REG NO.: E/20934/Ahmedabad | IT PAN:  AACTP8594L | 80G No.:   80G(5)389/PM/2016-17/587 | 12AA: AACTP8594L/713/15-16/T-917/12AA | GUIDESTAR NO: 6907

Creation of Eco- Development Fund

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Legal intervention for the setting up of an Eco- Development Fund for betterment of communities living around & affected by the industries.

Background

In the constant effort to control pollution & protect the environment, government introduces, from time to time, laws & guidelines to prevent, monitor, control the pollution and penalize the establishments that pollute environment. Various laws & amendments therein have been hence made over the years.

The 1994 notification made it mandatory for industries to undergo Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study, followed by obtaining the Environmental Clearance (EC) from the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) or State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), subject to their schedule.

The 1997 notification further gave teeth to this system of compliance with environmental norms by making it mandatory for industries to conduct Environmental Public Hearing (EPH). This became a tool in the hands of people & other stakeholder groups to make industries & concerned authorities accountable for clean environment.

However, several industries continued to expand and/or build new business without having undertaking Environment Impact Assessment and/or a public hearing, thus openly violating the environmental norms set through environmental Acts.

The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), through a circular on 14 May 2002, directed all State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) to send notices to all such defaulting units to apply for environmental clearance ex-post facto not later than 31 March 2003 and to submit action taken reports to the ministry by 30 April 2003.

Importantly, the circular directed all such units to earmark a separate fund for eco-development measures including community welfare measures in the project areas. It even set norms for this earmarking, based on the amount invested in the units.

(This circular with new deadlines for units to obtain ex-post facto EC was issued after three previous warnings to the industries to do so.)

Following is the case for ensuring the implementation of 1994 & 1997 notification orders and for proper utilization of funds allotted by post-effecto project, by industries as well as government officials. This case is also an example of constant perusal with government authorities in ensuring setting up of a system

The case

Despite the notifications in place, the industries over looked this notification and continued with their expansion & new projects, with due permissions from GPCB, SEIAA & other state agencies.

The laws were bypassed with ease under the eyes of state officials and industries bothered neither to take environmental clearance nor organize public hearing. The industries continued to pollute environment & obtain clean chits too.

Also, the industries had been contributing to environmental pollution but did not do anything for welfare or development of the community who faced the harmful impact of their industry’s pollution, to set off this negative impact on environment & people.

Strategy & Procedure

Paryavaran Mitra brought this contravention by industries & state agencies to the notice of MoEF, citing the examples of certain industries and requested for desirable action. This contravention was widespread and would prove difficult to move the industries & state agencies to comply with the orders of both notifications.

The strategy was constant perusal, keeping the MoEF in loop, getting the High Court & the central ministry to put pressure on industries & state agencies, having an updated information & a close monitoring so that there was no leeway to escape with lapses in the process.

Procedure for Public Hearings

  1. A final warning from the Ministry stirred action and the industries & government authorities responded. A number of public hearings were conducted in a short span of time at the district collector office. To say, the public hearings were not ‘conducted’ but herded.
  2. A final warning from the Ministry stirred action and the industries & government authorities responded. A number of public hearings were conducted in a short span of time at the district collector office. To say, the public hearings were not ‘conducted’ but herded.
  3. Added to this was the very unfortunate cauldron of communal riots that were unleashed in the state of Gujarat, and Ahmedabad was one of the worst hit places, during the same period as these public hearings were herded. Paryavaran Mitra made objection to the hearings being conducted in Ahmedabad in such dreadful environment and requested the High Court (mention the application here) to change the venue of public hearings. Paryavaran Mitra argued that the situation in the city was unsafe & hostile and so not favorable to conduct the hearings. The court ordered to move the venue of public hearings from the office of the collectorate to Vatva, which is an industrial area. Thus the ‘mass’ public hearings were conducted in Vatva.
  4. While the court consented to change in the venue, it did not accept the request to postpone the public hearings. Paryavaran Mitra had asked for postponement of the public hearings on the grounds that it would buy in the time for the information to reach as many people as possible and for all concerned parties to debate & respond appropriately.
  5. The court though rejected this appeal, it made the proviso allowing for sending complains/ opinions/ remarks in writing after completion of the hearings. Though not as effective, yet the court did make an allowance for the hurried conduction of public hearings.
  6. Therefore in the rush to conclude public hearings, the essence of the system was lost and the directions of the ministry were followed only for the namesake.Procedure for Eco-Development Fund
  7. The MoEF, in a circular dated 27/06/2003, amending the circular dated 14/05/2002, provided that the amount of Eco-Development Fund should be deposited with State Pollution Control Board instead of the Ministry. The units were required to submit the action plan as to how would they use the said fund also with State Pollution Control Board.
  8. Paryavaran Mitra collected information from various environmental clearance letters that till 2004, about 15 units were granted ex-post facto clearances & they made contribution to the Eco Development Fund in GPCB and this amounted to huge sum of money. RTI Act was used to gather this information.
  9. The GPCB further made the system for operating the fund. According to the system the industries would themselves draw up plans for the community welfare & development in their respective areas and submit that to GPCB which would be vested with the authority to disburse the fund.
  10. The GPCB further made the system for operating the fund. According to the system the industries would themselves draw up plans for the community welfare & development in their respective areas and submit that to GPCB which would be vested with the authority to disburse the fund
  11. The GPCB further made the system for operating the fund. According to the system the industries would themselves draw up plans for the community welfare & development in their respective areas and submit that to GPCB which would be vested with the authority to disburse the fund
  12. The organization also wrote to the Director of District Rural Development Authority (DRDA) to intervene in the matter & help in ensuring the constitution of an appropriate committee to operate the said fund.
  13. The organization also wrote to the Director of District Rural Development Authority (DRDA) to intervene in the matter & help in ensuring the constitution of an appropriate committee to operate the said fund.
    1. Paryavaran Mitra, in the petition, cited the various information available and argued that this money should be put to proper use for the welfare of people which would not be possible with the present system. It demanded that the committee to operate the Eco-Development Fund should constitute of the following members:

     

    • The collector/ nominee of the collector as chairperson
    • Regional officer of the State Pollution Control Board as member secretary.
    • One of the representative of the department of Environment & Forest
    • One of the senior citizen of the District level Environment Public Hearing Committee
    • One of the representative of the Project Authority.
    • One of the representative of DRDA
    • One of the representative of the local self government (Panchayat)
    • One of the active local leader of the village
    • Representative of an NGO.

     

    This committee should prepare the action plan for the eco development measures & community welfare. Because these members are associated with the environment clearance process and are well aware about the present environmental status of their regions. With formation of such committees, environmental clearance process will become more transparent and also proper monitoring of the eco-development activities will be possible.

  14. As a result of the petition, the court directed GPCB that applicant be heard on this matter & their suggestion be considered in the formation of the committee of the Eco-Development Fund.
  15. That’s where the court has left it, and Paryavaran Mitra will now take it ahead from here in ensuring that an appropriate team is put in place to screen the proposals & disburse funds for the community welfare & development activities carried out by the industries.

Outcome & Impact

The outcome can be seen in the sheer fact that industries applied for environmental clearance & conducted Environmental Public Hearings in a short span of time and such pending cases were cleared in lots.

The immediate & positive action of the MoEF sent strong signals to the state department as well as industries had a positive impact. Such incidents of mass clearances of pending cases are not very frequent to see in our scenario.

A very clearly visible impact was the setting up of Eco-Development Fund to be utilized for community welfare & developmental activities. The idea, promoted by Paryavaran Mitra, was accepted by the MoEF, who not only gave its consent to its setting up, but also agreed that it should be vested with a state level agency to make it more effective.

The court’s order that an appropriate committee should be set up to screen & approve the plans of industries under the Eco-Development Fund (which also legitimizes such a committee) further strengthens this impact.

Such marked systemic outcome had dual impact. It not only added quality to the process (of the campaign to implement environmental laws) but also put in place a clear structure to carry out the transparent, participatory & accountable process of implementing Eco-Development Fund activities.

Socio- Economic-Ecological Gains

Socio- Economic Benefits: The Eco-Development Fund will be used for community welfare & developmental activities. This will give social as well as economic benefits to people who live in the surrounding the industries.

By contributing to this fund & by carrying out the community development, industries will also fulfill their corporate social responsibilities. On one hand this will give social & economic benefits to people and on the other hand it contributes to strengthen the social system of industries/ corporate houses investing resources for betterment of communities.

This is, however, subject to how the fund is structured & operated. After the High Court direction that GPCB should hear the applicant on this matter & their suggestion should be considered in the formation of the committee of the Eco-Development Fund, Paryavaran Mitra has decided to take it further to set up the fund in right spirit.

Paryavaran Mitra envisages that there should be representation of people from different fields including government departments such as DRDA which have their own programs & schemes for rural/ urban development. An appropriately represented committee is a pre requisite for effective functioning of this fund & to achieve its objective.

  • People from different fields will bring varied expertise & background in giving inputs/ suggestion while screening the proposals submitted by the industries.
  • It will ensure transparency in the working of this system as there is a scope of conflict of interests, and will lend it credibility & trust.
  • This will help to achieve a very important objective of integrating the resources available with various government & non-government agencies for community development. Resources available in the fund can be utilized stand alone, or can be integrated with other resources of other agencies, whichever will be more effective and can give optimum benefits for people. This can be best judged by the multi disciplinary committee of the Eco-development Fund with whom the sanctioning powers should be ideally vested.

 This is what is proposed & envisaged by Paryavaran Mitra

Rationale: Why Paryavaran Mitra took up the case?

Adhering to the circular issued by the MoEF, many industries applied for Environmental Clearance & contributed to the Eco-Development Fund with GPCB. However, there was no reliable and transparent system in place to utilize this fund which was available for carrying out welfare & development programs for people. The existing system of industries submitting their plan of action for utilization of this money & GPCB approving/ disapproving it had ample loopholes for misuse or squandering of money.

Therefore, Paryavaran Mitra made an effort to put in place a system which could assure appropriate utilization of resources that were being operated in public realm.

There was the issue of accountability of GPCB which is a public authority towards those for whom this money was planned to be used. Therefore it was important that there was accountability & transparency in the dealing of this fund.

Most importantly this money was earmarked for the betterment of people affected by the pollution emanated by the respective industries. Hence it was of utmost importance that this money was planned & utilized in the most appropriate way giving most effective result to the people.Also, if this Eco-Development Fund could be established & managed effectively in transparent & accountable manner, this would set precedence in the area of working out collaborative systems by the government, industries, NGOs & civil society towards social development.

These were the objectives behind Paryavaran Mitra intervening to ensure setting up of an accountable, transparent & meaningful Eco-Development Fund.

Terms to be explained:

  1. Ex- post factoLatin for “after the fact,” which refers to laws adopted after an act is committed making it illegal although it was legal when done, or increasing the penalty for a crime after it is committed. Such laws are specifically prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9. Therefore, if a state legislature or Congress enacts new rules of proof or longer sentences, those new rules or sentences do not apply to crimes committed before the new law was adopted.
  2. District Rural Development Agency (DRDA)

    DRDA is a society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. The DRDA is the principal administrative organ at the district level to oversee the implementation of different anti poverty programs of the central as well as state government. The DRDA is headed by a Project Director, who is of the rank of an Additional District Magistrate.


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