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New Delhi: The government is planning a slew of changes to overhaul India’s environmental laws after failing to do so in the first three years of its tenure.

Measures being considered include an umbrella law on environment, a national body on environment and forestry headed by the prime minister and a national environment restoration fund. If finalized, some of the steps could become a reality within the next few months.

According to a senior official of the environment ministry who requested anonymity, these plans have been suggested by a NITI Aayog appraisal of work carried out by the environment ministry under the 12th five-year plan.

One of the main recommendations, according to the appraisal document, seen by Mint, is for the creation of a cross-cutting agency—a national environment and forestry council with the prime minister as its chairperson and environment minister as vice-chair, helped and advised by a group of experts. The council will ensure that environment becomes integral to all development projects.

“This body may also have representatives from the ministry of external affairs, science and technology, agricultural, commerce, urban and rural development, tribal affairs and so on. Such a high powered body would provide useful and valuable guidance for environmental sustainability," said the note. It added that similar councils may also be set up in each state to align the working of different departments with the environment and forest departments and to ensure environmental sustainability while executing development projects.

The document also suggested the creation of a national environment restoration fund for securing “voluntary contributions" and user fees for access to “specified natural resources" like a water body or forest land. The fund “may be used for cleaning up of polluted rivers and sites contaminated with toxics and hazardous waste".

The document also wants the ministry to consider implementing the 2014 report of a high-level committee headed by former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramanian, which was criticized at the time on the grounds that it would lead to a dilution of the environmental laws.

“What is required of the environment ministry is to see what is impeding conservation and protection of natural resources rather than what is impeding development projects. Ease of business should not be the prime mandate of the ministry. Whatever changes the ministry decides on should be done with consultation with all stakeholders in an open manner," said Sanjay Upadhyay, an environmental advocate in the Supreme Court.

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