Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Janakpur suffocates under pollution, whither green democracy?


The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. Albert Einstein 

Every year on Bibah Panchami, local governments and various organizations announce a flurry of cleanliness drives in Janakpurdham to celebrate the wedding anniversary of Lord Rama and Goddess Sita which attracts large crowds from both Nepal and India. The cleanliness campaigns gain media attention in December every year. But, by the end of December it appears that nothing is achieved; pollution remains a devil in the city of Goddess Janaki.

Bibah Panchami is considered as one of the ideal examples of how social, cultural, and marital bonding between Nepal and India has continued since time immemorial.  The top brasses, like President of Nepal and Ministers, show their presence in Janakpur to celebrate the religious function. However, the pollution remains. The capital city of Ancient Mithila looks like the capital of pollution where the natural environment and ecology seems to have been captivated by contamination.        

In fact, Janakpurdham is undergoing a severe environmental crisis. Some decades ago, water didn’t come in plastic gallons but was extracted through hand pumps. Fetching water from hand pump was an easy job. But, nowadays, hand pumps are almost dry and people rely on either water gallons or on water supply from the government agencies.

 An overpopulated city like Janakpur cannot survive rapid and unsustainable development, which badly harm the natural environment and public health. Janakpur dwellers very often see pigs roaming on the streets and people defecating in open spaces. Solid wastes whether collected from household, hospitals or institutions pose a serious impact on ecology of this religious city. Provincial Hospital, formerly Janakpur Zonal Hospital, which is a government-aided hospital, does not have proper mechanism for the disposal of wastes. Instead of establishing a proper disposal mechanism, the hospital dumps waste at 12-Bigha, an open space of historical importance, and drainages as dumping sites. The untreated waters and wastes released from hospital are widely thrown in 12-Bigha and nearby drainages.

The provincial government and local government have literally failed to restore beauty, sanctity and ecology of Janakpur, the capital city of Ancient Mithila. The governmental plans like beautification of 12-Bigha, cleansing of ponds, tree plantation and pollution-free campaigns remain on paper only.

Constitution envisages for a green democracy  

Constitutionally speaking, there are plethora of green laws incorporated under the national charter which upkeep the cause of green Republic. To mention a few, an individual's right to live in a clean environment (Article 30); clean water and hygiene (Article 35); food sovereignty (Article 36); the right of state to carry out the land reforms for bringing reformation in agriculture or environment protection (Article 25); or right of consumer to have quality foodstuffs and services (Article 44) are put in place to control or prevent any act or omission polluting or likely to pollute the environment.

The Central government under Schedule-V, entry 27, State governments under Schedule-VI entry 19, and both governments under Schedule-VII entries 12, 18 & 23  and local government under Schedule-VIII entries 9 (basic health and sanitation), entry 10 (local market, environment protection and biodiversity), 11 (agro-roads and irrigation), 19 (water supply and alternative energy), 20 (disaster management), and entry 21 (protection of watershed, wildlife, mines and minerals) have mandates to act on national ecology and of course, on sanitation, clean and healthy water, wildlife conservation or afforestation. Nevertheless, there are ways that they could partner with private citizens as well as non-government organizations (NGOs) for realizing the goals of environmentalism.

Moreover, the High Courts and Supreme Court are empowered to issue any directions, orders, determinations, or writs for the protection and promotion of environment. This way, the Constitution itself has made the right to live in a healthy environment as sanctum sanctorum of human rights.

The apex Court in the case of Surya Prasad Sharma Dhungel v Godavari Marble Industries Pvt Ltd was of the opinion that human life would be in danger in a polluted environment. This way, the Court pronounced that the protection of environment leads to protection of human life.   

Follow Public Trust Doctrine           

It's high time the state acknowledged the celebrated concept of ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ which states that the state has fiduciary duty of stewardship to environmental entity of public. The resources are held in trust for the benefit and use of general public of present and future generations. We have ample constitutional provisions relating to environment which empowers the state to activate the message of this doctrine.

Green laws contained under the Constitution and other environmental laws for the cause of green democracy need to be enacted. After all, Nepal deserves a green democracy too. In this direction, Janakpur could emerge as lamppost showing vivid paths for other municipalities of the republic.    

This doctrine was invoked by the top Court in the case of Yogi Narhari v. His Majesty Government of Nepal to prevent government from conveying public resources to private enterprises. In M. C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath (1997), the Supreme Court of India applied the public trust doctrine to combat water pollution. The Court considered that the government as a trustee of all natural resources must ensure that the natural environment by nature meant for public use and enjoyment. The Court concluded that the obligation on the state now extends to ecologically important values, such as preserving freshwater, wetlands and riparian forests.

More so, the Supreme Court of India in the case of MC Mehta v Union of India (1992) directed the Centre to issue directions to all the state governments and Union Territories to enforce through authorities a condition for license on all cinema halls to display no less than two slides/messages for free of cost on environment amid each show.  The Court has also directed the government to introduce green curricula from school to university education to fulfil the fundamental duties of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment. Interestingly, this ruling has come into effect and Environmental Science or Environmental Law has become a compulsory paper in all university courses in India.

Nepal too should adopt this practice. It's a daydream to envisage a pollution-free environment without public awareness and people’s commitment to combat against pollution.

This way, the decisions of the Court show that there is a dire need of striking a balance between regularity of development and environmental protection. So, there should be no anti-thesis between development and environmental protection. After all, development and clean environment both are essential requirements for a meaningful survival. The former gives a person means to survive while the latter provides reasons to celebrate with a good health.

What’s required?

Our existing laws don’t allow local governments to levy pollution fees or taxes on pollution emissions. Neither, Janakpurdham Sub-metropolitan, nor provincial government has issued any taxing schemes to regulate pollution emissions and then shut down those hospitals, hotels, shops or other trade, commerce or business that don’t comply with environmental protection guidelines. The local governments don’t have capacity to conduct pollution monitoring or scientific studies as they don’t have even a few environmental scientists and environmental lawyers to make a study. Every year, the local administration comes in action only during Bibah Panchami. They believe their job is over once they clean the streets to welcome the guests coming from Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama.

It’s very disappointing to see that cities like Janakpurdham, which holds deep religious significance from time immemorial, is among those places that are suffering the most adverse effects of pollution and the stripping of natural resources. The people in the region could sense the burn of environmental pollution: losses in agro-based industries and incomes; hunger and malnutrition and the associated pressure on the national life. Above all this, a person cannot live a dignified life in absence of a clean and healthy environment. Interestingly, Article 16 is the only fundamental right under the Constitution which has received (and will receive) the widest possible interpretation. This way, our life does not necessarily demand an exclusive biological presence but also the rights and amenities to live a dignified life.

Unambiguously, pollution is a business of shame in environment. Janakpur deserves to own the status of pollution-free city, for the land of Janak was fertile for knowledge, culture and literature, not for contamination.

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Published on 8 December 2020