From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and its provisions
Mains level : Preventing River Water Pollution
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Amendment Bill, 2024 was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on February 5, 2024, aiming to amend the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.
- This legislation, instrumental in establishing central and state pollution control boards (CPCB and SPCBs), undergoes significant modifications under the proposed Bill, primarily concerning penalties and regulatory mechanisms.
About Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
|To prevent and control water pollution and maintain or restore the wholesomeness of water resources
|Applies to the entire territory of India, including streams, rivers, lakes, inland water bodies, subterranean waters, and territorial waters of the country
|Establishes Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) at the central level and State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) at the state level
|Standards and Regulations
|Empowers Pollution Control Boards to prescribe standards for the discharge of pollutants and quality of water for various purposes
|Requires industries and establishments to obtain prior consent from Pollution Control Boards before discharging pollutants into water bodies
|Penalties and Enforcement
|Specifies penalties for contravention, including fines and imprisonment; authorizes officers to inspect premises, take samples, and issue directives for compliance
Key Amendments Proposed:
[A] Consent Exemptions for Establishing Industries
- Prior Consent Requirement: Currently, the Act mandates obtaining consent from SPCBs for setting up industries or treatment plants likely to discharge sewage into water bodies.
- Bill Provisions: The Bill empowers the central government, in consultation with the CPCB, to exempt certain industrial categories from seeking consent. It also authorizes the central government to issue guidelines for the grant, refusal, or cancellation of such consent.
- Penalties: Violating the consent requirement or tampering with monitoring devices incurs penalties ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15 lakh.
[B] Chairman of State Board
- Nomination Process: While the Act vests state governments with the authority to nominate SPCB chairpersons, the Bill introduces central government-prescribed nomination procedures and terms of service.
[C] Discharge of Polluting Matter
- Regulatory Measures: The SPCBs can issue directives to halt activities leading to the discharge of harmful substances into water bodies.
- Penalties: Contraventions against pollution standards attract penalties ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15 lakh, replacing the previous imprisonment provisions.
- Amended Provisions: The Bill replaces imprisonment with penalties between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15 lakh for unspecified offences under the Act.
[D] Adjudication Mechanism
- Appointment of Officers: It allows the central government to designate adjudication officers, with appeals against their decisions to be lodged before the National Green Tribunal.
- Penalty Utilization: Fines collected are directed to the Environment Protection Fund established under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
[E] Cognizance of Offences
- Expanded Scope: The Bill extends the entities empowered to file complaints to include adjudication officers, alongside CPCB and SPCB.
- Penalization: Heads of departments are subject to penalties equal to one month’s basic salary if their departments violate the Act, reinforcing accountability within government bodies.
Challenges with the Bill
- Lack of Oversight: Granting exemptions for certain industrial categories from seeking consent may lead to increased pollution levels if not properly regulated.
- Risk of Unchecked Discharge: Lack of oversight could result in unchecked discharge of pollutants into water bodies, compromising water quality and public health.
- Centralized Nomination Process: Central government-prescribed nomination procedures for the appointment of State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) chairpersons may undermine the autonomy of state governments.
- Reduced Deterrence: Replacing imprisonment provisions with penalties for contraventions against pollution standards may reduce the deterrence effect.
- Questionable Adjudication Process: Allowing the central government to designate adjudication officers may raise questions about the impartiality and independence of the adjudication process.
- Potential Administrative Inefficiencies: Extending the entities empowered to file complaints may lead to overlapping jurisdictions and administrative inefficiencies, resulting in delays and bureaucratic hurdles.
- Enhanced Regulation: Implement stringent monitoring and regulatory mechanisms to ensure compliance with pollution standards and prevent unauthorized discharge of pollutants into water bodies.
- Stakeholder Consultation: Conduct extensive consultations with environmental experts, industry representatives, and civil society organizations to address concerns and refine the proposed amendments.
- Capacity Building: Provide training and capacity-building programs for Pollution Control Boards to enhance their skills in enforcing environmental regulations effectively.
- Transparency and Accountability: Ensure transparency in the exemption process and establish accountability mechanisms to uphold the integrity of regulatory decisions.
- Public Awareness: Conduct public awareness campaigns to educate industries and the general public about the importance of water conservation and pollution prevention measures.