Responding to rampant sand mining in Noida, the ministry for environment and forests (MoEF) announced that a team would be sent to “crackdown on illegal sand mining under the Environment Protection Act”. A committee to enquire into the adverse environmental impact of the alleged illegal sand mining in Gautam Budh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh has since been put into action from August 6.
It is pertinent to note here that neither the central authorities nor any of the states have raised the matter of the Biological Diversity Act in the context. Biodiversity conservation is already something central and state governments are tasked to do under this law.
Apart from specific agencies, the central-level National Biodiversity Authority, or the state-level biodiversity boards and local-level biodiversity management committees have their roles to play in this legal framework. The main objectives of the Act include conservation of biological diversity and sustainable use of its components. Yet the decade-old Biological Diversity Act and its implementing Rules of 2004, have been sparingly invoked in such situations.
Last year in October, India hosted the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) — the parent international treaty for which the Act was legislated. At the CBD meetings, the environment minister had also made express mention of the idea of ‘biodiversity impact assessment’.
Voluntary Guidelines on Biodiversity-inclusive Impact Assessment were endorsed by all member countries of the CBD, including India in 2006. These need to be translated into real practice. The ministry is aware that there will be resistance from industry for yet another bureaucratic clearance.
Yet unless the biodiversity law and its rules and regulations are internalised in the everyday decision-making of other ministries and departments, there is little hope for both conservation and those taking pro-biodiversity decisions. In this respect, it might be useful for the committee, the regional office of the MoEF in Lucknow and those acting upon its findings, to make full use of the potential of the country-wide biodiversity regulatory regime that is in place.
Every state in India has a biodiversity board. For instance, the Uttar Pradesh State Biodiversity Board was set up on September 20, 2006. Its headquarters is in Lucknow. Among the 28 state boards, 18 have state-level Biological Diversity Rules, at least on paper.
Uttar Pradesh too has its own State Biodiversity Rules notified on April 9, 2010. According to those rules, the board has wide-ranging powers and functions to undertake activities for biodiversity conservation in the state and also to provide technical assistance and guidance to other departments of the state government to do likewise.
While environmental issues are raised to voice the concerns of those either voiceless or powerless, those in power need to heed the call. The various administrative functionaries whether of the Centre or the states need to factor in biodiversity considerations much more.
Good governance is also green governance; it cannot be realised by undermining biodiversity concerns. It is, therefore, high time that the biodiversity legislation is reinstated, rather than being ignored or seen as an unnecessary hindrance in decision-making on natural and biological resources. Moreover, those taking pro-biodiversity decisions need to be duly recognised and encouraged.
Shalini Bhutani is a lawyer and researcher and she co-coordinates the pan-India Biodiversity Campaign
The views expressed by the author are personal