Environmental Federalism

Environmental Federalism

Environmental federalism is the study of the normative and positive consequences of the shared role of national and subnational units of the government in controlling environmental problems. It is the proper assignment of roles to the different tiers of the government. 

History of Environmental Federalism 

  1. During British rule in India, environmental protection was never a major concern. The British rule in India culminated in the draining of India’s forest resources and complete disregard for the environment. The Indian forest act of 1865 was the first codification in relation to forest management, and it was later replaced by the Indian forest act of 1927, which was revised from time to time.
  2. In 1972, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi attended the Stockholm Conference, where she took personal responsibility for addressing the problems of newly independent countries with her speech “Poverty is the Main Polluter
  3. After the British left, by the 42nd constitutional amendment in 1976 under article 48-A , 51-A(g) the protection of the environment was extended to having a healthy and pollution free environment. 
  4. In 2006, the national environmental policy established the decentralization concept, which entails ceding or shifting power from a central authority to state and local authorities, thus providing public authorities with control at the local level. After the Indian constitution, the need for a decentralized approach has been reorganized and grown.
  5. Over the years centralization and decentralization with the 73rd and 74th amendment has become a dynamic feature of the Indian federalism. 

Environmental Federalism 

The distribution of authority in environmental matters has become increasingly thorny at all levels of government. Environmental activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India are battling for greater autonomy and decentralization of environmental problems to states and panchayat raj institutions.                                       

Historically, the union government has had exclusive authority over the formulation of legislation, policies, and governance in India. The states have been given a smaller position in environmental policymaking in the Indian constitution, with the emphasis still on the centre and its rules.. This has resulted in a conflict between current environmental legislation and the rights of traditional, indigenous peoples whose survival depends on maintaining a symbiotic relationship between man, nature, and the environment. The central government of India , through vertically focused bureaucratic machinery, formulates and implements environmental laws that often overlook this symbiotic relationship and the central role of traditional communities and groups in protecting the environment at the grassroots. Hence environmental federalism systematically helps in protecting the environment. 

Decentralized decision making in India 

Given the political and social pressures on the policies developed and adopted, the question arises as to whether decentralized decision-making in environmental matters would have a negative impact on environmental issues.. While there is some truth to the argument in the sense of India, which has a lot of multiculturalism, the voices of the people at the grassroots are often overlooked or not heard at all when it comes to environmental policy decisions. This has not aided in the preservation of the environment, but rather in its own degradation at the expense of traditional people’s livelihoods and the environment. Multiple levels of authority, mostly vertically through bureaucratic machinery, lack coordination with India’s centralized environmental laws and policies.The central government through its unitary  nature plays the role of an oversight authority in matters of governance. Hence, political orientation within the true sense of the term as experienced in the North American country or different federation may be a misnomer within the Asian country context. As India cares, there’s the observation of cooperative and competitive federalism with a predominant role of the Union government as envisaged by the constitution makers. So even in environmental matters, there’s a desire for cooperative and competitive political orientation to be experienced for the protection and preservation of setting and at constant time upholding the natural rights of the standard communities and native individuals vis-à-vis setting protection. The task of cooperation and competition is based on the principle of trust and distrust in matters of interest and rivalry between States and across people associated communities. However within the Indian case, political concerns and its primary role plays an interventionist strategy to cater to bigger demands for environmental protection. The observe of environmental federalism within the Indian context points resolute the subsequent operate

Case Laws 

  1.  Tarun Bharat Sangh, Alwar vs Union of India

This case law talks about the illegal mining taking place in the area of Sariska National park and the tiger reserve. In this case it was concluded that the decision of the central government would be considered as the last decision on whether the mining should take place in that area or not. 

  1.  Narmada Bachao Andolan vs  Union of India

In this case the court held that the central government’s decision would be binding and this way environmental federalism comes into picture in this case. This case stands important as the decision of the central government was considered and taken as the final decision. 

  1.  Union of India v.Kamal Nath

In this case the supreme court held that the decision of the central board of polluters pay and the decision of stopping the effluents from entering the water was taken into consideration and the central government was given a voice. 


Natural federalism within the Indian sense could be a genuine devolution of control to different bunches in society from the beat to grassroots through natural activism and dissent cutting over differing sections of the population. The devolution of power through administrative offices to different levels of organization could be a fact that is however to happen within the Indian case, clearing out aside certain minor devolutionary powers given to Panchayat Raj Institutions in natural administration. Hence natural federalism has not ended up a genuine concern for the legislative structures in India and devolution of power with respect to natural approach making and its execution is still progressively ruled by the Union government and its institutional mechanisms. Thus, Natural Federalism within the Indian setting works vis-à-vis through its simultaneous indulgence with solid natural activism traversing over different strata of the populace independent of revolution. 


  1. https://www.teriin.org/eventdocs/files/disc-paper-gfi.pdf
  2. http://www.ijhssi.org/papers/vol7(4)/Version-1/F0704014650.pdf
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/310330176_Environmental_Federalism_in_India_Forests_and_Compensatory_Afforestation
  4. Tarun Bharat Sangh, Alwar v. Union of India, 1992 SC, 514, 516
  5. Narmada Bachao Andolan. Union of India, AIR 1999 SC, 1636
  6. Union of India v.Kamal Nath, 1997, 1 SCC 388