Central Government. When will the Act come into force? But I would urge the Minister—since he wants this Tribunal to see the light of the day—why not create a challenge for himself and for the Ministry and set a time limit by when this Act will come into force?

About the reach and scope of this Tribunal, prior to me several Members have voiced their doubts. I think I am in agreement with most of the issues that have been raised about the community at large being affected and about the use of words like ‘substantial’ in the law, which would, perhaps, restrict the application and the reach of the Tribunal to a lot of people, specially individuals. The preamble of this Bill states about the need to protect the right to life as enshrined in the Constitution of India. But at the same time, we are restricting individuals from approaching the Tribunal. So, that is a big question mark.

Also coming to the composition of the Tribunal, this point has been made again and again but I would just like to join the list of people. The Government made a point in the Bill that people with administrative experience of 15 years and up to five years in dealing with environmental matters in the Central or State Government or in a reputed national or State level institution can also be expert members. It will be really a magic act if you can pull them out of the hat because I cannot think of any real State level or Central level institutions that have really upheld, what is needed, the laws of the land for the protection of the environment. So, where are you going to get these capable administrators? Actually, it has been their culpability. It is because of the lack of a strong political will and administrative capabilities that we are actually today debating on the need for a Tribunal.

Also, the definition of an aggrieved person includes people who have not been given clearances. Of course, the laws of natural justice do mean that all parties should get a hearing but when there is a typically poor person, who is an affected party, and on the other hand you have a big corporate house and if you let both of them approach the Tribunal, I am afraid that most of the time the Tribunal is going to spend on listening to perpetrators of crime rather than the aggrieved parties.

Also, this point has been made. Again, I am going to repeat it. It is about the penalties that can be imposed. There is no provision in the law about the right of the Tribunal to revoke licences, the take away clearances that have been granted. So, in most cases, especially, for corporates it is a big money of Rs.25 crore. The economic benefit that would trickle down from wilful contravention of law will far outstrip any penalty that could be imposed on them.

I am aware of the time shortage. In the end, I would just state that the meek shall inherit the earth but whatever is left offered after the greedy have done. The water is getting polluted. Forests are diminishing. Our food chain is getting polluted. Here, the Government has a unique opportunity to create institutions, systems, processes, rules and laws which can actually lead to a change in our growth pattern and make it one that enables sustainable development.

We have the shame and agony of Bhopal in our nation’s history. Sir, 1.2 lakh people are still suffering from ailments because of exposure that they suffered and that experience also shows us the varying corporate response to such tragedies. Dow bought the Union Carbide in 2001 and asbestos workers in Texas were given 2.2 billion dollars in aid and that same company till today says that we have no culpability, no obligation for Bhopal gas tragedy victims. Therefore, to end my speech, any legislation in the environmental space must also pass the litmus test.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Jayant Chaudhary, you have half a minute. Otherwise, you will have to be on your legs for a long time.

SHRI JAYANT CHAUDHARY: I am concluding. It must categorically state and mean that the main objective of the law should be that incidents and tragedies like Bhopal do not happen again.