Indias environmental regulatory regime, meant to control the environmental and social impacts of resource-intensive and potentially harmful projects, has been going through a major overhaul since 2015. In this paper, we discuss the shifting discourses on the purposes, objectives, and forms of Indias environment regulations within the broader domestic political economic contexts. The environmental regulatory system was politicised in the electoral campaigns leading up to the 2014 general elections. This politicisation produced the conditions by which the incumbent government could introduce a series of reforms to enable greater privatisation of the economy. The changes to environmental regulations can be understood as directed by and responding to these measures.
The first part of this paper outlines a broad overview and critique of Indias environmental regulatory framework. Then the paper discusses the politicisation of economic development and environmental regulations through discourses of natural resource corruption and inefficiency in public governance. Later, the paper discusses the reforms to environmental regulations along specific themes and reflects on the implications of these changes, which include conflicts due to reduced democratic engagement, ignoring the legacy of illegal project operations and their long-term impacts on communities and ecologies, and the greater criminalisation of the poor for their use of the environment.