In 2019, 50,000 environment-related cases remained pending in courts
At least 50,000 environment-related cases were pending trial in various courts in 2019, according to an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). To clear the backlog, courts would have to dispose of 137 cases a day. In 2019, 34,671 environment-related crimes were registered.
The analysis is part of CSE’s annual review titled “State of India’s Environment 2021” released last week. Interestingly, the highest backlog was found in the cases related to The Cigarette and other Tobacco Products Act, followed by The Indian Forest Act, Forest Conservation Act and the Noise Pollution Rules.
“Offences under the Tobacco Products Act have been erroneously categorised under environmental offences by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)... Also, disposal or pendency of cases does not reflect whether environmental justice is being done...We need to study the data carefully to assess whether pollution control boards and environment ministry are taking legal action against polluters,” said lawyer Ritwick Dutta.
The analysis based on data from NCRB suggests Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra accounted for 77% of India’s wildlife crimes in 2019. Between 2018 and 2019, some states saw an increase in wildlife crimes, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal and all the states of the northeast, but there was a marginal drop in such cases between 2019 and 2020. At least two cases of wildlife crime are recorded every day in India.
CSE said the courts are stretched and they managed to dispose of only 86 cases (environment and pollution-related) on an average every day in 2019.
“It’s important that we read the report first before responding,” said a senior environment ministry official.
CSE’s review also suggests that the environment appraisal and clearance process for industries has been rather hurried. According to environment impact assessment experts consulted by CSE, if a project clears every stage of the EC process in a single attempt, then it should take a year to get environmental clearance. But between 2014 and 2020, 88% of the projects were given environmental clearance in less than 12 months. The government also rarely refused any proposals.