Public participation in monitoring environment compliance

While most countries have incorporated public participation in decision making on locating new projects, do you know of any examples where such meaningful involvement of people is sought in monitoring environmental compliance? If you know of examples, please share what methods are followed for such participation.

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Important question Krithika! One way public participation (to some extent) has been provided in coastal regulation in India is through the constitution of District Level Coastal Committees. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) law mandates that at least 3 members on these committees should be from the local traditional communities. These committees, in almost in all coastal states have been assigned the task of monitoring the implementation of the law. However, there is more that is desired. While the law has fixed the minimum number of representatives on a district committee, there is nothing suggested in terms of what percentage of the total no. of members on a District committee Or population of the coastal district should it make. We can take a tip or two from the Right to Education (RTE) act of India. The Act provides for formation of School Management Committees with at least 75% of parents of children in the school as its members. These committees have been given more powers compared to the coastal committees. They monitor not only the performance of the school but also the use of funds granted to it. Whereas the CRZ law in current form, doesn’t provide for monitoring of funds allotted for coastal management.

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Great question! We have many partners and Network members who are active in social audits and community monitoring efforts of service delivery or legal compliance, although none that I have come across who are focused on implementation of coastal legislation specifically.

Despite the lack of issue overlap, the first exchange program in South Africa had an extensive presentation of an incredible community monitoring project by Black Sash that was implemented by community paralegals there. The program of community monitoring of pension payments and health funds was so successful that the private companies began inviting and paying transport for community monitors to go farther afield in their efforts, leading to inclusion in nationwide data and advocacy around compliance of relevant laws in those sectors.

For more information on this project’s design, lessons, implementation and resources: Black Sash Community Monitoring and Advocacy Programme

One major point in terms of this program’s success was efforts to prove the worth and value of the community monitoring itself, showing that it doesn’t necessarily have to be adversarial but that the monitoring can be of assistance in implementing the law. The presenter went so far as to say the first 3-5 years of the project was focused on data collection and not advocacy for strategic reasons, allowing for relationships and trust to be built with the local authorities and companies involved before then asserting more of an advocacy role using that data in a phase 2 of the project. Of course this strategy is largely contextual, but offers some insight into how to make community monitoring more of a part of a law’s implementation in the long run.

Most of the community monitoring that I know of focuses on service delivery too, like the above example, but there are many strategies and lessons that are transferrable. I understand that @elliefeinglass has a lot of experience in community monitoring as well, perhaps she knows of further examples that could be helpful here.

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This is an interesting podcast that I came across. It highlights two stories, one in India and one in USA, where community themselves monitored and collected data against environmental violations.

One story is situated in Cuddalore (Tamil Nadu, India), where the community complained to regulatory authorities about noxious odours were being released by the industries there. These complaints were not taken seriously.

A study of 14 weeks was then done using an air monitoring tool in which specific odours at specific times were documented, in specific locations. 283 instances odours were documented, out of which 256 instances were extremely intense. The data got through this was used, and the companies and government agencies were pressurized. The government agency commissioned their own study, which took two and half years to complete. Villagers were aware of this study being conducted; and acted as ‘pollution patrol’ while the government was conducting the study.

The second story where this method as used was Buffalo, New York Area. Emissions coming from a nearby facility was suspected to have caused illness in a citizen. The tests came back extremely high on benzine (a known carcinogen). This evidence was used to pressure the state, who eventually monitored the data. The EPA then went to the facility and investigated, and found serious violations. They brought a criminal case against the company. The manager and company were found guilty.

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Thank you @michaelotto and @meenakshikapoor for sharing examples with us!

A question that came to my mind while reading on one hand the inclusion of community members in the District Level Coastal Committees and the Black Sash Programme which is implemented by community paralegals, is whether public monitoring be necessarily be made part of the law? Would this take away the objectivity and neutrality that is there in a third party monitoring the implementation? Or is inclusion of community members in the institutions created by law more effective, as it gives them certain powers?

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