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Has environmental regulation been successful in India?

Ideas for India

July 16

Commentary by: Rema Hanna, Evidence for Policy Design

India has an impressive number of environmental regulations – but have they been a success? This column presents evidence that while initiatives such as catalytic converters for cars have reduced air pollution, there has been far less success in tackling water pollution. It argues that regulators will only be effective when they are given enough power and legitimacy.

Around the world, environmental regulation is one of the key public services that governments provide to their citizens. While these regulations impose costs on businesses and households by requiring them to dispose of pollution in a responsible way, in return they promise better health, a cleaner environment and other related benefits.

India is no exception. It has an impressive number of environmental regulations, centred on the original Water Act of 1974 and Air Act of 1981, to deal with increasingly hazardous pollution levels. Moreover, India has an extensive network of government offices (both at the national and state level) that are designed to implement these regulations.

Yet public opinion on the effectiveness of these regulations has not always been positive. There are countless newspaper articles or reports detailing the ineffectiveness of these regulations, as well as accusations of the mismanagement of funds earmarked for these purposes, ranging from underuse and incorrect reporting to diversion of funds.

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