home  |  about us  |  articles  |  psu links  |  directory  |  publications  |  initiatives  |  feedback  |  contact us  |


Institutional Framework for Ecological Security
By Dilip Biswas, Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board

Institutional framework as needed for ensuring ecological security is closely inter-twined with the governance structure. As such, the subject relating to institutional requirements for ecological security should be necessarily discussed as an integral constituent of the governance system.
Legislature, Executive and Judiciary are the three important wings of governance. Over the years, elaborate institutional mechanism at the Central and State level has been set up for framing policies and laws, their execution through the administrative machinery and resolution of conflicts through the judiciary at various levels. With the increasing concern for ecological security, a newer set of organizations/agencies to deal with the ecological issues has been added to the governance structure.
However, barring a few exceptions, the existing institutions have not been able to meet the expectations. It is primarily attributable to the infirmities in the institutional framework, which include the following:

Most government structures are highly differentiated along sectoral lines with their tasks compartmentalized within narrow jurisdictions;

Rules and regulations designed for exercising controls and prohibitions have led to excessive bureaucratization;

Governance system is highly centralized. Local bodies are vested with little or no control over development planning and resource generation;

Despite proliferation of rules and laws covering a gamut of activities, enforcement and monitoring have been lax;

Apathy for regulations, rent-seeking and corruption are among the major impediments in enforcement;

Command and control measures are predominant rather than incentives for better environmental management practices;

Ecological issues do not necessarily coincide with the administrative and legal boundaries. The spatial dimensions of the ecological impacts are often ignored in the existing system; and,

At the policy level, professionals and trained human resources are conspicuously lacking in most of the institutions.
Water management situation in the country is a typical example of compartmentalized approach and associated deficiencies in the institutional structure. As a result, the quantity of available water has been on decline and quality of water has been deteriorating despite a multitude of agencies, which are meant to serve as custodians for water management.
5. For integration of diverse ecological concerns in the development plans, it is necessary to restructure the policy-making and decision-making processes from their vertical-horizontal segmentation to a holistic system. Envisioning the development plans should be based on understanding the interdependence of technical, economic, social and environmental concerns. Alongside, it is necessary to define the responsibilities various constituents of government and a framework within which all policies and programmes of the government and the private sector should be undertaken.
6. To this end, a national-level body higher than a Ministry should provide direction and guidance to all ministries. At the national level, the Ministry of Environment under the guidance of a National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) needs to translate the policy vision in terms of action points and programmes for implementation through the concerned agencies. The Ministry of Environment has to function as a watchdog to monitor and ensure that the activities of different line Ministries/Departments are in unison with the ecological requirements.
7. In designing a nodal agency and outlining its functional domain, the policy makers have to bear in mind the ‘Allocation of Work’ as assigned to various Ministries. For instance, the Ministry of Finance has the powers to determine macro-economic policies relating to taxation and subsidies that have impacts on the environment, but these cannot be taken away from that Ministry and given to the Ministry of Environment. As such, working arrangements need to be devised for incorporating inputs from the Environment Ministry into the economic Ministries.
8. At the State level a body along the lines of the national body needs to be created for determining critical regional resource use, assessment of resource use, implementation of the national goals, coordinating the functions of agencies involved in different sectors of the local economy and the local authorities vested with environmental jurisdiction.
9. The local authorities, such as the municipal governments and village councils, and project authorities would constitute the lowest rung of the institutional ladder. They would play the most important role in micro planning and execution of measures relating to management of commons including land, water and such other natural resources.
10. The holistic administrative structure will be difficult to achieve in the short run considering the legacies of existing structure and organization of governments. In fact, existing structures have a tendency to resist change and reinforce their positions. However, a holistic paradigm needs to be viewed as an end towards which the design and shape of government structures can be directed. Furthermore, each layer of administration needs to serve as an integral component of one another. In such a system, flow of information and ideas are facilitated allowing better coordination and flexibility. The problem of an escalation in bureaucracy is also controlled as no new channels have to be created and with some modifications and training it ensures better utilization of the existing staff component.
11. The administrative mechanisms also require a set of tools and methodologies to work on the pathway to sustainable development. Rules and regulations that incorporate environmental concern with development and growth have to devised, measures to promote sustainable use of resources have to be put in place for implementation and ambiguities and conflicts in policies have to be removed and reconciled. The so-called externalities, which include environmental costs and social costs, have to be incorporated into decision-making. Externalities lead to inefficient allocation of resources and their misuse. If, the cost of pollution, and its attendant health and environmental hazards, is excluded from the cost considerations of a thermal power plant there will always be the possibility of the plant increasing pollution to enhance its private profits. Therefore, for sustainable development, mechanisms are required to internalize the external costs and benefits. These tools would have the twin objectives of ensuring that environmental and social costs are integrated into cost-benefit analysis and by implication restrict or prevent indiscriminate depletion of natural resources, and simultaneously, they would ensure that the development achieved is optimal in its consumption and production mix.
12. Effective integration of environmental concerns in development process will depend on strategies to tackle the problems with the available techniques based on intervention through the national government, provincial authorities, sectoral agencies or local bodies. To evolve an effective institutional mechanism, the strategies may include the following components:

Identification of issues:  This involves recognizing the main environmental and economic issues. The major areas of concern such as soil erosion and degradation, deforestation and bio-diversity loss, urban pollution, water pollution, energy shortage, loss in agricultural productivity or sluggishness of exports need to be spelt out.

Enlistment of biophysical, social and economic indicators:  The problems are reflected in a variety of ways and their specifications need to be classified in terms of socio-economic parameters, phase of economic development, level of environmental degradation (pollution, emission etc.), natural resource base and regeneration and depletion rates of resources.

Defining the jurisdictional domain of different agencies:  This entails linking the different aspects of the problems to appropriate levels of intervention. The horizontal and the vertical spread of government departments and agencies need to be listed and their functional responsibilities connected to each indicator recognized. There could be overlaps between agencies and these too have to be identified. The purpose of such an exercise is to ensure that the appropriate level is made responsible for implementing a specific policy and to remove bottlenecks of inter-agency coordination. An understanding of this will also be useful in assessing the enforceability of various policy options.

Identification and selection of policy options:  Policy options have to be identified and linked to the administrative mechanisms that exist. The objective of the exercise would be to ensure that policy measures do not remain mere statement of intent but become translatable into actions.

Assessment of likely impact of the policies:  The actual impact of policies may take time to discern given the time lag in implementation and gathering of data. However, the probable impact can be assessed on the basis of past trends and data. Some policies may have positive results in terms of growth but can lead to negative environmental consequences in the short run. On the other hand, positive environmental impact of policy may lead to short run retardation in growth rates. The trade-offs involved and the time dimension of the impact can become an effective tool for weighing the options and devising corrective actions.
13. The Brundtland Commission stressed in its report that “Governments must begin now to make the key national, economic and sectoral agencies directly responsible and accountable for ensuring that their policies, programmes, and budget supports development that is economically and ecologically sustainable” (Our Common Future, 1987). Development planning has been hitherto based on aggregation of sectoral plans linked to broad economic objectives set by the planners and coordinated through a central planning body, while the macro-economic policies are dictated by the Finance Ministry. If environmental concerns are to be integrated in the economic policy making matrix, we need to understand the various dimensions and connotations of sustainable development as distinct from the conventional development model as also the operational requirements for both policy making and implementing agencies.

All articles in this website are copyrighted and any infringement will be dealt with strict legal action.
   RNI No. WBENG/2008/27737
|   Copyright @ Shilpa Bichitra   |   All Rights Reserved   |   Designed by: DigiPalette   |
Editor: Gouri Shankar Das