The Challenge of Environment Protection in Decentralized Context

Bipin Adhikari
De jure: The Law Journal
Youth Lawyers Association for Justice and Human Rights
Vol 2, Year 1, PP. 26-30 April-May 1992

This is the first time in the legal history of Nepal that His Majesty's Government has empowered local political units as capable institutions to serve as strategic entry points or as catalyst to further the process principle of local policy.

The terminology of concerned provisions of the Village, Municipality and District Development Committee Act (1992) not only gives clear mandates to our local bodies in the matter of environment preservation, but also reflects the determination, of government to design policies for environment management with maximum decentralization of authority and action at the local level. In addition to them these Acts also show governmental willingness to make national resource available to local initiatives.

Decentralized Context
There is no doubt that the incorporation of these provisions in the Act has finally answered the question which agency in a decentralized context will make decision.

However the practice of local bodies in relation to the mandate may require extra brain storming. It is largely the rural level where the degradation of the resource base in terms of land, water and forests is a far greater problem. But it is also the level in which we don't have, on an adequate scale, the capacities of community institution in terms of technology, finance and skills to be able to deal with the tasks. Besides the real participation of local people (most of whom are ignorant, illiterate, and poverty stricken) in the pursuit of environment protection in various functional levels and levels of implementation is also a problem. Our educational system is yet to reach down to the grassroots level. We have just started practicing "recherché-action" or similar ways of fostering dialogue with and the active involvement of the rural population Linkages among institutions for cooperation and ret working have also to be developed.

Collaboration among clusters of institutions at various levels and stages of the planning, decision making and implementation process is needed in institutional development in environment. Needless to say the challenges before the local bodies are enormous.

Role of Local Women
Finding out an integrated approach representing the intersectional concerns of women and the environment is the first challenge before the local bodies to proceed. In other words local bodies should also be comprehensive in approach, catering not only to environment protection, but also to the livelihood needs of women and their families.

The experience of many Asian and Latin American Countries also shows that environment and development issues cannot be settled effectively if women's experience, perspective and concerns are not taken into account. Conservation of energy stats in the household and is often related to tasks women predominantly perform in their place of work, and in their local communities; Whether it be Microsystems managed by them in the home, or their role as consumers, family economists, primary health caretakers, land managers, woodcutters or even air polluters, they have high degree of contribution in water course pollution, domestic sanitation, drinking water contamination, drainage and sold waste management.

Women have more capacities than men to communicate, collaborate, teach and adopt. They can set examples for the young through family behavior and help them develop a sense of values and knowledge about material goods which are good for nature. They can encourage conservation values such as use of non disposable utensils, use of traditional utensils and goods, avoid throwing away what can be used again recycled or turned into compost, take care of disposal of household waste, the dumping of wastes in stream, rivers and other sources of drinking water. Despite the key roles they play in sustaining family and community life, women's contribution remain largely unrecognized, their knowledge ignored and their capabilities untapped.

Our womenfolk appear passive because they are victimized by such factors of our society as materialistic values, economic exploitation and unfair distribution of wealth. We can increase the rate of women's participation by affording them access to finance, credit and equal employment opportunities, equal rights to ownership of all resources, access to formal and informal education and affording an access to information necessary to make informal decisions about resource mobilization, allocation and management and their impact on the environment. Above all, men in every walk of life should commit to become more sensitize them to improve the quality of life of their communities by working towards restoring and preserving the natural resources available to them and by starting to involve and engage children and the new generation of leaders in the processes of awareness raising on issues affecting the environment and development. In our local context as pointed out above, women are often the principal managers of their economic livelihoods and the custodians of beliefs regarding the natural elements in the environment.

Role of Local NGOs
Another challenge before the local bodies is how to approach NGOs to direct them to environmentally sustainable development from local perspectives and respecting and working with those social structures that enhance local people's roles in the environment.

In many developing countries local political units are frequently not prepared to include NGOs in processes of collective decision making. It is, therefore, quite significant that our Bills place a clear-cut emphasis on the role of non-governmental institution in the micro-strategy of local bodes, and advocate the necessity of building strategies and linkages to foster collaborations among institutions. In recognition of the NGOs role in representing the knowledge, needs and contributions of the grassroots level, local bodes must ensure that NGOs as the instrument of development but also requires these political units to encourage and involve them in tracing out feasible programmes, drafting out schemes, monitoring and evaluation. They also all require Development Committees to Judge the feasibility of any local projects in terms of its contribution to the ease of environment. NGOs and many donor agencies in Nepal who were hitherto feeling the shortage of political back up have now enough to their determination in channelizing their expertise and technical resources, it is advisable that local bodies as political units of our system help formulate forward looking strategic plans to ensure GOs sustainability and play an active role in policy analysis and formulation.

Local bodies should be also help increase their ability to actively and successfully pursue funding sources. NGOs can also help local bodies to create an information action network on the environment.

However, Local governments must have a clear understanding of issues and institutions. They must spell out priorities and identify institution capable of addressing them, Areas must be identified where problems may be tackled without external support, and areas where support is needed. NGOs should therefore be seen by political units as operators not as decision-makers.

Consolidation of Legal Powers
The third challenge before the local bodies is to effectively enforce the laws which empower them as enforcement authority in the area of environment. They should also lobby other environment authorities to compel them to take action in the matters entrusted to them by legislations. In addition to that they also have to sincerely enact and establish local regulations by laws and procedures to consolidate their legal powers within the existing legislative framework. Currently there are more than 30 Acts in Nepal which expressly or by necessary implication deal with the subject of environment and conservation. Most meaningful of them are as follows:

1. Soil and Watershed Conservation Act. 1982.
2. Nepal Water Supply Corporation Act. 1989.
3. Industrial Enterprises Act 1981.
4. Municipality Act. 1992
5. Village Development Committee Act, 1992,
6. District Development Committee Act, 1992
7. Canal, Electricity and Related Water Resources Act, 1967.
8. Forest Act, 1967.
9. Aquatic Life Protection Act, 1960.
10. Town Development Act. 1988
11. Essential materials Protection Act, 1955
12. Water Tax Collection Rules 1975.
13. Solid Waste Management and Resource Mobilization Act, 1987
14. Labor Act, 1992
15. Public Roads Act, 1974
16. Town Development Planning Implementation Act, 1972
17. Old monuments Protection Act, 1956
18. Savaii Act, 1963
19. National Transportation Provisions Act, 1969
20. Civil aviation Act, 1958

Section 83(2) of Municipality Act 1992 empowers the municipalities to frame by rules, subject to the approval of His Majesty's Government, which are necessary to conduct its activities under the Act. Likewise Section 59 (2) of village Development Committee Act 1992 and Section 66 (3) of District Development Committee Act 1992 also empower relevant villages and districts to frame bye rules to carry out the objectives outlined in the respective Acts. Therefore, it is possible for local governmental units to invoke these laws or call upon HM Government to enforce them. In addition to this it is advisable for these local units to coordinate Commission (NPC) which has been implementing Nepal's National Conservation Strategy through a series of programmes in the key areas of environment planning and assessment, education and public information. NCP has resource as well as talent to support local environment planning activities.

Need of the National Environment policy Act
Currently there is no comprehensive legislation in Nepal having extraordinarily broad sweep over the theme of environment protection. Environmental quality standards and requirements have to be set up so as to enable local units function effectively protection of environment values requires the introduction of more legal constraints on administrative and legislative decision making, and the extent to and manner in which protection of these values requires new institutional structures and concomitant redistributions of power among various governmental ligancies and local government units. The provisions of local Self government Acts also show that the problem of coordination between village district and town units in the area of environment protection is inevitable. To overcome this we must have a National Environment Policy Act.

It is heartening to note that while we are planning in international level to voice our environmental concern at the UNCED in June 1992 we have at home enacted new laws providing for the direct responsibilities of local governments in the sphere of environment and sustainable development Environmental problems in the grassroots localities are mostly a consequence of poverty, illiteracy, overpopulation, and economic shortages.

If the local government can mobilize women and NGOs, as suggested above, creative solutions to managing the social and economic conflicts inherent in many environmental problems can also be solved, moreover we need to bear in mind the importance of stressing programme implementation as local governments try to build the capabilities of environmental institution. Likewise the need of a Notional Environment Policy Act cannot be over exaggerated. justice Krishna of India writes: "Remember law must keep promises by reversing the self-destructive, overindulgence of commercial exploitation of nature, burying up the tribal innocence and raping virgin earth, bleeding to death tomorrow for today's profit and in the process, blindly degrading eco-system and destabilizing the flow of progress"

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