When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, we will realize that we cannot eat money. It is interesting in this light to look at the observations made on the Earth Overshoot Day which has been taken as a reference point to understand the extent of natural resources we humans can exploit in a given year. The Earth Overshoot Day for 2019 was on 29th July which is a month before what it was the last year. In the context of such observations, the Central Government's draft policy titled the National Resource Efficiency Policy (Draft) 2019 is worth examining.
Overshoot quota for the year 2019 was exhausted as early as on 29th July 2019 which means every day in 2019 post 29th July, the natural resources used, would be eating into the Overshoot quota of 2020. Rightly called the Earth Overshoot Day, this day (changes each year) is a reminder on how anthropogenic pressures are causing resource overuse. Just to provide a glimpse of what we have caused, the first Earth Overshoot Day was in the year 1970 which fell on December 29. Over the past several years, the date has gradually moved up and this year we have set a new record of overusing the resources within the first 7 months of the year itself; the earliest ever. This means that humanity is currently using resources 1.75 times faster than our planet's ecosystems can regenerate, equivalent to 1.75 Earths.
Currently, we are interested in laying large railway networks; constructing huge storage dams; focussing on irrigation, etc. all of which involves massive pressure on land, water, air and the natural resources bound within these domains. For instance, between 2015 and 2019, the environment ministry gave permission to cut more than one crore trees in the name of development projects. Similarly, rampant encroachment of waterbodies to reclaim land for construction has been identified as a "major cause" of flash floods in Mumbai (2005), Uttarakhand (2013), Jammu and Kashmir (2014) and Chennai (2015) in the past one-and-half decades. Further, the excessive demands being placed on agriculture, leading to mono-cropping and fertilizer overuse, have their own dangers. Shortage faced in the construction sector due to over mining of minerals such as sand and steel is another major problem. The overexploitation and mismanagement of water leading to repeated 'Day Zero' scenario year after year is a glaring example of unsustainable use of natural resources by humans. If facts and figures are to be quoted twelve per cent of India's population is already living the 'Day Zero' scenario, due to excessive groundwater pumping, an inefficient and wasteful water management system.
While the natural resources get consumed in one way or other, we have paid very less attention to the issue of resource crisis. In this context, the concept of resource efficiency which calls for the use of natural resources in a sustainable manner, becomes relevant. This approach does not suggest limiting growth but provides a pathway to promote production using fewer natural resources. The Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all countries in 2015 recognise the need to address this issue, hence the focus on resource efficiency becomes all more relevant in light of the 'Day Zero' and 'Earth Overshoot Day' scenarios.
At the central level, acknowledging the need for resource efficiency, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (the nodal ministry) has introduced a draft on National Resource Efficiency Policy, 2019 (available for comments) based on the principles of:
- reduction in primary resource consumption to 'sustainable' levels, in keeping with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and staying within the planetary boundaries,
- creation of higher value with less material through resource-efficient and circular approaches,
- waste minimization,
- material security, and
- creation of employment opportunities and business models beneficial to the cause of environment protection and restoration.
Although a laudable step, it is unclear as to under which law the dedicated institution proposed to be constituted under the Policy 2019 i.e. the 'National Resource Efficiency Authority (NREA)' will be set up as it is beyond settled principles of administrative law that a Policy leads to constitution of an Authority which is the prerogative of the Parliament and State Legislatures. It would also be interesting to see whether this proposed Authority gets to exercise the same powers as prescribed under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (EPA).
Further the Policy stresses on 6Rs Principle (namely, reduce, reuse, recycle, refurbish, redesign and remanufacture) and claims it as key to drive resource efficiency. It is pertinent to note that the principle of Extended Producer's Responsibility (EPR) is already entrenched within the plastic waste and e-waste waste management rules of 2016 under the EPA. The same has also been recommended to be followed for end of life vehicles by vehicles manufacturers under the Guidelines of End of Life Vehicles of CPCB of November 2016.
However if we go by facts and figures reported currently, in India, over 90% of all Electronic waste is managed by the informal sector with negligible safety measures or scientific recycling techniques.Further, out of the total e-waste generated in India, only 20 per cent was documented to be collected properly and recycled, while there is no record of the remaining e-waste. The ratio of producers who have applied for EPR Authorization to those who have actually received the certificate is highly disproportional which serves as a disincentive for the producers to apply. While over 150 electronic producers have applied for EPR Authorization, 85 have received the authorization certificate.
Even under the Plastic Waste Rules the report card for implementation of the EPR is not good. A considerable amount of multi layered plastics (MLP) (basically all our tetra packs, chips and biscuit packets) are either being burnt or dumped into our oceans and landfills causing serious environmental hazard. In fact, if reports are to be believed, the plastic manufacturers especially the MLP manufacturers are yet to take any concrete steps in setting up a system for collection and channelling of their post-consumer packaging products. Be that as it may, since it is an initiative taken in the right direction with the right intent, the challenge at hand will be to incentivise the producers to recycle the materials as well as develop the informal sector responsible for waste management so as to set up a proper recycling infrastructure in the country.
Thus, while the Rules framed under the powers of the Environment Protection Act have failed in implementing the EPR provisions it would be interesting to see how a Policy achieves the implementation of EPR regime in our country. Further the Policy states that Action Plans will be prepared by NREA which will lay out distinct tasks for NREA and implementing sectors with specific milestones and deliverables. The same Authority has also been entrusted with the task of monitoring its progress on the deliverables and timelines and as history has witnessed, no authority has ever succeeded in monitoring its own self. It seems the framers forgot to follow the principle of natural justice which is nemo judex in sua causa meaning a person cannot be judge in his own cause.
Given the resource crunch that is being faced in the country balanced with our need for growth, a major shift in not only in our consumption patterns but also our governance process is required. More awareness and sensitivity towards the environment would be the key to efficient use of natural resources. It is a difficult objective to achieve, however, this new policy if and when it comes about, presents a refreshing opportunity for change.
[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the authors. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of LiveLaw and LiveLaw does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]