DELHI: William Lockhart , the emeritus professor of law at University of Utah’s SJ Quinney College of Law, has been studying India’s EC process for a long time. While studying how the proposed environment regulator is coming along, ET contacted Lockhart for an email interview to discuss the contours of the proposed environment regulator.

Q: What are your thoughts about this model? Can it make a sizable dent in improving environmental governance in India — in terms of project clearances and monitoring, for one?

A: I see this proposal as you have summarized it (or indeed as envisioned by the SC or the originating professors) as, at best, only slightly enhancing principled or rigorous environmental analysis or clearance decision making. While more rigorous analysis might be supported or encouraged by independence in the Regulator entity and the EACs, I fear that the present design would be disappointing. Provision for the Chairperson to be appointed by a committee headed by Cabinet Secy or Member can hardly give confidence when the Secys have currently insisted on all but completely overriding the process established by the regulations. And it is hard to believe that this arrangement will be approved without addition of a power in MOEF or Cabinet Secy to remove the Regulator. Moreover, the Regulator’s authority is easily undercut by the continuing grant of power for MOEF to reverse the outcome of the entire process, just as it can and does now even after the occasionally conscientious reports of the EACs. And while term appointments of the members might otherwise strengthen their hand, the vague authority to remove them (apparently at will and without criteria or process) ensures their ready responsiveness to political will.

Equally troubling is the prescription for improving the quality of assessments by creating “a new body, which can be subsumed into the regulator, which contains environmental information from various sources.” Unfortunately, this continues a romance with the idea that the assessment process can be put, more or less, on “automatic” — that it can be administered primarily with information at hand and thereby avoid the hard and contentious process of demanding adequate development of information pertinent to the specific circumstances and consequences of a project. A similar notion generated a similar concept in the professors’ study; namely that a catalogue of “terms of reference” for preparation of an assessment would ensure adequate analysis. But again, any effective assessment process requires TORs that are not only generated from the outset in part from local and developing knowledge, but also evolving responsively as new understanding of a project and its consequences become apparent.

In short, the notion that the process can be put on automatic, to be completed by an obedient clerk, simply reflects a “going through the hoops” notion of environmental analysis rather than a commitment to credible judgments about outcomes.

Courtesy: The Economic Times