Since about late 1980s, the Supreme Court of India has been pro-actively engaged in India’s environmental issues. In most countries, it is the executive and the legislative branches of the government that plan, implement and address environmental issues; the Indian experience is different. The Supreme Court of India has been engaged in interpreting and introducing new changes in the environmental jurisprudence directly.
The Court has laid down new principles to protect the environment, re-interpreted environmental laws, created new institutions and structures, and conferred additional powers on the existing ones through a series of directions and judgments. The Court’s directions on environmental issues go beyond the general questions of law, as is usually expected from the highest Court of a democratic country. The Supreme Court of India, in its order, includes executive actions and technical details of environmental actions to be implemented.
Indeed, some critics of India’s Supreme Court describe the Court as the Lords of Green Bench or Garbage Supervisor. Supporters of India’s Supreme Court term these orders and the Indian bench as pioneering, both in terms of laying down new principles of law, and in delivering environmental justice. The reasons for the increasing interjection of India’s Supreme Court in governance arenas are, experts claim, complex. A key factor has been the failure of government agencies and the state owned enterprises in discharging their Constitutional and Statutory duties.
This has prompted civil society groups to file public interest complaints with the Courts, particularly the Supreme Court, for suitable remedies. Public interest litigation and judicial activism on environmental issues extends beyond India’s Supreme Court. It includes the High Courts of individual states. India’s judicial activism on environmental issues has, some suggest, delivered positive effects to the Indian experience.
The Supreme Court has, through intense judicial activism, the proponents claim, become a symbol of hope for the people of India. As a result of judicial activism, India’s Supreme Court has delivered a new normative regime of rights and insisted that the Indian state cannot act arbitrarily but must act reasonably and in public interest on pain of its action being invalidated by judicial intervention. India’s judicial activism on environmental issues has, others suggest, had adverse consequences.
Public interest cases are repeatedly iled to block infrastructure projects aimed at solving environmental issues in India, such as but not limiting to water works, expressways, land acquisition for projects, and electricity power generation projects. The litigation routinely delays such projects, often for years, while rampant pollution continues in India, and tens of thousands die from the unintended effects of pollution. Even after a stay related to an infrastructure project is vacated, or a court order gives a green light to certain project, new issues become grounds for court notices and new public interest litigation.
Judicial activism in India has, in several key cases, found state-directed economic development ineffective and a failure, then interpreted laws and issued directives that encourage greater competition and free market to reduce environmental pollution. In other cases, the interpretations and directives have preserved industry protection, labor practices and highly polluting state-owned companies detrimental to environmental quality of India. Conservation Greater adjutant perched on a pile of trash and solid waste in Assam.
The world’s rarest monkey, the golden langur. Forests of India’s Western Ghats Forests of Kerala. Western part of the Indian peninsula is one of the 32 ecological hotspots of the world. Great hornbill in the forests of eastern Himalayas (Arunachal Pradesh). Eastern Himalayas are another of the 32 ecological hotspots of the world. Ecological issues are an integral and important part of environmental issues challenging India. Poor air quality, water pollution and garbage pollution – all affect the food and environment quality necessary for ecosystems.
India is a large and diverse country. Its land area includes regions with some of the world’s highest rainfall to very dry deserts, coast line to alpine regions, river deltas to tropical islands. The variety and distribution of forest vegetation is large. India is one of the 12 mega bio diverse regions of the world. Indian forests types include tropical evergreens, tropical deciduous, swamps, mangroves, sub-tropical, montane, scrub, sub-alpine and alpine forests. These forests support a variety of ecosystems with diverse flora and fauna.
Until recently, India lacked an objective way to determine the quantity of forests it had, and the quality of forests it had. Forest cover measurement methods Prior to 1980s, India deployed a bureaucratic method to estimate forest coverage. A land was notified as covered under Indian Forest Act, and then officials deemed this land area asrecorded forest even if it was devoid of vegetation. By this forest-in-name-only method, the total amount of recorded forest, per official Indian records, was 71. 8 million hectares.
Any comparison of forest coverage number of a year before 1987 for India, to current forest coverage in India, is thus meaningless; it is just bureaucratic record keeping, with no relation to reality or meaningful comparison. In the 1980s, space satellites were deployed for remote sensing of real forest cover.
Standards were introduced to classify India’s forests into the following categories: * Forest Cover: defined as all lands, more than one hectare in area, with a tree canopy density of more than 10 percent. (Such lands may or may not be statutorily notified as forest area). Very Dense Forest: All lands, with a forest cover with canopy density of 70 percent and above * Moderately Dense Forest: All lands, with a forest cover with canopy density of 40-70 percent * Open Forest: All lands, with forest cover with canopy density of 10 to 40 percent * Mangrove Cover: Mangrove forest is salt tolerant forest ecosystem found mainly in tropical and sub-tropical coastal and/or inter-tidal regions.
Mangrove cover is the area covered under mangrove vegetation as interpreted digitally from remote sensing data. It is a part of forest cover and also classified into three classes viz. ery dense, moderately dense and open. * Non Forest Land: defined as lands without any forest cover * Scrub Cover: All lands, generally in and around forest areas, having bushes and or poor tree growth, chiefly small or stunted trees with canopy density less than 10 percent * Tree Cover: Land with tree patches (blocks and linear) outside the recorded forest area exclusive of forest cover and less than the minimum mapable area of 1 hectare * Trees Outside Forests: Trees growing outside Recorded Forest Areas The first satellite recorded forest coverage data for India became available in 1987.
India and the United States cooperated in 2001, using Landsat MSS with spatial resolution of 80 meters, to get accurate Indian forest distribution data. India thereafter switched to digital image and advanced satellites with 23 meters resolution and software processing of images to get more refined data on forest quantity and forest quality. India now assesses its forest distribution data biennially.
The 2007 forest census data thus obtained and published by the Government of India suggests the five states with largest area under forest cover as the following: * Madhya Pradesh: 7. 64 million hectares * Arunachal Pradesh: 6. million hectares * Chhattisgarh: 5. 6 million hectares * Orissa: 4. 83 million hectares * Maharashtra: 4. 68 million hectares India hosts significant biodiversity; it is home to 7. 6% of all mammalian, 12. 6% of avian, 6. 2% of reptilian, and 6. 0% of flowering plant species. In recent decades, human encroachment has posed a threat to India’s wildlife; in response, a system of national parks and protected areas, first established in 1935, was substantially expanded. In 1972, India enacted the Wildlife Protection Act and Project Tiger to safeguard crucial habitat; further federal protections were promulgated in the 1980s.
Along with over 500 wildlife sanctuaries, India now hosts 14 biosphere reserves, four of which are part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves; 25 wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention. These laws did not have the effect they intended. In 1985, India created the Ministry of Environment and Forests. This was followed by a National Forest Policy and the major government reforms of early 1990s. Over the last 20 years, India has reversed the deforestation trend. Specialists of the United Nations report India’s forest as well as woodland cover has increased.
A 2010 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization ranks India amongst the 10 countries with the largest forest area coverage in the world (the other nine being Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, United States of America, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Australia, Indonesia and Sudan). India is also one among the top 10 countries with the largest primary forest coverage in the world, according to this study. From 1990 to 2000, FAO finds India was the fifth largest gainer in forest coverage in the world; while from 2000 to 2010, FAO considers India as the third largest gainer in forest coverage.
National Forest Commission and India’s afforestation program In 2003, India set up a National Forest Commission to review and assess India’s policy and law, its effect on India’s forests, its impact of local forest communities, and to make recommendations to achieve sustainable forest and ecological security in India. The report made over 300 recommendations including the following: * India must pursue rural development and animal husbandry policies to address local communities need to find affordable cattle fodder and grazing.
To avoid destruction of local forest cover, fodder must reach these communities on reliable roads and other infrastructure, in all seasons year round. * The Forest Rights Bill is likely to be harmful to forest conservation and ecological security. The Forest Rights Bill became a law since 2007. * The government should work closely with mining companies. Revenue generated from lease of mines must be pooled into a dedicated fund to conserve and improve the quality of forests in the region where the mines are located. * Power to declare ecologically sensitive areas must be with each Indian state.
The mandate of State Forest Corporations and government owned monopolies must be changed. * Government should reform regulations and laws that ban felling of trees and transit of wood within India. Sustainable agro-forestry and farm forestry must be encouraged through financial and regulatory reforms, particularly on privately owned lands. India’s national forest policy expects to invest US$ 26. 7 billion by 2020, to pursue nationwide afforestation coupled with forest conservation, with the goal of increasing India’s forest cover from 20% to 33%.
January 9, 2018
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