Experts want qualifications for environmental inspectors defined in billEnvironmentalists, academics and human rights activists raise concerns over the provisions of the Environment Protection Bill tabled in Parliament.
The provision of appointing any officer as environmental inspector, which is included in the recently drafted Environment Protection Bill, has drawn criticism from environment experts, academics and environment protection activists.
The bill already tabled in Parliament allows the central or provincial government to appoint any officer as environmental inspector irrespective of their academic background.
Such inspectors are appointed to monitor the implementation of environmental impact assessment reports and to observe and inspect whether other standards related to pollution control and environmental pollution are effectively enforced.
Environmental experts and academics from various universities have urged that qualifications, especially academic qualification, of such inspectors should be clearly defined.
“Environmental inspectors should come from the field of environmental studies. We already have enough environment graduates as qualified manpower for environmental inspectors,” said Prof Dr Kedar Rijal, head of the Central Department of Environmental Science, Tribhuvan University, at an interaction on the bill, organised by the National Human Rights Commission. “We must utilise this manpower before they migrate to other countries in search of opportunities.”
Once passed, the new bill will replace the Environment Protection Act, 1997, which also had the provision of hiring environment inspectors. Currently, the Department of Environment only has 16 such inspectors, making it difficult for the department to conduct monitoring tasks.
Rijan Bhakta Kayastha, an associate professor and head of the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, Kathmandu University, said the KU alone has produced over 1,000 environmental graduates at the bachelor’s level and 100 others at the master’s level.
Advocate Prakash Mani Sharma, executive chairperson of Pro Public, a non-profit, pointed out that the concerned authorities’ failure to define qualifications for environment inspectors even after more than two decades of the Act coming in place was unfortunate.
“Even after the Act was formulated, there was no inspector appointed for the next six years. After a case was filed at the Supreme Court in 2005, the apex court had ordered the appointment of inspectors and also set the qualifications,” recalled Sharma. “Now, it is 2019 and we still do not have the qualifications even in the proposed bill.”
Participants at the discussion programme suggested that the new bill should be timely and relevant to address emerging environmental challenges like deforestation, climate change impacts, and soil erosion, among others.
Commenting on the new bill, Sanjay Khanal, an academician with Pokhara University, said it should reflect the inter-sectoral compatibility between various laws enforced by different agencies.
“Since environmental issues affect various other issues like infrastructure, agriculture, and health, among others, the law should come only after consultation with other agencies,” urged Khanal. “Furthermore, it should ensure environmental justice to the marginalised populations who are more prone to the effects of environmental degradation.”
Kiran Kumar Balar, human rights officer and focal person overseeing environmental issues for the National Human Rights Commission, said the retention of a body like Environment Protection and Climate Change Management Council, provisions of heavy fine on polluters, and taking local governments on board are some of the praiseworthy sides of the bill.
“However, not setting qualifications of environment inspectors, minimum penalty limit for polluters, ambiguous roles of provincial and local level governments, and not specifying polluters are among the drawbacks,” added Balar. “Formation of the council under the prime minister is a great sign, but it should be inclusive and also hold regular meetings in the future.”
Experts also called for a body that will provide accreditations of environmental experts in the country and proposed the council should also have set qualifications for its members. “The members of the council should be qualified experts. It should not turn into a body that hires cadres,” added Rijal.
Purna Kumari Subedi, chairman of the Agriculture, Cooperatives and Natural Resources Committee under the House of Representatives, said the bill will be thoroughly discussed with the concerned stakeholders before it is passed by Parliament.
“Every provision of the bill will be discussed to make it more protection-oriented and to address genuine concerns,” Subedi said.
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