The media report that most of the environment ministry’s Environment Supplement Plan is a lift from a similar report prepared by a United States agency is both shocking and embarrassing. It is shocking because officers at the highest level in government thought fit to do such a thing, when we, Indians, already have a bad reputation in this regard.
Many of our well-known scientists and writers have been accused of plagiarising in the past. Part of the damage could have been undone if an acknowledgement had been made in the text. And it is embarrassing because the administration has steered clear of the matter by saying only the idea was borrowed and ‘nothing was copied’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Looking at the first part of the administration’s position that only ideas were taken from the US text, some questions do come up. First, it is the orientation of the two reports. Assuming that in some areas the environment problems in the US and those in India overlap, there can be a case for a synergy of ideas. While it is widely known that as environment degradation is partly a technological outcome worked upon by human labour, the way out of the mess created from the time of the first industrial revolution is also technology. If an entrepreneur wishes to go ahead with his project without environmental clearance and seeks to undo the damage through environmentally remedial measures, law could be suitably amended to allow him do so. Under the present legislation, such a thing is punishable with imprisonment. The Environment Supplement Plan can be broadened to make it similar to trading in carbon credits, which lets a country get credit if it is able to keep its carbon emissions below a level and then sell it to other countries.
Coming to the more difficult part of implementation and fine-tuning the plan in accordance with our requirements, it can be said that our laws should kick in once the amnesty period offered to an entrepreneur for a temporary reprieve from legislation expires. Next comes the question of calculating the damage caused to the environment and public health. Since there are various methods of calculating this damage, there could be disputes on this, with the ever-present possibility of cases getting piled up in our over-burdened courts. Hence only those projects that lend themselves to a reasonable level of quantification may be tried under the Environment Supplement Plan.