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Key Amendments Proposed in Environmental Laws - UPSC Current Affairs
Aug 04, 2022
In today's edition of Current Affairs for UPSC CSE, we will discuss Key Amendments Proposed in Environmental Laws.
Elevate your UPSC exam preparation with this blog as we also talk about the topic’s relevance to the UPSC CSE syllabus and the probable questions from exam point of view. So, make sure to read till the very end.
For Prelims: Environment (Protection) Act 1986, Central Pollution Control Board, Environmental Protection Fund.
For Mains: Amendments to Environmental Laws, Environment (Protection) Act 1986
Recently, the Ministry of Environment proposed amendments to various environmental laws.
Recently some amendments were proposed to environmental laws making them less stringent in terms of punishments to violators. Critically analyze these amendments.
Environment Ministry’s Proposed Amendments
The Environment Ministry has proposed amendments in four key legislations:
the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986,
the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974,
the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
the Public Liability Insurance (PLI) Act, 1991
These Laws empower the CPCB to either shut down a polluting industrial body or imprison executives of an organisation found to be environmental violators.
The ministry has proposed to replace imprisonment with monetary penalty for the “less severe” contraventions under the EPA.
Serious violations of EPA which lead to grievous injury or loss of life shall be covered under the provision of Indian Penal Code.
The changes proposed include the appointment of an ‘adjudication officer’ who will decide on the penalty in cases of environmental violations such as reports not being submitted or information not provided when demanded.
The amendments propose the creation of an “Environmental Protection Fund’’ in which the amount of penalty will be remitted.
An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment found that Indian courts took between 9-33 years to clear a backlog of cases for environmental violations.
Beginning 2018, close to 45,000 cases were pending for trial and another 35,000 cases were added in that year. More than 90% of the cases were pending for trial in five of the seven environment laws.
It was very difficult to file a complaint in the courts against environmental violators. For instance, to flag pollution from an industrial unit would mean filing a complaint with the court of the concerned district magistrate, or furnishing evidence to the CPCB which would again have to approach the same institution. This would then box the crime in the category of ‘criminal complaints’ that would have to follow a set procedure and was extremely time-consuming.
In most cases, it was practically impossible to hold a specific individual in an organisation responsible for a specific crime given the burden of proof required.
Unlike the cases of crimes such as poaching, or stealing forest produce, where there was always a definite offender who could be apprehended and dealt with by the police, it is difficult to prove the violation of environmental laws by a single unit or individual.
Thus the new amendments potentially made a certain category of crimes ‘civil crimes’ making it easier to hold organisations accountable.
It will also speed up the pace of disposal of the cases by dealing it separately by experts of the field.
The Environment Ministry hasn’t laid out a clear rationale on why these amendments were necessary. There are apprehensions regarding the effectiveness of the proposed amendments.
Critics say that the existing clause of imprisonment was to deter violators and not to imprison them. The proposed penalties were too meager and the amendments opened up avenues for “large scale corruption” as the ‘Adjudication Officers’ could be “arbitrary” in their decision-making.
The series of earlier amendments such as Coastal Regulation Zone rules, simplification of Environmental Impact Assessment procedure, etc are considered as favourable to industries as against environment and hence the same perception regarding these proposed amendments.
It is important to strike a fine balance between economic development and environmental protection to achieve the commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Criticism of environmentalists and activists is welcome as it keeps a check on the arbitrary decisions of the government. However, removal of loopholes and unnecessary complexities of the laws should not always be looked at with apprehensions.
Simple laws and opportunities of corrections make implementation of the laws easier and more compliant.
The Environment (Protection) Act 1986
The Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 (EPA) was enacted under Article 253 of the Indian Constitution and came into force on 19h November of 1986.
It came up with the objective of providing for the protection and improvement of the environment.
It empowers the Central Government to establish authorities charged with the mandate of preventing environmental pollution in all its forms.
The EPA, 1986 establishes the framework for studying, planning, and implementing long-term requirements of environmental safety and laying down a system of speedy and adequate response to situations threatening the environment.