Man has been engaged in polluting the environment from the dawn of human existence. Consequent to the population explosion, industrialization, concentration of human habitats, over exploitation of natural resources; the problem of pollution has risen to alarming levels and the problem of protecting the environment has become a global challenge, a challenge against the very existence of mankind.
The adverse consequences of haphazard industrial development is not the only factor that generates environmental pollution. There are several other factors which contribute substantially for environmental pollution all over the world such as the growing demand on scarce resources, lack of awareness of the adverse consequences of environmental pollution, lack of best environmental practices and more importantly poverty.
What is the environment? Albert Einstein has professed that “the environment is everything that isn’t me”. Environmental Protection Act 1990 of Britain defines environment as “consisting of all or any of the following media namely the air, water and land”. The definition of environment as set out in National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980 is as follows: “Environment means the physical factors of the surroundings of human beings including the land, soil, water, atmosphere, climate, sound, odour, tastes and the biological factors of animals and plants of every description.”
What is pollution? In the National Environment Act No. 47 of 1980, environment pollution is defined as follows: “Pollution means any direct or indirect alternation of the physical, thermal, chemical, biological, or radioactive properties of any part of the environment by discharging emissions or the deposit of wastes so as to effect any beneficial use adversely or to cause a condition which is hazardous or potentially hazardous to public health, safety or welfare or to animals, birds, wildlife, aquatic life or to plant of every description.”
Is there any particular law called Environmental law? Environmental Law encompasses any branch of law which can include Constitutional Law, Human Rights Law, Consumer Protection Law, Criminal Law, Public Health Law, Cultural Heritage Law, Law of Delict/Tort, etc.
Within the core meaning of Environmental Law it means “those laws relating to protection of natural resources and people’s enjoyment of them”. Outside the core it means laws designed to protect the quality of life of people”.
Environmental Law in Sri Lanka encompasses several statutory laws, common laws as above referred to and internationally adopted environmental laws which are based on resolutions, conventions and declarations adopted by United Nations namely UN Conference on Human Environment 1972, Stockholm Declaration, UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) 1992, UNCED Declaration and UN General Assembly Resolution 69/244 of Dec 2014.
Development activities whether industrial or otherwise are required to be processed and implemented within the parameters set out in the National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980 and its amendment Act No. 56 of 1988 basically and also in line with the parameters set out in other statutes above referred to as and when above statutes are applicable to the development project concerned.
It is extremely difficult if not impossible to manage development activities without infringing parameters set out in the above legislation. It does not mean or intend industrial development projects should be promoted or implemented disregarding environmental conservation. It is absolutely necessary to balance very carefully both needs namely industrial development on the one hand and conservation of the environment on the other without causing adverse impact by one party against the other.
In Sri Lanka and all over the world a common strategy adopted to balance two needs viz development and environment protection are twofold -- Application of sustainable development concept on overall development and Application of environmental impact assessment mechanism and licensing system on development activities.
What is Sustainable Development? It means reconciling the needs of environment conservation and development rather than pursuing one at the cost of the other. The globally accepted definition on Sustainable Development is given in the Brundtland Report by the “World Commission on Environment and Development 1987”, which says, “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
What is Environmental Impact Assessment Mechanism ?
Article 23 BB-01 of National Environmental Amendment Act No. 56 of 1988 states that it is mandatory to submit an EIA report in respect of every project which requires approval of National Environmental Authority (NEA). It may be noted that every development project should obtain the approval of the NEA in advance.
It is warranted at this juncture to examine certain activities which pollute the environment rigorously on the pretext of development in this country such as sand mining, gem mining, limestone mining, deforestation, discharge of effluents waste and sewerage water to rivers and ocean, unleash of obnoxious gas to the air originating from automobiles, industrial plants thermal plants, applying chemicals for food crops, etc., are being carried out habitually without applying pollution control measures due to the fact that polluters do not think seriously that it is their responsibility to control the pollution that emerged from those activities. On the other hand these activities are being carried out with the blessings of some corrupt politicians in local bodies who operate behind the screen for personal benefit. Illegal sand mining on river basins is considered the best instance of such malpractices. Deforestation and haphazard gem mining are also considered glaring examples for pollution.
In terms of Sustainable Development strategy the total irradiation of environmental pollution in the process of development is impracticable. This strategy focuses only on balancing environmental conservation needs and development needs in such a way that one should not be promoted at the peril of the other and reconciling both needs rather than pursuing one at the cost of the other. This means environmental pollution at least to some extent is unavoidable in the process of economic development, although it is sustainable.
Remember how a multinational beverage company polluted the Kelani River disregarding their responsibility to control pollution? In conclusion I must say that it is not possible to control environmental pollution effectively only by applying sustainable development concepts and statutory laws. It is also not possible for the National Environmental Authority alone to control pollution without the active participation of people.
Active participation of the people in the process of implementing national programmes on conservation of the environment and control of environmental pollution is absolutely necessary.
It is absolutely necessary to provide basic needs of poor people such as shelter, sanitation facilities and food and thereby to mitigate poverty as much as possible if irradiation of same is not possible due to the fact that poverty is one of the salient factors which contributes to environmental pollution.
National Programme for Environmental Conservation 2016-2018 launched by the President is considered an appropriate step in controlling environmental pollution in this country provided it is implemented effectively with the participation of all stakeholders, without twisting its objectives to accommodate personal agendas of corrupt politicians.
The writer is a BA Spl University of Ceylon 1967 MBA – SJU, retired Executive Director – HRM and HRD-BOI, HRM Consultant on Fiscal Reform Programme-ADB and a lecturer in HRM and HRD – American College of Higher Studies.