Revisiting the need of “Planning for Environment” in India

India is the 5th largest economy in the world as per World ranking, surpassing countries like United Kingdom and France, with a GDP exponentially increasing every year.1 While GDP marks the economic development of the country, showing India’s progress in the capital driven market, how does one look at the detrimental effects of such growth on its environment and people. While these factors aren’t taken into consideration, the governments around the world couldn’t keep a blind eye towards them. With early industrialisation, issues such as water, soil and air pollution, unhygienic conditions of unauthorized settlements were recognized and considered through the historic National Environment Policy Act in the United States. Nations, not much later, realised how the Environment Impact Assessment constituted in the U.S. NEPA could allow for the economic developments to happen with controlled environmental impact due to the same.2

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MoEFCC: An early attempt to focus on environmental concerns

The plethora of geographies constituted in the Indian subcontinent required dire and detailed attention towards them. The mountains on the north, the coast on the south and the greens and blues which trickle into the entire country faced impacts of political deliberations of economic development. With no voice, these resources were under threat of human overuse and misuse. In India, while urban, rural and regional planning prevailed as major practices for development of cities through formation of Master Plan Documents, the need to emphasize on environmental impacts of industrialization and migration were understood and considered dating back to 1956 Interim General Plan for Greater Delhi. The need for a planned and thus hygienic settlement of the migrants after partition, the need for the city of Delhi to create industrial ring towns, as well as development of resources to cater to the sudden increased population were stated and tried to be planned by the Town Planning Organisation with the Ministry of Health, giving respect to the existing dense forest resource that the city had along with the naturally existing three drainage basins. It was not long after the Human Environment Conference at Stockholm, held by the United Nations, that India realized the need to establish forest and environmental planning considerations to cope with the affects of the fast paced development in the country. The National Committee on Environmental Planning and Co-ordination (NCEPC) was set up by the government in 1970’s in response to the ecological deterioration and decline in public health due to unplanned urbanisation and industrialization3. The Fourth and Fifth five year plans under the Indian Planning Commission emphasized on the environmental issues, and it was finally in the mid 1980s that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) was established by the government aiming environment and forest conservation.

With progress in knowledge of causal deductions and inter-intra relations between various factors, the master plan documents today lay out in further detail the need and directions to plan keeping the environment in foreground, while the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC, renamed from MoEF in 2014) laid out separate management and handling rules (e.g. E Waste, Biomedical, The Batteries, etc. ), regulation rules (e.g. Ozone depleting substances), prevention and control of pollution acts (e.g. water, air), conservation acts (e.g. forest, energy), wildlife protection etc, as well as Coastal Zone Regulation, National Green Tribunal, GRIHA Assessment etc.4 While not limited to rules which define the steps to be taken while considering projects of capable impacts, and acts which preserve these impact prone resources, the field deals with much large scale concepts, for example the need to limit city extensions through Green Belts and Coastal Regulation Zone, Drainage Plans for cities restricting the development along and around water bodies etc. These tools inculcated in the planning process of cities allow for the country to develop through its capital centric projects, as is reflected in the GDP, only in non-restricted zones which implies conservation of certain resources under grave threat, as well as controlled impacts on soil, water and air.

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Need of Planning for Environment: present status and to strengthen future

Despite of the rules and acts laid out by the government through documents and possible inclusions in planning documents of cities, there is still seen a grave loss of city greens and deterioration of city blues. What once was a flowing blue stream of Yamuna under the Barapullah is today a grey water drain filled with waste and dump, devoid of the flora and fauna which used to flourish. In this case, the dump is a result of the vegetable market of Barapullah, and the neighbourhoods around. Industrial influence to build close to them is another major threat faced by these blue assets. While one may look at it as deterioration of ecological health, but it is much more than that. It is the death of the flora and fauna along and around the areas due to seepage of chemicals into the soil, which further has large scale impacts on ground water table with time. The health of residents around is also under threat. Similarly mining of natural landscapes, cutting of forests for new developments, violation of Coastal Regulations, continuous narrowing of green belts, all have impacts which are instantly irreversible.

Planning for Environment Delhi Images

Environmental Planning, through its laws and protection acts, has definitely started to keep a check on the quantitative and qualitative aspects of maintenance and preservation of ecological resources, the land forms, climate change, the flora and the fauna throughout the world. Taking form in different ways in different countries and states, the act of planning with regard to environment has become a mandate for all governments. With this respect, there is a need to realise that the environment does not see these man-made separations and formation of nation states through political boundaries. A fault or uncontrolled situation in the environment affects not just a single city or country, but the entire world. Deforestation or Forest fire in a city outskirt, for example, has global impacts of climate change, rising air pollution levels in adjacent cities, rise in temperatures of greater zones etc. Similarly, smaller unrecognizable global mistakes have taken a huge toll and turned out to be costly affairs for the world, such as, climate change and global warming due to ozone depleting effluents as a by-product of industrialization. The role of Environmental Planning extends beyond its political boundary, to saving the Earth and humankind, and thus requires a collective effort from around and across the globe.

What we need today is a way more nuanced approach towards implementation and a borderless co-relation with other aspects of planning. This approach requires a multi-disciplinary consultation from not only professionals but also locals. While botanists, geographers, hydrologists can help determine solutions and innovative technologies for efficient utilisation or maintenance of resources, locals, such as farmers have deeper knowledge on crops and tactical solutions to irrigation. The involvement of these groups of people shall encourage greater acceptance of environmental planning amongst the common man. While not being limited to macro schemes and development, the field has the capacity to penetrate into individual lifestyles with greater respect towards the naturally existing context around him, starting from the tree in the park, to the nallah a few miles away from his neighbourhood.

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Herman Edward Daly, a famous American ecologist and Georgist economist wrote in For the Common Good: Redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future:

“Even if we could grow our way out of the crisis and delay the inevitable and painful reconciliation of virtual and real wealth, there is the question of whether this would be a wise thing to do. Marginal costs of additional growth in rich countries, such as global warming, biodiversity loss and roadways choked with cars, now likely exceed marginal benefits of a little extra consumption. The end result is that promoting further economic growth makes us poorer, not richer.” 5

*Author is the source of all photographs, and the article in entirety, unless specified.

Author Bio

Saisha Mattoo is an architect, soon to be Urban Designer graduating from SPA, Delhi. She has won accolades in spatial design competitions such as Social Mass Hosuing in Mumbai and Street Redesign in Kolkata while pursuing the undergraduate course. In her masters thesis research she is exploring the need of socio-spatial changes in neighbourhood design and planning for healthy urban environments, focussing on physical, social and ecological health.

Reference List

  1. Silver, C. (2020). The World’s Top 20 Economies. [online] Investopedia. Available at:‌
  2. Eccleston, C.H. (2008). NEPA and environmental planning : tools, techniques and approaches for practitioners. Boca Raton (Fla.) ; London: Crc Press, Cop, pp.299–305.
  3. (2011). Forest and Environment Planning in India. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Jun. 2020].
  4. (n.d.). Introduction – MoEF Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Jul. 2020].
  5. Daly, H.E., Cobb, J.B. and Cobb, C.W. (2012). For the common good : redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future. Boston: Beacon Press.
  6. Sharma, R (2019). Environmental Interface : Baikampady, Mangalore.