Amendments in Environment Protection Act (EPA)

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    • Recently, the Environment Ministry has proposed to levy more fines and less imprisonment for environmental violations.

    Key Points

    • Present Clause in the Act: 
      • The Act currently says that violators will be punishable with imprisonment up to five years or with a fine up to ?1 lakh, or with both. 
      • Were violations to continue, an additional fine of up to ?5,000 for every day during which such failure or contravention continues after the conviction would be levied. 
      • There’s also a provision for jail terms to extend to seven years.
    • Proposed Change:
      • The clause providing for imprisonment will be replaced with one that only requires them to pay a fine. 
      • The proposed fines, in lieu of imprisonment, are 5-500 times greater than those currently levied. In case of contraventions of the Act, the penalties could extend to anywhere from ?5 lakh to ?5 crore. 
      • However, in case of serious violations which lead to grievous injury or loss of life, they shall be covered under the provision of Indian Penal Code, 1860 read with Section 24 of EP Act.
      • The removal of prison terms also applies to the Air Act, that is the cornerstone legislation for dealing with air pollution, and the Water Act, which deals with violations to water bodies.
      • Appointing an “adjudication officer” who would decide on a 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”
    • Rationale behind the proposal: 
      • The Environment Ministry had received suggestions to decriminalise existing provisions of the EPA to weed out “fear of imprisonment for simple violations”.
      • The current EPA provisions will govern the penalties in case of the single-use plastic ban that came into recently.
      • Pending Cases: 
        • An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) 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 trial and another 35,000 cases were added in that year. 
        • More than 90% cases were pending trial in five of the seven environment laws.

    Environment Protection Act, 1986

    • The EPA came into force on November 19, 1986. 
    • The Act 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.
    • Objective: Providing for the protection and improvement of the environment. 
    • Constitutional Provisions:
      • The EPA Act was enacted under Article 253 of the Indian Constitution which provides for the enactment of legislation for giving effect to international agreements.
      • Article 48A of the Constitution specifies that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
      • Article 51A further provides that every citizen shall protect the environment.
    • It authorises the central government:
      • To protect and improve environmental quality, control and reduce pollution from all sources, and prohibit or restrict the setting and /or operation of any industrial facility on environmental grounds. 
      • To establish authorities charged with the mandate of preventing environmental pollution in all its forms and to tackle specific environmental problems that are peculiar to different parts of the country. 
    • Last Amendment: The Act was last amended in 1991.
    • The Environment (Protection) Rules lay down procedures for setting standards of emission or discharge of environmental pollutants.

    Significance

    • Increased fines can promote environmental protection and take care of public health from the toxicity produced by harmful human activities with different resources of the environment.
    • Many business companies worldwide are coming forward with many environmental management systems and plans and adding them to their business agendas for environmental protection. And now with the Government entering the space with stringent regulations will be beneficial.
    • It will help in the reduction of waste produced daily.
    • It will help to combat all main types of pollution i.e., air, water, land, thermal, radiation, and noise pollution.

    Way Ahead

    • Steps Government can take:
      • Respective governments can further make new and improved guidelines and policies for government agencies regarding the implementation of environmental management systems.
      • They can develop guidelines for the companies regarding the process of environmental protection management and reporting of the same.
      • They can make strict rules regarding a person and company who does not follow guidelines properly.
    • Introducing the 3 R’s – Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Everyone should be taught how to reduce waste products, reuse old products, and recycling materials for new usage.

    Source: TH