New Delhi: The government on Saturday argued for a plan for sustainable development balancing the need to protect the environment and continued growth at the third World Conference on Environment organized by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in New Delhi.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley pointed out that the Indian society was at a “critical juncture" with challenges like pulling out 25-30% of population from below the poverty line, urbanization, creation of physical infrastructure across the country.
“What are the best practices a society needs to follow to ensure that this balance between growth of the country and protection of environment can take place," he asked.
Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi took the example of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms introduced 25 years ago. He highlighted that these regulations disabled creation of appropriate infrastructure around the coasts, making neighbouring countries like Thailand, Vietnam more tourism friendly than India. “If they can do it, it’s time for us, the government and courts and stakeholders to have some kind of an audit and then take a call. Why should we not have a consultative process between the stakeholders in advance. For a mega project, involve the National Green Tribunal, government, (project) proponent and stakeholders — it avoids a catastrophic (legal) challenge that comes in after millions of dollars put in," he suggested.
Rohatgi added that this was the need of the hour to ensure that there was no “legacy of challenge to every project".
Chief justice of India J.S. Khehar, however, countered this by saying that courts interfered only when industrialisation was allowed without adequate measures to protect the environment.
He added that the issue of the environment ought not to be seen as a competition, referring to the issue of tourism and the CRZ norms. “When the attorney general referred to CRZ, and the comparison with tourist spots in India and otherwise, it seemed as if we were competing with somebody else. Environment is not a matter of competition. Environment is not we and they. It is humanity at large," he said.
President Pranab Mukherjee, on the other hand, said that there was no “inherent contradiction between environmental protection and developmental requirement if we can check our lust for appropriation beyond our requirement."
In doing so, the President posed four questions for the other sessions of the conference to deliberate — to what extent can we allow environmental degradation; what are we going to leave behind for future generation; what steps can be taken to curb the perils of environmental degradation; and can we completely squander the assets received from forefathers without leaving anything for our future generations?
The conference, the third of its kind, will continue over Saturday and Sunday with ten technical sessions on various issues like air pollution, water pollution, economics and clean technology, and the role of courts and tribunals.