Kota Sriraj We currently have many fines for various environmental offences but none of them are stiff enough, nor are they enforced stringently. This whole exercise is futile. India has no dearth of environmental problems and they seem to be mounting by the minute. Thankfully, there is no paucity of environmental protection laws and regulations in the country and the political will to enforce them. Ambitious Union Governments roll out environmental protection measures with impressive alacrity and the Centre’s efforts are complemented by institutions like the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The tribunal does a yeoman’s service to safeguard the environment by passing judgments and laws that seek to neutralise real time threats. However, in spite of all this, the country does not seem to emerge from the perpetual environmental crises it finds itself in: Be it air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination or ground water contamination, we have it all. So what ails our environmental scenario? Given that we make all the right moves on paper, one can only conclude that our nation is high on legislation and very low on compliance. Be it the ban on plastics, crop residue burning, waste segregation, adherence to the vehicle rationing odd-even scheme, littering, Indians seem to have a major problem listening to the Government or complying with the laws pertaining to environmental protection. This inherent disregard for rules seems to be ingrained in us to the extent that we are not even alarmed by the fact that this is worsening each day and will affect not just us but our children and the generations after them. No wonder India has the dubious distinction of being ranked as one of the most polluted countries in the world. According to a latest study by AirVisual and Greenpeace, seven of the 10 worst-polluted cities globally, are in India. Why is there such a major disconnect between environmental laws and the people’s intent to observe and comply with them? Why do we feel such an inexplicable satisfaction upon breaking a law as opposed to having a great feeling on adhering to it and doing our bit to save the environment? For instance, not long ago the Delhi Government had launched the waste segregation initiative and a good amount of public money was spent in installing two types of waste bins, one for recyclable materials and one for non-recyclable waste. Similarly, a substantial amount, too, was spent on creating awareness through advertising campaigns so that citizens would follow the segregation protocol. But, in spite of all this, none of the waste in Delhi’s households or public areas gets segregated. There is no success story here, nor any encouraging statistics. Predictably enough, the NGT has intervened to prevent the waste segregation initiative from failing and has set a one-year deadline for the civic bodies to fall in line and comply with the waste segregation guidelines. This has spurred the civic authorities into taking action and ensuring that segregation is done. This launch and re-launch of initiatives have ensured one thing and that is the people’s interest has been lost for good. Now nobody is interested, as everyone is of the opinion that every new initiative by the Government is just a passing fad, not realising that it was the lack of compliance by citizens that had caused the failure of the initiatives in the first place. So what is the solution? The answer lies in a penalty-backed compliance system, similar to the recently-tweaked Motor Vehicles Act. Before the current amendments to the Act, the fines for violations were marginal. For example, driving without a licence used to attract a fine of Rs 500. But under the new rules, the same offence now attracts a penalty of Rs 5,000 and this has caught the attention of the Indian motorist like never before. The result is that traffic violations have fallen sharply. Delhi alone witnessed a massive 79 per cent fall in traffic violations. Is this a cue for the Government? Is this how the common man will listen and fall in line and observe rules? It may actually work as financial penalties may act as the most effective deterrents and ensure much-needed compliance. The concept of penalty-backed compliance is not new in environmental conservation. We currently have many fines for various environmental offences but none of them are stiff enough nor are they enforced stringently.
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