Environmental regulation in India is a maze of rules, laws and overlapping jurisdictions. Today, in practical terms it is the Supreme Court and the high courts that now play a leading role in enforcing environmental laws. It is a space ceded by the Union and state forest and environment ministries and departments. At the same time, private players still have to run to ministries for environmental clearances.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

MoEF, in a discussion paper, has outlined a threefold division of environmental governance. Policymaking and initiation of legislation will continue to rest with MoEF. Nepa will be the environmental regulator and the judicial space will be occupied by the proposed national green tribunal.

If this new governance architecture materializes, it may go a long way in ironing out the conflicts of interest that mar environmental regulation. Today environmental clearances, impact assessments, legislation and coordination, along with implementation of forest and environmental laws, rest with the same set of officials. This has created perverse incentives: Bending of laws, creation of irregular precedents, delays and corruption are the net result. With Nepa, all this may change.

Changing the present structure will call for some political will. What will happen to organizations such as the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) once Nepa comes into being? The discussion paper looks at different options such as merging CPCB with Nepa or keeping it alive as a distinct identity. If the government is serious about ending the present impasse, it should ensure that there is no regulatory overlap.

Will Nepa help preserve our environment? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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