Across the globe, protection of the environment is an area where the gap between law and practice is especially wide.

Part of the difficulty is that ordinary people can rarely take part in government decision-making processes for siting industrial projects. Neither can they negotiate on equal terms with firms proposing such plans. Increasingly in India projects are being located on the coasts where there are transport advantages and land and water is more readily available. Fishing and coastal communities are in contest with large multinationals for the very spaces where they have their homes and make their living.

The problem is compounded by poor enforcement of environmental law. India has a very poor record of compliance to environmental regulations and violations have real and profound effects on the lives of people. Invariably, local communities are absent from the processes that oversee environmental assessments and the management of ecological impacts.

Namati, in partnership with the Centre for Policy Research, seeks innovative ways to develop and manage environmental regulation so that they achieve better environmental compliance. We experiment with interventions at the policy level and with institutions and communities. Namati seeks to help fishing communities, who are often locked out of the processes of environmental regulation, have a greater say in influencing the conditions that affect their lives.

We are pursuing several approaches that have potential for large-scale application.

We develop and disseminate materials that clarify regulatory procedures and laws governing coastal spaces. Knowledge of these complex legal steps is essential if communities are to take full advantage of their environmental rights. We are working with traditional fishing communities to develop materials in multiple media—print, radio, film, mobile phone—that render laws and procedures easier to understand and use.

Namati is equipping community paralegals to monitor compliance with the conditions to which firms commit when they receive environmental approvals. Communities are often unaware of the terms of industrial clearances and government systematically fails to enforce them. We have begun this work with fishing and farming communities along the southern coast of Kutch District, Gujarat, where there has been rapid industrialization in the last decade.

Namati is also initiating the training of paralegals on the coast of North Karnataka in southern India to improve essential services to fishing families. Our paralegals also engage coastal communities and local government in district level planning and proactive conservation measures to protect critical estuarine and marine ecosystems.

We are conducting a multi-state study of the institutions charged with managing India’s coastal eco-systems, including the Coastal Zone Management Authorities. From the results of this research we will make recommendations to central and state governments to strengthening the institutional framework for coastal conservation.

Namati is also developing a methodology for cumulative impact assessments of industrialized regions using participatory community mapping tools. India’s current environmental regulations focus on project-level clearances. The total impact of a hundred decisions about individual projects—each perhaps defensible in isolation—may be disastrous. We are developing a methodology for cumulative impact assessments that takes seriously the development experience of communities and citizens.