16 Mar :In the context of environmental Audit, the Ministry of Environment and Forests is engaged with looking at innovation in governance since the past few months. Two very important initiatives are ongoing, namely the National Green Tribunal (NGT) with a network of specialized Environment Courts and National Environment Protection Authority (NEPA). Delivering a key note address at the two day conference on a ‘Environment Audit – Concerns about Water Pollution in India’ organized by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India here today, Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests (I/C) said the NGT will give the Indian citizen first time judicial remedy as far as environmental damages are concerned. India would be the first country in the world to have such an extensive network of specialized environment courts. Shri Jairam expressed the view that environment is still seen not as an essential function such as economic activity, but as an additional cost that has to be borne. Unless and until, we internalize issues relating to environment as part of normal process of economic decision making, we will not get the kind of seriousness on matters relating to environments.
Welcoming CAG’s move, Shri Jairam said, “It is an encouraging move of CAG from credit transaction audit to a performance audit. CAG is looking at performance audit not just from the point of view of expenditure, but also trying to rope in non-governmental organisations to provide a larger perspective on issue of social audit.”
Regarding NEPA he said, “We are taking steps to establish a National Environment Protection Authority (NEPA). NEPA’s core mandate will be to ensure that the standards and stipulation under which environmental approvals are granted are actually adhered to. CPCB and SPCBs will work under one umbrella of NEPA. Soon all the licensing functions of the Ministry will be transferred to NEPA. So MOEF becomes a policy making body, and the actual approvals or rejections, even of clearances, would be the responsibility of this independent professional organization. It will have powers to ensure compliance. It will also have the mechanism for monitoring compliance. The NEPA will work on the ‘polluter-pays’ and ‘precautionary’ principles on all matters related to environment in India, essentially project clearances and enforcement of environment laws. The Central Pollution Control Board and the state regulators will report to the authority. While NEPA will carry out monitoring and compliance, the NGT will settle disputes.
Giving details of river cleaning programmes of the Ministry, Shri Jairam said, “We have water pollution control programmes, Cess laws are in existence for over 30 years and we have taken River cleaning programme. CAG has done the expenditure Audit of the First and Second Ganga Action Plan (GAP-I and GAP-II) audits in the mid 1980s.Despite this, we see a patch between Kannauj to Varanasi in the river Ganga which is very dirty. Now we have established National Ganga River Basin Authority. This is a structure to ensure cleaning river Ganga. Considering three points, population pressure, experience of GAP I and GAP II and usage of water for irrigation and hydel power projects, we will be able to ensure implementation of cleaning programmes effectively with aviral and nirmal dhara.
Inviting CAG to carry out performance audit of major programmes of the Ministry like water management programmes, river conservation programme, the Minister said, “We need concurrent audit. Audit should go along the processes of implementation so that there is real chance to redesign programmes at appropriate time and their implementation can be made very effective. The utility will certainly be enhanced by this step. The performance audit is much more complicated than just looking at project milestones, original project approach and what is being actual achievement. You are getting into certain basic issues how you value environmental costs and environmental benefit. This is relatively new field, in India. We need to pay greater attention to than we paid in the past.” This will be a very innovative exercise on opening up of the audit process.
Earlier Shri Vinod Rai, C&AG of India said, “The world today faces diverse challenges to environment. In India particularly, the concerns fan across our natural resources. Major portion of India’s surface water and groundwater reserves are contaminated thus impinging on our water security. Violation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards is a concern with high levels of concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane in the air. Our rich bio-diversity is being threatened as 44 plant species and 18 animal species stand critically endangered. These statistics serve as a wake-up call to us. Our ways and patterns of living are degrading the environment with serious long term consequences. It is time that we collectively took action to address this concern and move towards patterns of consumption which are more environmentally responsible. We feel that governmental interventions can slow or even reverse these ominous trends. I recognise the fact that we as public auditors have to also play an important role not only with timely, relevant and evidenced reporting but also with constructive suggestions which enable public administration.”