Environmental Justice? Activist Judges, Water Quality and Infant Mortality in India
A guest lecture by Professor Shareen Joshi of Georgetown University.
Abstract: Can judges enforce environmental justice? Though citizens increasingly rely on the judiciary to enforce environmental regulations, there is little empirical evidence on the effectiveness of judicial policies in improving environmental outcomes. We report the first estimates of the causal effects of judicial orders on water pollution and infant mortality in India. We construct a comprehensive dataset spanning four decades that includes court cases, judicial decisions, pollution indices, and infant mortality rates. We leverage the quasi-random assignment of cases to judges in India's courts, as well as the writing style of judges in prior cases. We find that 'green' cases are temporally associated with reductions in peak toxicity levels, but have almost no impact on infant mortality rates in subsequent months. Several years post-decision pollution and mortality rates exceed pre-decision levels. This analysis highlights the potentially limited effects of judicial environmental policies in high pollution settings such as India.