Environmental protection is scarce, limited primarily to forests. The Forest Act and Forest Privilege Codes grant India the right to demarcate reserves and protected forests and give access to tribes, castes, and villages. Local application of these rights are at the discretion of government officials and subject to withdrawal at any time.
Rapid state-led industrialization begins, ushering in an era of increasing pollution and dwindling forest resources. National interest supercedes local claims to resource management. The government sets up the Central Board of Forestry to implement the National Forest Policy, but large-scale deforestation continues. The Factory Act addresses the discharge of water and effluents by factories.
Jurisdictional complexities hamper the implementation of environmental regulations. State governments have jurisdiction over environmental issues, yet the constitution gives the central government sweeping powers to implement laws with regard to international treaties or decisions. Industrialization and increased agricultural production lead to widespread pollution of surface and groundwater.
The Green Revolution increases productivity and expands agricultural lands. This in turn accelerates the use of chemical fertilizers and overexploits groundwater resources. After a decade of debate, Parliament passes India's first major water legislation, spurred in large part by the 1972 Stockholm Conference on Human Environment. Anti-dam campaigns halt several hydroelectric projects.
India amends its constitution to allow states to intervene in the protection of public health, forests, and wildlife. But the amendment is limited by a clause specifying that it "shall not be enforceable by any court." Indira Gandhi enacts a series of environmental measures and creates the Department of Environment. Environmentalists criticize the department for being weak and symbolic in nature.
The new Forest Conservation Act finally lowers deforestation rates. In 1984 India suffers a major environmental setback when poisonous gas leaks from a Union Carbide plant at Bhopal, killing or injuring thousands in the country's largest industrial accident. Uncontrolled emissions from factories around the country contribute to major air pollution.
The Environment Protection Act of 1986 brings more effective environmental legislation. The act establishes a comprehensive Ministry of Environment and Forests to administer and enforce environmental laws and policies. The Environmental Action Plan integrates environmental considerations with development strategies, with an emphasis on the reduction of industrial pollution.
The government's plan to build several hydroelectric dams, including the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River, sparks protests by activists and local communities facing relocation. The Supreme Court halts construction at a height of 80 meters, just over half of its originally planned height.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests strengthens incentives for adoption of cleaner technologies. Air and water pollution remain the most severe environmental problems due to industrialization, rapid urbanization, and inconsistent regulation enforcement. The Supreme Court allows construction of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam to resume and reach its originally planned height of 138 meters.
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