The draft National Environment Policy (nep) released by the Union
ministry of environment and forest emphasises ‘polluter pays’,
‘cost-minimisation’ and market-based incentives for pollution control. A
logical follow up should be to vest stewardship of natural resources with
communities that are directly dependent on them. nep, however, falls short
here. This lacuna is glaring because most common resources in India
degenerate into open resources — over which local communities have very
Let’s take the case of forests
People who converted forests into agricultural land — and then into
residential or commercial land — received property titles, but those who let
the forests stand are now told that these forests belong to all people, not
just to them. This is grave injustice. nep does talk of mending matters and
giving legal recognition to forest dwellers’ traditional rights. So far, so
good. But then how exactly to recognise traditional rights? nep only has
trite suggestions of partnerships between communities and forest department
officials, and arguments to universalise Joint Forest Management (jfm).
Of course, jfm does encourage community participation. But it offers
communities no long-term stake in improving forests. Moreover, where is the
legal mechanism that guarantees revenue sharing between the forest
department and communities? jfm needs to move towards community forestry
management and recognise communities as custodians or stewards of forests.
The forest department should merely act as an advisor or consultant.
nep recognises that improper pricing policies for water, electricity and
fuels have led to water misuse. However, it does not clearly articulate the
way to rationalise these policies. It also fails to emphasise that pricing
is but a subset of the issue of the user rights to water.
A way to allocate water rights would be to firm up the system of ‘project
allocations’ used by the government today. Project authorities enter into
long-term contracts with municipal corporations and other government
agencies for supply of fixed quantities of water. These quantitative
allocations should be converted to legally enforceable proportional
allocations to water user associations. These rights should be tradable.
This approach is very different from the emerging practice of privatising
river waters by leasing several kilometres of them to private companies —
our method only formalises existing claims.
But what about families who cannot afford to pay? The government can either
decide on ‘free’ allocation per person or per family — then pay for that
water from the general tax revenue. This quota is for all — the rich as well
as the poor. Water consumed above this ‘free’ quota will have to be paid by
each family. As another recourse, the authorities can subsidise only the
poor and make the rich pay for every drop of water they consume.
nep omits any direct discussion on management of fisheries. Two approaches
that have been tested and have proved successful come to mind. One is
calculating maximum sustainable yield (msy) of a given area, and then
allocating all fisher families of this area an equal percentage of this msy.
T hese quotas should be tradable. The other method involves apportioning
stretches of the coast to fishing communities. These egalitarian methods
give fisher folk incentives to conserve the resources in their area.
Communities can organise themselves into cooperatives in order to regulate
fishing in the area over which they have rights. The fishery departments can
serve as advisors, putting into place stewardship norms in order to gauge
the performance of different cooperatives.
Economic growth necessitates direct or indirect use of environmental
resources, it also brings about better instruments for monitoring and
compliance. But we have been found wanting here. We need to put in place an
institutional framework that creates incentives for environmentally friendly
processes as well as guarantees — and expands — livelihood opportunities for
Parth J Shah is president and H B Soumya is research
associate at Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi