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A Brief Overview Of Environmental Safeguard Policies in India

April - June 2021


The Stockholm Declaration in 1972 pushed India towards ensuring environmental protection by setting up an authority named National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning within the Department of Science and Technology that same year. It was later transformed into the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) in 1985, which is an apex body to regulate and ensure environmental protection in India. A constitutional amendment incorporated Article 48A and Article 51A (g) under Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties, respectively, to strengthen the environmental laws in India.

The environmental safeguard policies are framed by the Government of India (GoI) to reduce the risks due to impacts of development. These environmental safeguards have the potential to address key challenges such as biodiversity conservation, natural resource management and pollution abatement through specific policies that integrate environmental concerns into decision-making.


Figure 1: Key objectives of environmental safeguarding policies (source: FAO)

Safeguards Policies

Since the enforcement of the Environment (Protection) Act in 1986, the Government of India has launched programs for conservation of natural resources and biodiversity. However, the challenges have increased with rapid urbanisation, industrialisation and other destructive human activities leading to climate change. 

Table 1: Overview of key environmental safeguard policies of India.

S. No.

Name of Policy and Year




National Water Policy, 1987

To govern the planning and development of water resources and their optimum utilisation

It was reviewed twice (National Water Policy, 2002 and National Water Policy, 2012) to strengthen efficiency to manage challenges associated with water availability and water use efficiency in an integrated manner.


National Forest Policy, 1988

To maintain ecological balance and safeguarding the interest of tribals and forest-dependent people by involving them in timber production and other local livelihood opportunities

A draft National Forest Policy was released in 2018 and accepted in 2019 to undertake actions for water conservation, carbon sequestration and livelihood security under this policy.


National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992

To regulate the utilisation of natural resources through joint efforts of local communities and other stakeholders by incorporating traditional knowledge for environmental protection

Supporting institutional development for research, mobilization, training and capacity building on environmental conservation and sustainable development. Recently, a National Conservation Strategy was launched for one horned Rhinos in India and Nepal, which are under the vulnerable category of IUCN.


Policy Statement for the Abatement of Pollution, 1992

To strengthen the environmental compliance and enforcement of pollution control norms in India through CPCB and SPCBs

According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), nine states in India are procuring 60 percent of their electricity from coal power plants that are not taking adequate steps to meet the SO2 norms notified in 2015.


National Population Policy, 2000

To achieve a stable population by 2045 through strategically managing the Total Fertility Rate (TFR)

Insufficient efforts to increase access to education, economic and other development opportunities to enhance women empowerment, which will positively affect TFR.


National Environment Policy, 2006

To achieve sustainable development, by incorporating environmental consideration into the development process 

Environmental misgovernance is fueling the destruction of the environment by moulding the norms in the favour of development.


National Agroforestry Policy, 2014

To increase sustainable agricultural production by combining tree farming with agriculture

Limited work is being done towards promoting agroforestry practice among farmers.


A Critical Assessment of India’s Environmental Safeguards

  1. Developmental activities are continuously on the rise, aiming to lift  social and economic growth, while India has 13 out of 20 riskiest cities of the world that are facing extreme air and water pollution.
  2. The existing loopholes in carrying out appraisal, granting clearances and monitoring compliance of a proposed project or activity under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006 are further widened through the draft EIA Notification 2020, as follows:
  • Screening and Scoping are completely omitted in draft EIA 2020 for fast-track clearance of projects.
  • More projects are added in Category B2, which will exempt them from public hearing and EIA study for getting Environmental Clearance. 
  • Post-facto clearance is allowed in draft EIA 2020 for projects that are operating without any Environmental Clearance.
  • The Central Government can categorise projects as ‘strategic’ and reduce transparency of such projects as per the draft EIA 2020.
  • The draft has reduced the period for submission of public responses from 30 days (in EIA notification 2006) to 20 days.
  1. No real progress towards achieving multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), which has been neglected for the sake of ‘ease of doing business’.
  2. Overriding the environmental regulatory regime by pushing nature and natural resources towards privatisation
  3. Ineffective implementation of norms intended to reduce, eliminate, and replace sources of pollution under the National Clean Air Plan, and the Water and Air Acts which is then fueling industrial accidents in India.
  4. Non-prioritization of efforts to empower local communities and use their traditional knowledge for governing and tapping opportunities to mitigate climate change.
  5. Endorsing massive intrusions of ill-conceived ‘development’ projects into natural ecosystems and near wildlife populations by systematically weakening the regulatory regimes. For instance, the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification 2019 was passed despite huge public opposition, or the bypassing of the Wild Life Protection Act in clearing ‘development’ projects inside protected areas.


The rapid changes in climate and increasing environmental destruction requires effective upgradation of the existing policies and revision of acts, such as the current Wildlife Act that neglects the conservation of marine ecosystems. The effective identification, monitoring and management of environmental risks such as pollution and water stress by CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) and SPCBs (State Pollution Control Boards), will reduce carbon emission from industries, vehicles etc., and improve the capabilities of environmental norms. It will also ensure resilience from economic losses due to increasing extreme weather events in India. The Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) can strengthen the environmental safeguard system in India by monitoring and evaluating the impacts of these policies. Ecological sustainability should be placed at the centre of all planning, budgeting, and programmes related to development, rather than being considered an externality or a formality for clearance purposes.

By making the safeguard policies and their implementation for environmental protection more stringent, India can boost its  potential for achievement of the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030:

  • Goal 1: No Poverty
  • Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being
  • Goal 5: Gender Equality
  • Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
  • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Goal 13: Climate Action
  • Goal 14: Life Below Water 
  • Goal 15: Life On Land
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