Environmental Protection For Consumer Welfare; Whose Responsibility Is It

Apr 11 07:34 2011 Gertrude Green Print This Article

Environmental degradation has been a matter of public concern for quite sometime, though some aspects of this phenomenon-particularly the ecological imbalance attracted legislative regulations long time back.

Of increasing concern in recent times have been the problems of air and water pollution,Guest Posting arid to a certain extent, pollution of the earth soil. Of late, noise pollution in metropolitan cities has also featured in public news columns.

What has not come to attract public notice adequately is the unhygienic conditions in which identified more directly with individual interests when environmental protection veered round consumer welfare rather than public interest for the obvious reason that people's interest can be urban slum dwellers and people in numerous villages continue to survive. Pollution caused by urban waste and garbage clumps due to poor municipal services has its own implications.

Present day concern with environmental protection has veered round consumer welfare rather than public interest for the obvious reason that people's interest can be identified more directly with individuals are looked upon as consumers.

Having mentioned the dimensions of environmental problems, it hardly need to be mentioned how citizens as consumers of air, water and other services being increasingly threatened by environmental degradation resulting in health hazards and other crippling effects.

Logically speaking, the responsibility for environmental protection should lie with those whose acts of omission or commission happen to be the immediate cause of environmental degradation. Before identifying any category of entities as responsible for the situation as we find it I now, one must recognize that the distortion of natural condition has resulted partly, if not significantly due to the high priority accorded to economic growth through industrialization and infrastructure development.

Growth of manufacturing industries in the private and public sectors over the years has led to increasing pollution of air and water. So has the development of transport services and other facilitating industries. Increasing pressure of population and the urgency of raising the national income level provided the compulsion for economic development without any concerted thinking on its impact on the environment. Unplanned growth of cities and urbanization followed in the wake of industrial concentration, rural unemployment and under employment.

As a result of massive urbanization, urban congestion of human habitation and [vAser-crowding in cities and iwns, the incidence of vector-borne and water born diseases continue to be high. About a year back, the Union Ministry of Health set up a high power group to check environmental degradation and control communicable disease.

While voicing its concern over the 'massive urbanization' which has led to degradation of environment as well as natural resources like land, air and water, the Group also noted that the deteriorating environment has contributed the spread of epidemics like 'cholera, typhoid and even plague in the recent past Death due to diarrhoea which is transmitted through contaminated food and water have increased over the years and risen five-fold during the period 1987 to 1993.

Most importantly the Group observed that most of the programmes to check infectious diseases reportedly failed due to lack of participation of the public; there was little awareness about their causes and preventives required.

Reverting to the question of responsibility, the public normally would hold the
Government responsible for the abatement environmental pollution. Article 48 A in Part IV of the Constitution of India, under the Directive Principles of state Policy lays down that 'the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the natural environment including forests and wild life of the country.

During the last two decades, legislations have been passed to secure environmental protection. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 are aimed at prevention and control of discharge of effluents, fumes and gases harmful to the environment.

Central and State Pollution Control Boards have been set up and armed with powers to regulate the location and establishment of any industry, operation or process subject only to necessary safeguards against pollutants. Under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, the Central Government is empowered to prohibit and restrict the location of industries, operations and processes, if necessary for the protection and improvement of environment and the prevention of hazards to human beings, other living creatures, plants and property including architectural monuments.

It is also laid down that persons carrying on any industries, operation, etc., are not to allow emission or discharge of environmental pollutants in excess of the prescribed standards.

However, enforcement of these laws has been a tardy process with respect to exiting industries, though locational restrictions over new units have been somewhat effective. The dilatory legal process has been set right recently by judicial pronouncements. In an attempt to decongest and depollute the National Capital Territory the Supreme Court recently ordered a large number of hazardous, heavy and nonconforming industries to be relocated.

If Government measures have been aimed at abatement of pollution through legislation, one may also refer to corporate social responsibility in the same context Inageneralsense,social responsibility of corporate organization means the obligation of decision makers in the organisation to adopt measures which protect and improve the welfare of society as a whole along with their own interests.

The notion has grown out of the changes that have taken place in the social contacts between organisations and society.Basically, the changes have been a sequel to the growth in size of organisations, education and awareness of the social impact of their activities and institutional expression of the, claims of society on the organisations. Why should corporate management assume social responsibility ?

To quote Act, 'It is not because it is altruistic, not because management is interested in public relations/butbecause in the long run most mature managers realise that socially responsible behaviour is one of the conditions of operating effectively in r a pluralistic society in which public opinion and the expression of that opinion through legislation and Govt regulation hold the ultimate power.

Obviously, among other things, environmental protection should be social responsibility of corporate enterprises. Research studies have shown that corporate organisations in the public sector as well as in the private sector, though a few large enterprises only, follow the practice of disclosing their social performance along with the annual financial statements. Some organisations have also undertaken social audit to assess their social performance.

However, social reporting which follows social accounting is not undertaken uniformly or comprehensively by all enterprises; there is apparent need for systematic policy being pursued by organisations with respect to social responsibility including environmental protection and pollution control. The International Organisation for Standardization has formulated guidelines for Environmental Management System (EMS) (under ISO 14000 series) which include guidance for training, environmental policy, setting objectives, planning implementation and operation checking, and corrective action and audit of the system.

NGOs can play a vital role in educating and generating awareness among the public and creating public opinion to ensure that environmental protection remains a live issue until abatement of pollution is a reality.

Consumers in general have of course the responsibility of being conscious of their role in various ways. Individual acts of commission or omission when aggregated may be a potent cause for environmental degradation. Mention was made earlier of garbage dumps in urban areas Disposal of waste matter and garbage from household is sometimes responsible for accumulation of garbage and wastes.

Domestic garbage consists of peels of vegetables, fruit pulps and other bio-degradable material and polythene bag which are not biodegradable. Separate bins ought to be used for disposal of the two types of waste matter. Users of motor vehicles have the additional responsibility of keeping the exhaust fumes of their vehicles pollution free, wherever possible, to us£5 unleaded petrol after suitable changes in the engine.

They have also the responsibility of buying eco friendly products and goods bearing eco-labels. A product is regarded as environment friendly (or eco-friendly) if it is made, used in a way that significantly reduces the harm it would otherwise cause to the environment. The Govt. of India instituted voluntary scheme of labelling environment friendly products.

An earthen pot was chosen as the Eco-logo for such products. Under the scheme, 16 product categories have been identified which include items of mass consumption like soap and detergent, paper, prints, plastics, lubricating oil, aerosols, cosmetics, electrical and electronic goods, batteries, food items, food, additives, packaging materials, wood substitutes, textiles, pesticides and drugs.

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Gertrude Green
Gertrude Green

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