Examine and highlight the genuineness of the alternative of ‘federalism’ among the issues related to environmental governance.

Question – The people and environment of India are paying the price for its lax and weak governance. Critically examine and highlight the genuineness of the alternative of ‘federalism’ among the issues related to environmental governance. 2 March 2022

AnswerEnvironmental governance is a concept in political ecology and environmental policy that advocates sustainability (sustainable development) as the supreme consideration for the management of all human activities—political, social and economic.

Issues related to environmental governance in India

  • Issues of environment governance are reiterated by a high-level committee set up the environment ministry in 2014. Like the Water Act, which was implemented in 1974, a number of laws and regulations have been existing for more than four decades, but now are proving to be ineffective.
  • Today three out of five probationary rivers across the country are polluted. Most of our solid waste is unprocessed even in the wealthiest regions of the country – 90% in Maharashtra and 48% in Delhi.
  • Three-quarters of India’s population lives in areas where air pollution (PM2.5, the most harmful pollutant) exceeds the Indian national standard, which itself is four times higher than the global standard. In fact, 72 of 640 districts in the northern belt have emissions more than 10 times worse than the global standard.
  • A recent Global Environmental Quality Performance Index- 2020 ranked India 168th out of 180 countries for being unable to improve its air quality, protect its biodiversity, and cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
  • India has several rules and guidelines to control air pollution, but they aren’t put to good use. Coal-based power plants continue to be the major source of air pollution in the country, as more than 300 coal thermal power plants still violates emission standards.


  • Soil deterioration: Soil and land deterioration reduces its capacity for capturing, storing and recycling water, energy and food.
  • Environmental funding is not self-sustaining, so resources have to be turned from problem-solving to funding battle.
  • Interdependencies among development/sustainable economic growth, trade, agriculture, health, peace and security.
  • International imbalance between environmental governance and trade and finance programs, e.g., World Trade Organization (WTO).
  • Poor coordination across government agencies, weak institutional capacity, lack of access to information, corruption and stifled civic engagement.
  • Coal-based power plants continue to be the major source of air pollution in the country.

Steps taken by the government and laws formulated are as follows:

  • The Energy Conservation Act of 2001: The Energy Conservation Act, 2001 is the most important multi-sectoral legislation in India and is intended to promote efficient use of energy in India.
  • The Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000.
  • Environmental (Protection) Act of 1986: The Act is an “umbrella” for legislations designed to provide a framework for Central Government, coordination of the activities of various central and state authorities established under previous Acts, such as the Water Act and the Air Act, The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981is an Act of the Parliament of India to control and prevent air pollution in India.

Environmental Federalism, and Practice in India: Environmental Federalism refers to the decentralization of policy decisions on environmental issues to local regions with greater autonomy in theory and practice.

Basing on the national environment laws passed by the Parliament, States in India have also passed various types of laws for the protection and preservation of environment as enshrined under State list.

It was with the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment that a clear devolution of power was given to panchayats and the concept of environmental federalism took its shape in addressing the concerns on environment.

The 11th Schedule of the constitution gives powers to the panchayats in social and farm forestry, minor forest produce, water management, soil erosion, fuel and fodder. The 12th Schedule of the constitution gives powers to the municipalities in protection of environment, sanitation, public health etc.

Community participation and partnership along with the decentralisation of government power to local communities are important aspects of environmental governance at the local level.

Steps needed for strengthening the environmental governance:

  • Strengthening the scientific basis for decision-making by supporting national, sub-regional and regional institutions in carrying out integrated environmental assessments and state of environment reporting.
  • Facilitating access to environmental data and information, and supporting indicator development and networking.
  • Early warning of emerging threats: timely identification and vulnerability assessment of emerging environmental threats.
  • Building and strengthening capacity on integrated environmental assessment, early warning and information systems.
  • Capacity building of institution responsible for environmental protection.

Hence, there is need for combining effective regulation, behavioral change and technological solutions to meet multiple social and ecological objectives.

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