Draft amendments to environmental laws do not make it mandatory for polluting industry to clean environment once found guilty

forestBy Mahesh Pandya*

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) published a draft of proposed amendments in Environment Protection Act, 1986 and the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. Suggestions were invited to be forwarded to the MoEFCC within 15 days.

Last year, the Ministry constituted a High Level Committee headed by TSR Subramanian to review various Acts administered by the MoEFCC. The committee did not hold enough and adequate public hearings to elicit public views. Civil society representatives, environmentalists, and other stakeholders were not given an opportunity to express their views.

The department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, headed by Ashwani Kumar, MP, Rajya Sabha considered the report of the high level committee. Especially talking about the talk of the need for a speedy process to implement amendments to environmental laws, the Parliamentary Standing Committee noted that “there was no cogent reason for hurrying”. We in Paryavaran Mitra also feel that the process of amending environment laws is rather too speedy, and there is a need for transparency and involvement of all stakeholders.

Our objections to the draft amendment to the environment laws Bill are as follows:

  • In the preamble of the Environment Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015 there is no specific reason mentioned of drafting this Bill.
  • The Bill was prepared without comprehensive consultations with stakeholders –  experts/institutions/NGOs.
  • The draft of the Bill is not made available to public at large. It is available at the MoEFCC website but it is not regularly updated.

 There are several loopholes in Draft Environment Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015, with the following points still missing:

  • There is no clarity on the adjudicating authority, the provision seems very vague. (sec2(a))
  • Major urban environment ills like noise, slum congestion are absent from the Bill and no provision has been made for their control
  • Bill focuses on environment pollution and hazardous substance as a source of environment pollution and ignores other causes like deforestation
  • Environment pollutants include solid, liquid and gaseous substances but there are pollutants which are not substances like heat which causes thermal pollution, nuclear radiation and noise pollution (sec2(e))
  • Offences marked as minor violation, non-substantial damage and substantial damage are not clearly defined (sec2(e)(b)) (2(e)(c)) (sec2(i)).
  • There is also no provision for mitigating measures in case a company has already polluted. It seems after paying of the required fine, the polluted soil, lake, river etc. can remain as they are. There is no provision as to what should be done to the polluted body. There must provisions which make it mandatory for polluting company/industry to clean the environment after it is found responsible for creating polluting.
  • Sec 14(l)says that the amount collected by means of penalty will be used by the government for the protection and improvement of environment, but it isn’t mentioning how. Will there be a separate fund, or any public account will be created for this?
  • A major drawback is, there is no provision of punishing or imposing penalty on official bodies if they fail to perform their duties, and environmental pollution continues to happen within their jurisdiction.

 Suggestions

  • There should be a third party or agency which can handle the responsibility of inspection, filling grievances by affected citizens, monitoring industries and auditing large-scale industries on a regular basis.
  • Provisions under this Act as well as the changes suggested are geared towards penalty in case of environmental damage. There is no provision which makes prevention and control of pollution necessary, like a set of rules of technology which all companies should strictly comply to.
  • Instead of implementing a fine regime, which many corporate companies and industries can take advantage of and continue to pollute, there can be fine plus imprisonment of the management in charge depending on the seriousness of the situation. This can act as a deterrent since the responsibility falls only on few people. A provision can be made for shutting down the company/industry temporarily, till standards already set are complied with. For example, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines, the bank guarantee scheme continues to be implemented as before even if the industry is found responsible of pollution.
  • For greater transparency, quarterly or annual report on environmental norms followed by companies should be mandatorily put on their websites. This can help in keeping a track of each company’s standards and false reports, especially during surprise checks.
  • There should be a provision for the amount to be paid as compensation to the people getting affected by degradation of environment.
  • Each state should carry out public consultation to know people’s views regarding the proposed bill.

 *Paryavaran Mitra, Ahmedabad

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