‘Dilution of environmental jurisprudence’, experts slam proposed amendments to Env, Water, Air Acts

A day after the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change announced its intention to bring about amendments to the Environment, Water and Air Acts for decriminalisation of relatively minor offences, experts have slammed the proposed move terming it as dilution of environmental jurisprudence.

As reported by IANS on Friday, the ministry put out proposed amendments to decriminalise the existing provisions of three important legislations — Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.

Apart from decriminalisation, the proposed amendments to the three basic building laws also proposes creation of an earmarked fund that can be utilised for paying compensation to the affected parties, for restoration of the environment or for reparation. The three funds are to be named ‘Environmental Protection Fund’, ‘Water Pollution Remediation Fund’ and ‘Air Pollution Remediation Fund’.

“The proposed amendments are directed at two kinds of changes. First, it is carving out the criminal or civil liability based on a hierarchy of non-compliance or legal offence, as defined by the Environment Ministry. Second, the EPA amendments attempt to delink non-submission of reports/studies from offences leading to loss of life or injury, but there may be cause and effect relationship between the two,” said Kanchi Kohli, a senior researcher with Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Policy Research.

Kohli pointed at the serious issue with the proposed amendments that will increase the amounts of financial penalties and recommend the creation of management funds where the money will be collected, saying, “These proposals require wider and informed public debate based on whether the proposed liability framework can effectively incentivise compliance and whether the fund creation mechanism can become a distraction from acknowledging the long history of pollution related impacts in many parts of the country.”

Leo Saldanha, Coordinator of Bengaluru’s Environment Support Group (ESG), an advocacy NGO that also files petitions against environmental and forest law violations, drew attention to the exercise of dilution of environmental laws that had started in 2003-04 during NDA-I rule and continued through till the current dispensation took it to further levels of dilution.

Charting out the chronology, Saldahna said that it was in 2004 when then Environment Secretary Pradipto Ghosh had proposed to turn India’s environmental jurisprudence based on criminal jurisprudence to civil.

“The UPA I and II regimes neither pushed for watering it down nor strengthened it, and also made no attempt to ensure it remained without trampling,” Saldahna said.

The T.S.R. Subramanian Report of 2014 was the first major environmental reform brought about by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and this dilution got a boost based on self-regulation by the corporate/industry sector in ‘utmost good faith’, he said, adding that following the nation-wide outcry and criticism, the then Environment Minister backed out only to bring the Environmental Laws Amendment Bill of 2015, which too was heavily slammed by the civil society.

“Then during the pandemic came the Forest (Conservation) Act, EIA notifications – all pushed back by public pressure. Now, these proposed amendments. The EPA is an umbrella protection law. If you remove this, you are leaving the field open. It will legalise criminality in the garb of decriminalisation and lead to dilution of environmental jurisprudence built over the last four decades,” Saldahna warned.




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