From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986
Mains level : Read the attached story
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), put out a note, proposing amendments in the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986
- EP Act was passed under Article 253 of the Constitution, which empowers the Centre to enact laws to give effect to international agreements signed by the country.
- The purpose of the Act is to implement the decisions of the UN Conference on the Human Environment.
- They relate to the protection and improvement of the human environment and the prevention of hazards to human beings, other living creatures, plants and property.
- It was enacted in 1986 on the backdrop of Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
- The Act was last amended in 1991.
Why this Act?
- The Act is an “umbrella” legislation that has provided a framework for the environmental regulation regime in India.
- It covers all major industrial and infrastructure activities and prohibits and regulates specific activities in coastal areas and eco-sensitive areas.
- The Act also provides for coordination of the activities of various central and state authorities established under other environment-related laws, such as the Water Act and the Air Act.
What are the proposed amendments?
- The Environment Ministry has proposed amendments in four key legislations:
- Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
- Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
- Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and
- Public Liability Insurance (PLI) Act, 1991
- These are the cornerstone environmental laws that led to the setting up of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
- These laws empowered the CPCB to take criminal action against individuals and corporate bodies who pollute air, water and land.
Powers given to CPCB by these Laws
- The clutch of laws currently empowers the CPCB to either:
- Shut down a polluting industrial body or
- Imprison executives of an organization found to be environmental violators
- The EPA currently says that violators face imprisonment up to five years or a fine up to ₹1 lakh or both.
- There’s also a provision for the jail term to extend to seven years.
Purpose of the Amendments
- The Environment Ministry had received suggestions to decriminalise existing provisions of the EPA to weed out “fear of imprisonment for simple violations.”
- These, however, don’t apply to violations that cause grave injury or loss of life.
How will violators be punished?
- The changes proposed include the appointment of an ‘adjudication officer’.
- He/She will decide on the penalty in cases of environmental violations such as reports not being submitted or information not provided when demanded.
- Funds collected as penalties would be accrued in an “Environmental Protection Fund.”
- In case of contraventions of the Act, the penalties could extend to anywhere from 5 lakh to 5 crore, the proposal notes.
Need for such amendments
- Limited success of existing laws: The history of environmental action and its success in India shows that the current laws have had limited effectiveness.
- Backlog of cases: 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.
- Capitalist power: Myriad challenges dogged the process of bringing violators to book.
- Red tapism: Flag pollution from an industrial unit would mean filing a complaint with the court of the concerned DM, or furnishing evidence to the CPCB which would again have to approach the same institution.
- Burden of proof: In most cases, it was practically impossible to hold a specific individual in an organization responsible for a specific crime given the burden of proof required.