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Role of gram sabhas in protecting the environment: An analysis

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By Shivangi Kumari

Panchayats have formed the backbone of Indian villages. In 1946, Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, accurately stated that Indian independence must begin at the bottom, and that every village should be a Republic or a Panchayat with powers. With the creation of the three-tier Panchayati Raj system, Gandhiji’s ambition of ensuring people’s participation in rural rehabilitation has become a reality. The Gram Panchayat at the village level, the Panchayat Samiti at the block level, and the Zila Parishad at the district level make up the three-tiered Panchayati Raj system for rural development. It was established to give a strong and inventive leadership for the village’s overall development.

The function of the Panchayati Raj institution in the rebuilding of rural India becomes inescapably crucial since the community’s economic improvement cannot be entrusted to any other organisation except the one represented by the village people themselves. On October 2, 1961, the Panchayati Raj Movement was launched.

The environment has been affected numerous times as a result of various human actions. The urban environment has its own set of problems, which are the primary causes of environmental concerns. Significant environmental challenges in metropolitan settings include air, water, and soil pollution, deforestation, global warming, and climate change. Rural communities, on the other hand, experience a variety of environmental issues. The majority of rural areas are devoted to agriculture. People in these areas make a living from farming and related activities such as dairy, poultry, horticulture, and so on. Most of the people thinking that rural community do not face any environmental problem as there is no air and water pollution as there is less number of motor as a result less air pollution.

WHAT IS GRAM SABHA?

• The term Gram Sabha is defined in Article 243(b) of the Indian Constitution.

• The Gram Sabha is the most important and largest body in the Panchayati Raj system.

• It is an everlasting body.

Evolution of local self-government in India

In India, local self-government has a long history. Despite the fact that the current form is substantially different from the framework that prevailed in the ancient and mediaeval periods, Local Self-government was more real and generous in the past than during the British era. Panchayat actually refers to a group of five people chosen by the towns people.[i] It refers to the framework within which India’s numerous town republics were represented.”

When it comes to the evolution of local government in India, four committees stand out: the Balwan Rai Mehta Committee, the Ashok Mehta Committee, the GVK Rao Committee, and the LM Singhvi Committee. As per Article 40 of the Indian Constitution “The state shall take steps to create village panchayats and invest them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to allow them to function as units of self-government,” From 1957 to 1986 in India, there was a noteworthy evolution of local self-government.  The Gandhian vision of Grama Swaraj (Village Republic) strongly impacted the constitution makers after Independence. Because India is a country of villages, establishing village panchayats became a social movement. During our struggle for independence, the restoration of panchayats has become a matter of faith. As a result, when India gained independence and drafted its constitution, it included Article 40, which states that “the State should take steps to organise village panchayats and invest them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to allow them to function as units of self-government.”

Local self-government policies in environment protection

Rural Local Bodies were created in 1992 as a result of the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act. Despite the fact that these bodies have existed since 1950, it was the 73rd Amendment that gave them considerable powers and responsibilities. The “Village Republics” have been strengthened as a result of the decentralisation process. Village Panchayats can benefit from the environmental maxim “Think globally, act locally.” If these Village Panchayats protect their “unreserved forests,” it’s possible that the appearance of rural areas would change. The ground water table, drinking water availability, animal and bird populations would all benefit from increased forest cover. Every state’s forest departments work to protect reserved forests. The Panchayat, on the other hand, owns unclassified wastelands and unreserved woods. Panchayats have the power to create a code of conduct and laws for livestock husbandry. Agriculture’s production, which is also a matter for Panchayats to address, can be improved by enforcing particular crop-growing norms (native crops). Panchayats have jurisdiction over everything.[ii]

Function

These municipal governments can also help with pollution prevention and control in their particular areas. Because these municipal organisations are in charge of approving layouts and building plans, they can enact pollution-prevention measures. Only with the authority of local bodies can factories, industries, and workshops be established. When applicants approach local bodies for permission, the bodies should process the applications in accordance with the law and enact strict pollution-prevention measures.

In these bodies, there are 10 lakh women representatives out of 30 lakh PRI functionaries. Women have fared well in the administration of these institutions. Many success stories have emerged from the process of “Women Empowerment” through local bodies. Women make up a big component of the Grama Sabha meetings. Through Self-Help Groups, the Indian government has been able to organise women. The way these Self-Help Groups operate has piqued the interest of planners and administrators. The money they save and the activities they engage in have paid off handsomely. This workforce’s potential has now been found, channelled, and utilised. Furthermore, women, who make up half of our country’s population, currently account for one-third of all PRI employees. These ladies can be further inspired to embark on the task of changing society and protecting the environment.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION FOR PROTECTION OF ENVIRONMENT

  1. Right to life and environment protection (Article 21): Article 21 of the constitution provides for the fundamental right of life. It says that no person shall be deprived of his right to life or personal liberty except in accordance with procedures established by law. In this the term except in accordance with procedures established by law can be interpreted to mean that this provision is subject to exception and is regulated by law which varies from case to case.
  • Freedom of Speech and Expression and Environment (Article 19(1) (a): Article 19(1) (a) of Part III of the Constitution clearly mentions the right to freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right. We have seen a number of cases where people have approached the court through the way of speech and expressing themselves by writing letters like that in the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh where they have expressed the violation of their right to have a clean and safe environment and a right to livelihood.

In India, the media has been consistently playing an important role for changing the mindset of people toward issue related to protection of environment. Hence, Article 19(1)(a) is interpreted to include the freedom of the press as well.

  • Freedom of Trade and Commerce and Environment Protection (Article 19(1) (g): Article 19 (1) (g) of the Indian constitution gave citizens a fundamental right to carry on any profession or business, trade or commerce at any place within the territory of India. nonetheless this is not an absolute right and thus, has reasonable restrictions to it. Article 19(6) of the Constitution lays down the reasonable restriction to this fundamental right to avoid the environmental hazards.
  • Directive Principle of State Policy (Article 48(A): In this article it says that State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.
  • Article 51: Article 51 Promotion of international peace and security The State shall endeavour to:
  • promote international peace and security;
  • maintain just and honorable relations between nations;
  • foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised people with one another; and encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration

The Parliament availed the opportunity provided by the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 to improve the manifestation of objects contained in Article 48 and 48-A. While Article 48-A speaks of environment, Article 51-A (g) employs the expression the natural environment and includes therein forests, lakes, rivers and wild life. While Article 48 provides for cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle,

Article 51-A(g) enjoins it as a fundamental duty of every citizen to have compassion for living creatures, which in its wider fold embraces the category of cattle spoken of specifically in Article 48.

  • Article 253: Legislation for giving effect to international agreements notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body.

Some of the important legislations for environment protection are as follows:

  • The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010
  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
  • The Environment Protection Act, 1986
  • The Hazardous Waste Management Regulations, etc.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS FACED BY RURAL PEOPLE

Pollution has a more negative impact on rural people than it does on urban people. They do, however, face some environmental issues as a result of their ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, and superstitions.

The following are some of the environmental issues that rural people face[iii]:

  1. DOMESTIC WASTE

Disposal of solid waste, water waste is one of the biggest issues in the rural area and urban sewage in general. Although, the government’s best efforts to maintain sanitation, rural communities continue to suffer from such issues. As a result, water and air pollution are severe. Human health is endangered by water contamination in both freshwater supplies and coastal seas near beaches and reefs. In rural places, solid waste disposal dumping is also a major challenge. In India rural areas domestic waste is among the biggest environmental problems. In rural places, solid waste disposal dumping is also a major challenge. Imports from other countries have resulted in an influx of old car bodies, heavy equipment, appliances, bottles, cans, and plastics. These wastes are not processed properly, resulting in pollution and health issues. Domestic garbage is one of the most serious environmental issues in rural India.

  • DESERTIFICATION

As the world’s population grows, more space is needed for grain cultivation and production, which necessitates the logging of forests. The demand for more farmland is rapidly diminishing the forest cover. Furthermore, as the world’s population grows, so does the demand for food, necessitating the expansion of agricultural land. This leads to land over-cultivation. Two to three distinct crops are cultivated on the same piece of land, depleting soil quality and reducing soil fertility. In addition, farming and dairying necessitate a large number of animals. Lambs, goats, and cows are employed for both grazing and meat production. This necessitates grazing pasture, and as a result, the soil’s top layer, which is rich in nutrients, is lost.

  • POLLUTION

One of the most serious issues in rural regions is water contamination. People in rural areas are forced to rely on well or underground water due to a lack of municipal water supplies. Well water is not tested or treated in the same way that municipal water is, and it may include hazardous chemicals that are harmful to people’s health. Improper garbage disposal, such as depositing waste on roadways, in bodies of water, and beneath the earth, are some of the causes of water pollution. Another reason is the drilling for oil and gas. Drilling techniques release significant amounts of chemicals into the water, contaminating the water. Cancer, endocrine diseases, numerous chemical sensitivities, allergies, and diabetes can all be caused by this contaminated water. Pollution is one of the most serious environmental issues in India’s rural areas.

  • LACK OF HEALTH CARE FACILITIES

Rural residents have little or no access to hospitals and other health-care facilities. The hospitals lack the necessary medical technology and equipment. In addition, medical personnel are few in rural areas. Rural residents are also of low socioeconomic status. People in this area lack health insurance and rely on government aid to maintain their health. People who rely on such help are less likely to be provided with such amenities. As a result, life expectancy in rural areas is lower than in metropolitan areas.

  • AIR POLLUTION

Air pollution is one of the most serious environmental issues in India’s rural areas. This issue does not only affect urban areas, it also affects rural areas. Air pollution is caused by the overuse of pesticides and fertilisers. Pesticide drift occurs when pesticides are carried by the wind from their source. People can inhale these hazardous substances when they evaporate in the air. Many fertilisers and insecticides contain volatile organic molecules, which can cause major environmental problems by interfering with other substances in the air. The emission of ammonia from farm facilities pollutes the air and causes major health problems. Air pollution is also caused by trash burning in the backyard. Air pollution is also caused by trash burning in the backyard. Instead of being appropriately treated, this rubbish is burned, releasing hazardous air pollutants, particle pollution, and volatile organic compounds that can be harmful to the health of rural residents.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Infrastructure and natural ecosystem changes a recent development is the spread of illness among rural people. Perhaps the country’s villages have benefited from urban consumption habits and the invasion of some sources of pollution in the vicinity of villages and rural areas, environmental contamination, and shifting consumption patterns. In the meanwhile, attitudes and approaches to environmental features and capacities will be one of the front lines of the relationship between man and the environment in rural areas. It is important to recognise that human relationships with the natural environment in villages differ from those in cities. Rural livelihoods are inextricably linked to the natural world. In India, air pollution is widely regarded as an issue caused by and affecting cities. Solutions for cities have been devised, as one might expect. In rural places, initiatives to improve air quality are glaringly absent. For the longest time, scientists and policymakers have mostly disregarded rural air pollution. The National Clean Air Program (NCAP), India’s first pan-India attempt to clean up the country’s air, proposes comprehensive time-bound initiatives for both urban and rural areas. “To meet the mandated annual average ambient air quality requirements at all places in the country within a specified time frame,” the aim states.

JUDICIAL APPROACH ON PROTECTING ENVIRONMENT

  • The Supreme Court in the case of Ratlam Municipality v. Vardhi Chand[iv] held that the closure of limestone quarries in the Dehra Dun-Mussoorie area. It recognised that the closure of limestone quarries would result in financial hardships, but the court stated that this is the price to pay for protecting and safeguarding the people’s right to live in a healthy environment with minimal disruption of ecological balance, and without avoidable risk to themselves, their cattle, homes, and agricultural land, as well as undue affection of air, water, and the environment.
  • In Subash Kumar v. State of Bihar[v] it was held that right to live is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the constitution and it includes the right to enjoyment of pollution free water and air for full enjoyment of life. If anything endangers or impairs that quality of life in derogation of laws, a citizen has a right to have recourse to Article 32 of the constitution for removing the pollution of water or air which may be detrimental to the quality of life.
  • Similarly, in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[vi], where a petition was filed to prevent the Taj Mahal from deteriorating due to pollution caused by coal-using industries via Trapezium, the Apex Court issued directions to 292 industries in Agra to convert to Natural Gas as an industrial fuel within a time schedule or stop functioning with coal/coke and to apply for relocation or otherwise stop functioning on account of violations of Articles 21.
  • The petitioner argued in M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath that disturbing the ecological balance and tinkering with the natural conditions of rivers, woods, air, and water, which are gifts from nature, is a violation of the basic right protected by Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court agreed with the petitioner’s argument, ruling that any disruption of key environment elements such as air, water, and soil, which are necessary for “life,” would be hazardous to “life” under Article 21 of the constitution. After finding it to be a violation of article 21, the court went on to say that in certain instances, the polluter pays principle and the Public Trust Doctrine apply. The Supreme Court refused to grant a blanket extension of the deadline for conversion of vehicles to CNG in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, citing the need to protect citizens from the dangers of air pollution. It’s worth noting that the Supreme Court, in an order dated July 28, 1998, provided instructions for converting automobiles to CNG in a fair amount of time.
  • The Supreme Court held in Corporation of Greater Mumbai v. Kohinoor CTNL Infrastructure Co. (P) Ltd. that the right to live in a clean and healthy environment is part of the right to life and personal liberty provided by Article 21. The court went on to say that this right is likewise covered by common law.

As a result, the courts have clearly decided that the right to live in an unpolluted environment is a basic right implied in Article 21’s right to life and personal liberty. Not only that, but the judiciary has also issued directives in some circumstances to prevent and correct environmental imbalances, including orders to close specific industrial operations.

To conclude, local self-government is one of our country’s most innovative governance change processes. The great idea of putting a country’s government in the hands of its citizens is undoubtedly praiseworthy. However, like any other system in the world, this one is flawed. Maladministration and theft of finances are perennial issues. But this must not stand in the way of effective governance; and if these nefarious activities are eradicated, there will be no analogies to our system of local self-government anywhere in the world. There are numerous processes and agencies in the Panchayati Raj structure via which information about public benefit and welfare can be delivered to the people. These can be utilised to raise much-needed awareness regarding environmental and ecological conservation. All of this is contingent on local governments taking the lead, state governments providing support to local governments, non-officials administering local governments being honest and sincere, and corruption-free regulating authorities. The challenges that people in rural areas experience are considerably different from those that people in metropolitan areas encounter. For the most part, these people rely on their lands to survive. Poor resource management is the cause of common environmental issues such as air and water pollution. In addition, a lack of competent health-care facilities and a poor socioeconomic background exacerbate these issues. Improved education, strategic planning, and policy reform are required to address such difficulties.

-Shivangi Kumari is a fifth year student of Lovely Professional University


[i] https://www.environmentalpollution.in/rural-areas/environmental-degradation-in-rural-areas-environment/3394 (last visited on 6th June, 2022)

[ii]https://www.academia.edu/45347536/ROLE_OF_LOCAL_GOVERNMENT_IN_THE_PROTECTION_OF_ENVIRONMENT_IN_RURAL_KARNATAKA (last visited on 5th June, 2022)

[iii] https://lotusarise.com/environmental-issues-in-rural-settlement-geography-upsc/ (last visited on 7th June,2022)

[iv] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/440471/ (last visited on 6th June,2022)

[v] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1646284/ (last visited on 7th June,2022)

[vi] https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-5748-m-c-mehta-v-s-union-of-india.html#:~:text=The%20case%20was%20taken%20up,without%20primary%20treatment%20of%20the (last visited on 7th June,2022)

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