A Four-Week Immersive Online Introductory Certificate Training Course on “Fundamentals of Public Policy,” an Online Spring School Program was hosted by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, during the timespan of 3rd March to 25th March 2023. The program included an insightful and enriching discussion delivered by eminent speakers, where the late Shri Manoj Misra presented on the topic “Environment and Public Policy”. The session was opened with introductory and welcoming remarks from Professor Mukul Asher and was further moderated by him.
Professor Mukul Asher, currently a Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, drew a well-articulated introduction related to how public policy and the environment are correlated, which is why science should play a significant role in bringing about progress. He also addressed how the 15th Finance Commission has mentioned that India should have its primary attention towards urban and rural bodies, further indicating why policy plays an important role in the protection of the environment. Professor Asher concludes with the urgent requirement for recognising both public policy and environmental problems and officially opens the panel to the audience.
Misra’s Notion on Public Policy and Environment
The first speaker had been Late Shri Manoj Misra, a forester by profession, being in the Indian Forest Service for over 22 years in the undivided Madhya Pradesh. He spoke on the topic “Environment and Public Policy” to indicate how these two aspects have prevailed throughout history and even now at a national and international level.
He begins by offering the audience a general introduction to both public policy and the environment. According to him, public policy is a statement or a group of statements by state governments or international agencies. Its main function is to restrict, regulate or facilitate public behaviour towards a declared social or economic goal/s. They are usually constitutional in nature or can be discovered in the forms of laws, court judgements and government schemes. The environment can be defined as all that surrounds natural or dynamic and man-made or static elements.
After that, Mr Misra refers to the history of how environmental issues have received political significance worldwide. Environmental issues first entered the public policy discourse during the Second World War (1945) and an era (the 1950s,1960s, and 1970s) of fast economic growth and infrastructural development with several scientific and technological advancements.
Academically, the environment as a concern was addressed by Rachel Carson in her work, The Silent Spring” where ill-effects of the use of pesticides and insecticides were signified for the first time. The key players in such environmental movements have been the United Nations, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Wide Fund.
The 1970s can be identified as a “watershed decade” due to the rise and widespread morals related to environmental consciousness. Mr Misra emphasised prominent events such as the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the 1972 Stockholm Conference and the 1992 Earth Summit: indicating the rise of a worldwide consciousness related to the topic. Mentioning other events, he focussed on the current decade of 2021-2030, referring to it as the “Make or Break Decade” as it deals with the restoration of the Ecosystem.
The recent environmental developments made Mr Manoj Misra shift to the topic of Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to bring about social and economic benefits to the environment’s health. The UN’s Environment Challenge in the 2030 Agenda has focused on reducing environmental risks and increasing the resilience of societies and the environment as a whole.
He cited the example of the UN 2023 Water Conference, where it was discussed that by 2050, an estimated six billion people would face water scarcity due to factors such as climate change, water scarcity and pollution. He also referred to how with such a problem in mind, the governments of Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico, and Zambia formed a Consortium to launch the “Freshwater Challenge”, which aims to restore 300,000 km of rivers and 350 million hectares of wetlands by 2030.
Mr Misra further provided a greater insight related to how India has been and is currently combatting environmental problems with its public policies. Starting from the 1952 Forest Act to the 2006 National Environmental Policy (NEP), he tried to indicate how there have been significant changes in that timespan but no further attention in recent times. The present NEP 2006 focuses on environmental concerns related to their degradation through the actions of humans. So its objectives are the conservation of critical environmental resources, intra and inter-generational equality and efficiency in environmental resources.
In order to implement these objectives, good governance is required. According to the speaker, municipalities should take measures to report their environmental performance to their governing bodies annually. A consideration related to the creation of a National Environment Restoration Fund is required to remove toxic and hazardous waste legacies. There have also been talks about establishing action plans and much more.
As a follow-up, Mr Misra referred to vital points such as undertaking consultations every three years with diverse stakeholders, conducting examinations of employees in terms of scientific and technical issues and lastly, the requirement of a new NEP. The ideal years for new policies would have been in around 2015 and 2024, which has not yet been the outcome, according to the speaker. This can only be implemented if the Cabinet is requested to review the implementation of NEP once a year and work on the findings.
The case study of River Yamuna was brought into the limelight, suggesting how it is high time that environment and public policy should be worked on simultaneously. Over 3500 MLD of sewage and 20,000 truckloads of debris and municipal solid waste have been retrieved from the river.
Mr Manoj Misra concludes by bringing up the notion of “The World is One”. He focused on how no policy can be national and will always have global implications for all actions at different levels. His suggestions were that environmental policies must locate themselves within SDGs and NGOs should play the roles of enunciators in the domain of public policy.
The presentation ended with an insightful QNA session with a general agreement on how governments should bring about more stringent public policies and how citizens of the country should be concerned about its environment.
Read more session reports from Day 1 of Fundamentals of Public Policy.
Upasana Dasgupta is a Research Intern at IMPRI.