Dialogue on Green Federalism:
Sharing Best Practices
All developing countries face serious challenges in constructing development paths that generate growth while being socially inclusive, ecologically sustainable – and politically feasible. Another challenge is to manage the tension between private property rights and the state’s power to acquire property for the purposes of economic development and social redistribution. Similarly, the key challenges facing a modern state in respect of implementing green agenda are quite similar. Federalism provides a better framework for implementing the same given the divisions of powers and assignments of responsibilities among the various tiers of government. There is an understanding of which functions and instruments are placed under the respective domains.
The global developments like UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, Rio Earth Summit of 1992, the Brandt, the Palme and the Brundtland Commissions on environment shaped the global agenda. These developments led to the setting up of environment departments in various countries.
India for example has brought about constitutional amendments to empower the local governments who are required to perform several environment-related functions. In some cases, the court rulings and the commitment of national governments to implement the multilateral environmental agreements have led to resource allocations for improvement of environment and dealing with the challenges of climate change. It has also amended the constitution to provide space for environmental issues in governance and public policy. The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments added a new dimension to the federal character of the Indian polity. The local governments have been given jurisdiction over land improvement and soil conservation, water management and watershed development, social and farm forestry, minor forest produce, drinking water etc. The good part of the Indian experience is that environment has received constitutional recognition. However, there is a dichotomy. While natural resources are the State’s domain, the regulation and control are with the federal government.
The success of green federalism depends on what institutional mechanisms are created to deal with tensions and conflicts between the various tiers of government. Green federalism here means environmental federalism. That is, a federal polity which is committed to judicious and environment-friendly management of natural resources. It could also be understood in terms of greening of development agenda. Cooperative federalism is the right approach to ensure the success of green federalism. The federal government depends on the state/local governments to take up the responsibility of carrying out required activities whereas the state governments depend on the federal government for institutional and financial support to perform the activities.
In Myanmar, demands for greater sub-national control over natural resources are growing, especially among the ethnic groups. The National League for Democracy (NLD) too has committed itself to introducing some variant of federalism. At a time when Myanmar is consolidating its democratic gains, management of natural resources remains a critical issue.
The federal constitution that Nepal adopted in 2015 has incorporated comprehensive environmental provisions. Article 30 explicitly confers legal right to a clean environment on citizens. It goes on to state that the victim shall have the right to obtain compensation in accordance with law for every injury caused from environmental pollution or degradation. The Nepalese experience could be highly instructive for Myanmar.
India, North East in particular, Myanmar and Nepal are no doubt very different in terms of development and governmental structures. But both India and Nepal are federal countries whereby there is a constitutionally defined sphere of responsibilities among federal, state and local governments. That is, who does what and how. Myanmar has shown interest in federalism. The NLD is for a federal set-up and certainly the ethnic groups have for long been clamouring for federal polity. Secondly, no matter what is the level of development, there is broad understanding among all nations about sustainable development. Well, all countries have committed themselves to sustainable development.
Therefore, the objective of the dialogue/conference is to gain insights from the various stakeholders on the best practices in green federalism and on institutional mechanisms needed for greening federal polity and development discourse. The conference will deliberate on clearly identifying the roles and responsibilities of federal, state and local governments in formulating and implementing development schemes.
It will also identify institutional gaps, overlap and ambiguities that hamper sustainable development as well as smooth functioning of federalism. The roles have not been clearly defined. Certain coordinating institutions have not been created. For example, who will adjudicate in case of overlapping of decisions between various layers. In some countries, it is done by the judiciary.
Learning from the best practices of India, Myanmar and Nepal on sustainable development and management of natural resources will go a long way in addressing not only the historical grievances of ethnic groups in India’s North-East and Myanmar’s Sagaing region but also green governance challenges in the region. Myanmar is still negotiating peace. Some armed groups have still not signed the ceasefire agreements. Given the long-standing demands of ethnic organisations favouring federalism, one is arguing that if historical grievances of these ethnic groups have to met like federal polity, it will help the peace process.
Against this background, the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Stiftung and Burma Centre Delhi, is organising a conference/dialogue in Kolkata on the theme “Green Federalism: Sharing Best Practices”. The two-day conference is structured around sub-themes like federalism and sustainable development, federal and sub-national domains, management of natural resources and cooperative federalism. The overriding emphasis will be on sharing the best practices from India, Myanmar and Nepal.
Venue: Banquet Hall (Oakwood), Hotel Crestwood, Kolkata
Program Co-ordinator, Democracy & Dialogue Programme