Recognize communities as trustees, custodians and shareholders of their local ecosystems and natural resources to ensure their sustainable and equitable management – across generations and species


In seven decades of independence India has become an increasingly resource-endangered nation. The extent and productivities of our natural ecosystems have declined, our biodiversity is depleting, two-thirds of the land is degraded, our water bodies are heavily polluted and air pollution in large parts of the country is unacceptable. The GDP growth-at-any-cost policies pursued by Central and State Governments after 1991 and their global partners have rapaciously expropriated common pool resources – water, forests, land and minerals – concentrating them in a few hands and ruining rural livelihoods, environment, ecology and its governance.

Articles 48A and 51A of the Indian Constitution require the State and the citizens respectively to protect the environment. The States and Union Governments have neither shown the requisite political will nor have they empowered citizens and communities to fulfil their Constitutional duty to protect the environment.

Various factors are responsible for the degradation of India’s ecosystems and natural resources (NR) despite several laws to protect them. Firstly, the prescribed legal penalties are not deterrent enough. Secondly, the responsible environmental regulation, conservation and pollution control agencies are not sufficiently independent and professional to be effective. Thirdly, in the name of improving “ease of doing business”, successive governments have diluted the laws and weakened the regulators. Finally, we have adopted an economic growth model that is incompatible with environmental protection.

We seek an alternative development model that enhances productivity, sustainability, equity; ensures transparent, accountable and decentralised governance; provides equitable access to natural resources while protecting India’s ecology and biodiversity, and helps fulfil the needs and aspirations for all Indians. Policies and laws must recognize communities as trustees and managers of their local ecosystems and NR. Pollution must be prevented at source, and wherever it exists the polluters must pay for harming the environment and human health. The political executive should enforce the laws rather than merely winking at the statutory violations committed by polluting businesses. Environmental agencies must be restructured to primarily support communities to manage the environment.

Action Points:

11.1 Establish an independent and empowered Environment Commission, along the lines of the Environmental Protection Authority mandated by the Supreme Court in the Lafarge judgement, to lay down environmental standards and regulations and ensure their compliance.

11.2 Legally empower relevant local assemblies like gram sabhas, mohalla sabhas, tribal councils to be part of decision-making, monitoring, enforcement and redressal structures to improve environmental governance.

11.3 Enact comprehensive legislation within two years to recognize communities as trustees, custodians and shareholders of their natural resources, and to involve communities in biodiversity conservation by empowering them to conserve and govern their local ecosystems and natural resources, with legally mandated tenure, rights and responsibilities over them, as in the Forest Rights Act. Restructure the Forest Department and other relevant agencies to service such governance.

11.4 Establish appropriate autonomous structures to regenerate and protect groundwater resources and urgently enact a law, based on the draft Dr. G. D. Agrawal helped prepare in 2012, establishing an autonomous agency to conserve and protect the rivers of India.

11.5 Significantly increase the number of air quality monitoring stations in highly polluted areas for adequate real-time data generation and strengthen the regulatory agencies to model this data and ensure implementation of appropriate pollution control strategies.

11.6 Adopt a national energy policy for phased shift to decentralized and renewable energy over the next fifteen years and nationalize oil and gas.

11.7 Enact appropriate legislation to incentivise the manufacture and use of public transport and non-motorised private vehicles and disincentivise the manufacture and use of private cars based on their real economic and ecological costs.