RELEASE TURNAROUND: REFORM AGENDA FOR ’S ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATORS
The Centre for Science and Environment recently published a report on the state of India’s environmental regulatory institutions and its reform agenda.
The report primarily deals with the environmental regulators’ capacity and performance in monitoring and enforcing laws, rules and regulations in the country. We have also conducted an on-line opinion poll of industry and civil society organisations to know their perceptions about the performance of the pollution control boards.
The report and its recommendations were discussed on 17th August, 2009 at a meeting in which Chairpersons and Member Secretaries of 20 pollution control boards participated. The report finds the following:
Our assessment is that the pollution control boards do not have capacity - financial and human - to implement compliance and enforcement programmes in the country. There is no credible deterrence for non-compliance, as pollution control boards conduct few inspections, undertake fewer monitoring and sample collection and initiate enforcement action against even fewer companies.
There is no standard definition, guideline or manual for what constitutes inspection, compliance and enforcement in the country – different state pollution control boards interpret it differently. The result is that no one can say what proportion of the regulatory basket in the country is complying with standards.
The worst part is that there is no mechanism in place to hold pollution control boards accountable for non-performance – we have not defined any success or failure standards for them. The result is that people have by and large lost faith in the capability of the pollution control boards in improving environmental quality in the country.
Our assessment also shows that though the area of pollution monitoring and enforcement has become highly specialised, there is no structured programme in place to upgrade the knowledge and skills of the scientific and technical personnel of the pollution control boards. No national minimum training requirement has been prescribed and a very small proportion of the staff actually avail any training. The result is, there is a huge knowledge and skill gap in the pollution control boards.
Based on the assessment we have come out with a reform agenda which recommends the following:
Introduce a national-level guideline to indicate staff requirements based on the characteristics of the regulatory basket and the expanding role of the pollution control boards;
Develop and disseminate standard guidance manuals on different facets of inspection, compliance and enforcement for different statutes/regulations and apply it uniformly across the country;
Develop and implement priority and targeted programmes for compliance and enforcement for the small-scale sector which should include compliance assistance as well as credible deterrence for non-compliance;
Institutionalise the process and procedure to use self-monitoring, self-recordkeeping, and self-reporting data for compliance enforcement. Make the self-monitored data public to allow greater public scrutiny of the performance of the industries as well of the pollution control boards;
Institutionalise an appropriate civil administrative authority within pollution control boards to directly impose financial penalties on companies for certain categories of violation;
Develop a uniform nation-wide computerised system to collect, collate and disseminate monitoring, inspection, compliance and enforcement data;
Set up a mechanism to upgrade knowledge and skills of the staffs of pollution control boards at all level. Prescribe a national minimum training requirement for new recruits and mid-career training for the middle-level and senior officers.
This assessment we believe is critical as the country faces new and even more urgent environmental challenges.
This is even more important as we know that this is the time, after many years, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is considering possible institutional changes. It is proposing a revamp and setting up of national environment protection agency and state environment protection agencies. We believe this reform is not possible, unless we make changes in the internal structures and functioning of the current system. We cannot hope to fix what is wrong by creating yet another institution, without dealing with the current. We also very strongly believe that multiplicity of agencies will create more problems; it is better to restructure and reform existing institutions than to add new ones.