Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Time to energize local bodies for restoration of ecosystem

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In a step toward curbing environmental pollution, there is a genuine need of environment decentralization for a climate resilient future. The institutions of local self government could play a significant role in promoting better living standards for the whole local community with active participation.

While celebrating the World Environment Day (WED) this year on 5 June, we need to mobilize, motivate and energize the local governments to play a crucial role in repairing the country’s environment so that future generations will have a better and secure future in Nepal. From Kathmandu to Janakpur to Birgunj, our cities have been enlisted as the most polluted ones. People living in the metropolitan cities and other municipalities know this more than anyone else. The WED has become a global platform for the countries to reach out to the public with an aim of emphasizing importance of actions needed to improve natural environment.

Mandates for local government

If sustainable development has to become a national priority, we must rethink about major reforms, including environment decentralization for a climate resilient future. In this context, the Local Government Operation Act, 2074 BS (2017) hosts a plethora of provisions where the local units have been conferred with the power to enact laws, policies and other measures at their competence for the protection and promotion of green democracy. Under Section 11(2(i), local bodies have been vested with power to adopt and enact measures to contain pollution and to ensure clean water and breath of fresh air. Local governments are entitled to bring policy measures for waste management in coordination and cooperation with private citizens, NGOs and other organizations.

Local governments are entitled to bring policy measures for waste management in coordination and cooperation with private citizens, NGOs and other organizations.

In addition to this, local governments could adopt policies and laws regarding the conservation of ecology, biodiversity, environmental risk reduction, pollution, and reduction of carbon emissions [Section 11(2)(j)]. However, there are provisions which suggest that the local bodies would have to act in pursuance of the Centre and Province. Section 11(4)(e) envisages that the local bodies may adopt laws, policies and other measures for the protection and conservation of biodiversity, forest and environment in line with the central and provincial laws. The law empowers local governments to make policy, rules, measures for managing, protecting and promoting forests, biodiversity, migratory species, flora and fauna, monuments of historical importance, and to maintain record in their respective jurisdiction. In doing so, local bodies could come up with a detailed report about the number of monuments, flora and fauna, forests and the overall situation of environment in their jurisdiction.

Moreover, Section 62B of the Act, 2074 provisions that the community forest consumer committee shall prepare an annual working plan regarding the sale and use of timber and other forest-produce and the said working plan has to be submitted before the local unit concerned for the approval. 

Constitutionally speaking, the Schedule-VIII of the 2015 Constitution of Nepal enumerates entries, like basic health and sanitation; environment protection and biodiversity; and protection of wildlife, watersheds, mines and minerals, on which local units are empowered to legislate laws for their respective jurisdiction for the conservation of ecology.

Importantly, the WED is people’s day for doing something really good for the environment. The provincial and local governments could be directed by the Centre to prepare and publicly disclose a plan for air and solid waste management and prepare a report annually to demonstrate the progress on that plan. The central government could also formulate a policy that says the government would block grants allocated for the provincial and local governments if they fail to implement green laws enacted for ensuring hygienic environment.

World Environment Day in history

The 1972 Stockholm conference on Human Environment laid the foundation for the Environment Day celebration world over. Since 1974, it has become a global platform to declare that pollution is a business of shame in environment. The first WED was held with theme of “Only One Earth” in 1974. The milestone was set by 1972 Stockholm Declaration which met at Stockholm from June 5 to 16 with 114 nations participating. A home to 26 principles, Stockholm declaration emphasizes on the control of pollution and conservation of natural resources.

In 1987, the idea of rotating the centre of environmental activities under different themes by selecting different host countries began. This year, the world is observing WED under the theme of “Ecosystem Restoration”. Last year, WED was hosted by Columbia in partnership with Germany under the theme of “Time with Nature”. Similarly, in 2019, WED was hosted by China and theme was “Beat Air Pollution”. In 2018, India was honoured to host WED with theme of “Beat Plastic Pollution”.

Pakistan is hosting this year’s WED with a pledge of planting 10 billion trees to restore over one million hectares of forest across the country.

An added responsibility lies on Pakistan to plan a better future environment since the Islamic Republic has been declared as global host by the United Nations for 2021 Environment Day celebration. Pakistan is hosting this year’s WED with a pledge of planting 10 billion trees to restore over one million hectares of forest across the country. In 2020, Imran Khan-led Pakistan government had announced that the daily wagers and construction workers, who had lost their job due to COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, would be engaged in planting billions of trees across the country.

What’s the need of hour?

The governments at the helm should realise that right to healthy environment is a fundamental right of every citizen under Articles 16 and 30 and it includes the right of enjoyment of pollution free air for full enjoyment of dignified life. If anything impairs that quality of life, it would amount to derogation of laws and the responsibility to repair the environmental damage is that of polluter.  

The constitutional mandates and decisions of the Court show that there is a dire need of striking a balance between regularity of development and environmental protection. The central government, provincial governments and local bodies too should be engaged in protection of environment. In fact, environmental protection is a business of combined effort that demands cooperation and coordination of people from all walks of life. Undoubtedly, the role of rural folks could be crucial in conservation of national ecology. It's high time to energize the local bodies to adopt, enact and enforce green laws for the “restoration of ecosystem”, which is the theme of 2021 World Environment Day.  

Above all this, 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.

Published on 31 May 2021

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