As India celebrates 75th year of Independence, it looks at pursuing an inclusive and sustainable growth trajectory in the coming years. The Government has pledged to achieve net zero by 2070, with an aim to reduce India’s total projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes by 2030. Over the last 15 years, India has moved significantly ahead in the renewable energy space with an increase in the installed capacity from 10 GW to 160 GW.
The country is fast adopting electric mobility and is on its way towards 100% electrification of railways. To address the rising challenge of plastic waste, the Government banned the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of select single-use plastic items from 1 July 2022.
Climate change has become the most critical threat globally, forcing governments across the world to declare climate emergency and bring in new legislations with defined goals for achieving net zero. However, it is interesting to note that India’s sustainability journey began long time back. Pollution control, conservation of forests, revival of water bodies, protection of biodiversity and adoption of technologies that encourage recycling have been the focus areas for the Government since decades.
The Constitution of India, which came into force in 1950, stresses on the right to clean environment and puts the onus on the State, as well as on the citizens, through various Acts and Amendments such as Article 21, Article 38, Article 48A (42nd amendment) and Article 51A (g) (42nd amendment). Article 48-A of the Constitution clearly states that ‘the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.’
The Department of Environment was established in 1980 to ensure a healthy environment for all citizens of the country. In 1985, it became the Ministry of Environment and Forests and was renamed as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in 2014. The Ministry is responsible for formulating and enforcing environmental legislations and policies in India.
The period between 1970 and 1980 saw several laws and acts for environmental protection, such as the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, was one of the most significant legislations at that time as it was the first one to include rules to regulate environmental pollution and penalty for breaking the rules.
The Environment (Protection) Act, enacted in 1986 to protect the environment, empowers the Central Government to establish authorities charged with the mandate of preventing environmental pollution in all its forms and to tackle specific environmental problems in different parts of the country.
The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997 is another landmark legislation that came into existence in a bid to tighten the safeguards with respect to restriction of areas for industrial activity under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Subsequently, the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 was enacted to encourage the preservation of biological diversity in India and the National Environment Policy of 2006 was introduced to conserve critical environmental resources.
Through legislations such as National Forest Policy, 1988; National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992; Policy Statement for Abatement of Pollution, 1992 and National Environment Policy, 2006, the Ministry plans, promotes, co-ordinates and oversees the implementation of environmental and forestry policies and programmes for the conservation, preservation and protection of the environment.
In 2008, the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was launched by the Government of India. Implemented through 8 national missions on climate change, NAPCC outlines priorities for mitigation and adaptation to combat climate change.
As the country puts together a growth roadmap for the next milestone of India@100, it becomes critical to enhance the focus on sustainable development, climate action and mitigation.