A justice system that is non-existent – 09 Mar 2023

We require an environmental justice system that is able to understand environment in terms that it naturally deserves

Unless we realise environmental degradation is criminal, there would be no viable way out of this quagmire that is so densely consuming us. To criminalise something, it would require some substantive and procedural processes which hint at creating a Justice System. Can the current criminal and civil justice system, meant to decide disputes amongst peoples, be applied to doing justice between the Man and his Habitat or do we not require a fair enough environmental justice system?

US Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as a system that adopts the whole-people approach regardless of their contexts to consider giving environment a ‘fair treatment’ and the peoples ‘meaningful involvement’ in contributing and partaking their veracious roles ‘to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies’. It binds the parties together, environment on the one end and peoples on the other, creating the curvature of Man-Environment; it outlays at the highest strategic juncture the broad constitutional-like roles of the peoples towards Environment; and, it provides a model of connectivity between the two ailing sides. In short, it provides the pillars of an environmental justice system.

Of all the Environmental Protection Acts of the provinces and that of the ICT, there are provisions for punishing with imprisonment or such financial sums as to the violators of environmental serenity but nothing such that could ensure environmental justice being done as per its essence as defined by the US-EPA. To an even more intellectual astonishment, all of the aforesaid Acts do contain a provision to the effect that anyone who contravenes the provisions of those laws (Environmental Protection Acts) will be responsible for restoring the environment to the condition that prevailed before the contravention up to the ‘satisfaction’ of the concerned Environmental Protection Agencies. How and in what manner this ‘satisfaction’ will be measured is not provided in the laws.

The environmental acts do provide environmental tribunals but decisions there are made on the criminal and civil laws which are good enough to the restraining end but restrain is no-justice done. Since there are no substantive or procedural bases for criminalising the environmental degradation, the tribunals are helpless or legally harkened enough to cause the environmental justice.

This brings us to realise we do require an environmental justice system of a sort that is able to understand environment in terms that it naturally deserves.

Firstly, the question of whether it is both intellectually and administratively wise enough to rely on the constitutionally devolved subject of environmental or will it be more of material worth that it be commanded from a well-coordinated and participatory singularity. Since devolution, the provinces have recessed poles apart. The Centre is still responsible for implementing the international environmental treaties but at home it faces the question of disillusioned environmental devolution.

Secondly, the environmental acts need whole hearted revisions to contain the intake from the climate change experts and the environmentalists. The laws should contain enough substantive provisions to actually criminalise environmental degradation. While doing this, the provisions of punishments must be set in such manner that it meets the environmental essence. While this is being done, the procedural provisions must also be embedded that would draw the whole grand skeleton of environmental justice system. This will demand a necessary rearrangement in environmental tribunals which are to be credibly formed being able to do justice on environmental laws.

Thirdly, at present, the environmental councils formed under the existing environmental acts are overwhelmingly conservative which should be made more liberal, and independent with at least two objects in view: grand opening up of the iron curtained public sector and accommodating the dissent and variety of professional opinion of sector specialists in giving their says an audibility in the decision-making apparatus of public sector.

Lastly, Environmental Protection Agencies are to be made more independent and free from the vicious claws of public sector bureaucracies. They need to be specialised agencies which they presently are entirely not.

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