[op-ed snap] The wrong approach to environmental regulation

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Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:Not much

Mains level: The recent decision decision of the SC on Diwali crackers is a hot topic of discussion these days. It is important to go through the issues related to this judgement.


News

Context

  1. The article talks about the recent SC order banning the sale of firecrackers in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR), which has expectedly turned into a controversy

There are two distinct issues that need to be separately analysed:
a) the scope of the state’s regulatory power vis-à-vis a religious celebration

  1. On this account, the matter is relatively clear
  2. The bursting of firecrackers releases a heavy dose of carcinogens in the atmosphere, presenting a public health challenge for the entire city
  3. As soon as it is clear that bursting of firecrackers by one person presents a health challenge to another, any argument of religion cannot reign supreme in a constitutional, secular republic

b) the agency of the state that such regulation should vest with

  1. The more difficult question is the choice between regulation
  2. The decision requires numerous inputs from scientific organizations, regulatory institutions, public policy experts and civil society
  3. Since a court of law does not have in-house expertise in these domains, it should leave such matters to the executive
  4. The Supreme Court delivered its arguments in the broader framework of the “right to breathe clean air” and the “right to health”
  5. But it went about dismissing the commercial considerations of the firecracker industry.
  6. These considerations could have equally been framed in terms of the right to livelihoods of thousands who depend heavily on the sale of firecrackers during Diwali

Possible harm to the credibility of the SC

  1. Bans are rarely effective
  2. It is difficult to imagine that no firecracker sale will happen in the entire territory of Delhi and NCR as a result of the SC order
  3. If the police fail to enforce the order, the credibility of the SC, particularly in cases of environmental regulation, will suffer immensely

Dealing of this matter by the SC

  1. The manner in which the SC has dealt with this particular case also raises a number of concerns
  2. It first passed an order on 11 November 2016 (after Diwali) banning the sale of firecrackers
  3. Then it partially lifted the ban on 12 September 2017
  4. To make matters worse, the court has ordered suspension of all the temporary licences issued after its 12 September 2017 verdict which allowed the grant of these licences

These kind of issues are not new

  1. In an earlier instance, the SC had increased the entry tax on trucks entering Delhi without factoring in the demand elasticity of goods (carried in those trucks) transported to Delhi

The way forward

  1. The elected government is in the best position to elicit scientific and economic inputs and take a call, even if it involves expending political capital
  2. The governments at the Centre and the states should involve different agencies like the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation and the pollution control boards and invest in setting regulatory standards
  3. This can solve environment issues, better than Judiciary
Air Pollution
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