Supreme Court judge A.K. Patnaik has stressed the need for an independent regulatory system to enforce environmental laws and monitor the conservation of biodiversity in the country.

Delivering the inaugural address at an international conference on ‘Conservation of Forests, Wildlife, and Ecology’ organised by the Kerala Law Academy here on Saturday, he said pollution control boards in many States lacked the freedom to function as independent entities. Regulatory authorities had to be independent of the government, he said.

Observing that public hearings for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) were often given the go-by, he emphasised the need to ensure independent EIAs.

Mr. Patnaik said development could not be at the cost of the environment. He underlined the need to address livelihood concerns while exploiting natural resources for development as well as in the enforcement of environment laws. The distribution of natural resources should serve the common good, he said.

Speaking on the theme of the conference, Glen Barry, U.S.- based scientist and founder-president of Ecological Internet, said the world was facing an ecological emergency on an unprecedented scale due to the population boom and overconsumption of resources.

He said abrupt climate change had emerged as a major challenge for countries around the world. Highlighting the need to maintain the last remnants of the ecosystem, he said Kerala’s water, tourism, and development options were at risk if the forests in the State were destroyed. “Destroying the ecosystem traps the poor with little scope for improvement.” Elephant corridors, Dr. Barry said, were critical to Kerala’s biosphere.

Kerala State Human Rights Commission chairman J.B. Koshy presided. High Court judge A.M. Shaffique; Brussels Frank Fleerackers, Commissioner of the High Council of Justice, Brussels; Lekshmi Nair, Principal, Kerala Law Academy; and V.K. Biju, Treasurer, Supreme Court Bar Association, spoke.