proper implementation of compulsory Environment subject

Posted by Dr-Yashpal Singh Narwaria
December 13, 2017


You may be aware that there is a situation of environmental emergency across the country – Delhi included. This, despite the huge expenditure in the name of taking necessary measures to control environment pollution, and to protect and conserve it.

Many ministries and departments are spending large amounts of money and other resources to curb the menace of  pollution. But nobody bothers about bringing about a sustainable change in the behaviour of every citizen, policy-maker and implementer, all of whom are the real polluters to different extents.

Government departments are spending money on various environment-related programmes annually like:

1. A rural sanitation programme (since 1986) – and now, the Swachh Bharat Mission, which has total budget of ₹2,00,000 crores

2. Stubble-burning and waste-burning awareness campaigns

3. Solid waste-management projects

4. The National Environmental Awareness Campaign

5. Ganga, Yamuna and other river conservation programmes

6. Water conservation programmes

7. Sewage treatment plants

8. Forestation programmes

9. Resolving the issue of traffic jams

10. Energy conservation programmes

11. Health programmes for diseases like cancer, tuberculosis, etc.

12. Health treatment

13. Dealing with legal environmental matters and compensation

However, we are not spending money on environmental education, which is a basic requirement for bringing about a sustainable change in people’s behaviour, as regards environment protection and conservation. This is happening even though the Supreme Court has already given a landmark decision for the implementation of compulsory environmental education in all classes to ensure the responsibility of each citizen. The decision was given in the case of MC Mehta vs Union of India. Even many European countries had implemented compulsory environment
educational for the betterment of their future.

But, the masses in India are dying due to pollution. The University Grants Commission (UGC) introduced the mandatory subject of ‘Environmental Education’ in all undergraduate courses since the 2004-05 session. However, they prepared the syllabus for just one semester and not for the remaining semesters. In many institutions, there are no teachers for this compulsory subject.

The information collected under  RTIs has exposed that the orders of the apex court are being violated continuously in the states and union territories since 1991. Rarely have there been any eligible/qualified assistant professors for this subject so far.

On the other hand, as per the UGC’s guidelines, a post graduation in environmental science with a NET certificate or a Ph.D. degree in the subject is needed to become an assistant professor for this subject. But, even non-eligible teachers like those specialising in Sanskrit, Hindi, English, electronics, political science, sociology, mathematics, physical education, home science, computer Science (among others) are often assigned the task to teach the subject – that too, in a most cosmetic way which is against the letter and the spirit of directions of the Supreme Court and the UGC guidelines ensuring quality education.

Important Orders Of The Apex Court

In the case of civil writ petition number 860 of 1991 (MC Mehta Vs Union of India), the SC gave a landmark judgment by giving four directions to the Government of India and the state governments. The SC directed the central and state Governments to provide compulsory environmental education to the students at all levels throughout the country.

The said Direction No. IV is reproduced here under:

“We accept on principle that through the medium of education awareness of the environment and its problems related to pollution should be taught as a compulsory subject. Learned Attorney General pointed out to us that the Central Government is associated with education at the higher levels and the University Grant Commission can monitor only the under graduate and the post graduate studies. The rest of it, according to him, is a State Subject. He has agreed that University Grant Commission will take appropriate steps immediately to give effect to what we have said, i.e. requiring the Universities to prescribe a course on environment. They would consider the feasibility of making this a compulsory subject at every level in college education. So far as the education up to the college level is concerned we would require every State Government and every Education Board connected with education up to the matriculation stage or even intermediate college to immediately take steps to enforce compulsory education on environment in a graded way. This should be so done that in the next academic year there would be compliance of this requirement. We have not considered it necessary to hear the State Government and the other interest groups as by now there is a general acceptance throughout the world as also in our country that protection of environment and keeping it free of pollution is an indispensable necessity for life to survive on this earth. If that be the situation, everyone must turn immediate attention to the proper care to sustain environment in a decent way.”

As the above instructions had not been complied with, the complainant filed another complaint, in which the SC gave the following relevant judgements:

  • “ […] we direct all the respondents-States and other authorities concerned to take steps to see that all educational institutions under their control implement respective steps taken by them and as reflected in their affidavits fully, starting from the next academic year, viz. 2004-05 at least, if not already implemented.”
  • “The authorities so concerned shall duly supervise such implementation in every educational institution and non-compliance of the same by any of the institutions should be treated as a disobedience calling for instituting disciplinary action against such institutions.”
  • “This acceptance of an interim arrangement, however, will not prevent the respondents-State and other authorities from drawing up or of taking further steps to more effectively fulfil the objects of the directions issued by this Court earlier.”
  • “We also direct the NCERT which is a respondent herein to prepare a module syllabus to be taught at different grades and submit the same to this Court by the next date of hearing so that we can consider the feasibility to introduce such syllabus uniformly throughout the country at different grades.”

Despite the repeated orders of the apex court, universities in the India (being the controlling authority for the affiliated colleges/ institutions/departments/centres) have not complied with these directions.

Guidelines/Instructions Of UGC, AICTE, MHRD

1. MHRD: In a letter (dated August 7, 2014), Dr Jaspal Singh Sandhu, Ministry of Human Resource Development,  stated that the authorities of all universities have the task of teaching the module of environmental studies. However, the subject should be entrusted only to the teachers who fulfill the qualifications laid down by the UGC.

2. UGC: Since 2004, the UGC has issued necessary instructions to the universities to comply with the SC’s directions. It has also clearly stated that the university concerned will be responsible for any kind of laxity/violations in the matter.

3. AICTE: In a circular (dated April 25, 2014) to all the Secretaries of States/ Union Territories, it was stated that necessary action needs to be taken to ensure that the model curriculum framed by AICTE for environmental studies (as compulsory subject) is implemented in all institutions imparting technical education at the postgraduate, undergraduate and diploma/post-diploma level under their jurisdiction.

National Eligibility Test (NET)/State-Level Eligibility Test (SLET) In Environment Science And Universities Imparting PG/PhD Degrees In Environment Science

1. University Grant Commission (UGC): Since 1999, the UGC has been conducting the NET exam for assistant  professorship/lectureship in environment science. A total of 4,073 candidates have already passed the UGC-NET exam in environment science up to December 2014.

2. Agriculture Scientific Recruitment Board (ASRB): The ASRB also conducts the NET for assistant professorship/lectureship in environmental science.

3. State-Level Eligibility Test (SLET): In addition to the above, state governments are also conducting the SLET for lectureship/assistant professorship in environmental science since 2004.

4. PhD In Environmental Science: About 20,000 people are PhD degree holders from 180 institutions across India.

5. Institutions Imparting PG/PhD degrees In Environmental Science: As per the UGC list, 180 institutions are imparting the PG/ PhD degrees in environmental science. In my opinion, this number is more than 200. About 20,000 students are passing out every year from these institutions with degrees in environmental science.

Initiatives Taken By The Haryana Government

1. The government of Haryana has taken some remarkable decision to implement the orders of the SC in a true spirit. In a letter dated February 23, 2016, the higher education department of Haryana had asked the universities that “the periods of this subject be increased and be taught in each year, only by eligible teachers only in terms of UGC qualifications.”

2. The key universities of the Haryana government, namely the Guru Jameshwar University of Science &
Technology, Hisar, and the Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, have prepared the syllabus for all
three years (six semesters) and other important conditions in this regard.

Key Issues:

1. On one hand, postgraduate/PhD degrees in environmental science are being awarded to the students by more than 180 universities/institutions in the country. On the other, these qualified candidates are deprived from teaching this subject.

This is clearly a case of a wastage of trained resources despite repeated orders/instructions of the courts and the UGC/AICTE. Unfortunately, educational institutions in the states have not complied with the directions of the apex court, high courts and the instructions of the UGC/AICTE in letter and spirit, even after so many years.

2. If the directions of the apex court and the guidelines of the UGC/ AICTE are not followed properly, there is no logic/meaning to conducting the exams of NET and SLET in environmental science. The expertise of the students who pass the NET/PhD in environmental science should be utilised to teach the compulsory course in environment education.

3. If this subject is not taught/implemented in all the semesters/years of undergraduate courses,
it is willful violation of the spirit of the orders of the apex court.

4. If the marks obtained in this subject are not added in the final merit/percentage/credits, it is just
eyewash and against the orders of the courts.

5. The objectives of the directions issued by Apex Court in this regard are not being fulfilled by
the universities, so far. The authorities so concerned should duly supervise the implementation in every educational institution.

Non-compliance of the same by any of the institutions should be treated as an act of disobedience. This should be reason enough for instituting disciplinary action against
such institutions.

Request For The Effective Implementation Of The Orders Of The Apex Court

I would like to make the following requests to ensure the proper/effective implementation of directions of the SC:

1. A mandatory environment studies subject should be taught in each semester/year of in all the under
graduate and postgraduate courses to ensure compliance to and the effective fulfillment of the
objectives of the orders of the SC. The syllabus and scheme of the Guru Jameshwar University of Science & Technology, Hisar, and the Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, should be adopted in all universities and institutions.

2. Only qualified/eligible assistant professors (in terms of UGC guidelines), that is, a post-graduation and NET/Ph.D. in the subject, should be appointed to teach this compulsory subject.

3. Examinations in the subject, including setting up the question paper uniformly, should be done
by the university concerned. The marks obtained must be added to the final merit/percentage/credits, as in the case of other compulsory subjects.

I would like the relevant authorities to kindly look into the matter at a personal level, and implement the same to ensure a sustainable behavior change among the people for sustainable development.

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