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Violation of some green regulations may be decriminalised

Updated on Jul 03, 2022 07:11 AM IST

Some violations of the air and water acts, the environment protection law, and the public liability insurance law that deals with providing relief to victims of accidents while handling hazardous substances in industries will be decriminalised to remove the fear of imprisonment, the ministry said.

Legal experts are divided on the implications of the proposals. (AP)
ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi

Violation of certain environmental regulations may soon be decriminalised, although they would attract stiffer penalties, according to public consultation papers released by the environment ministry that propose to amend four environmental laws.

Some violations of the air and water acts, the environment protection law, and the public liability insurance law that deals with providing relief to victims of accidents while handling hazardous substances in industries will be decriminalised to remove the fear of imprisonment, the ministry said.

The consultation papers uploaded on the environment ministry website on Friday seek to increase penalties but absolves violators of criminal liability. They also propose to create various funds from the levies that will be utilised to mitigate the environmental damage.

In the case of the public liability insurance law, the ministry seeks to remove the provision of prosecution. Only in the case of non-payment of penalty will the violator be prosecuted. The penalties will be collected under an environment relief fund.

Similar modifications are sought for the water and air acts. The penalties levied for violations of the water act will be put into the water pollution remediation fund. In most cases, penalties of 10, 000 will be increased to between 1 lakh and 1 crore.

“Criminal prosecution was an option but was it effective? The penalties for non-compliance and violation should be imposed immediately. The new amendments will act as a greater deterrent than criminal prosecution. Even though criminal prosecution may sound very serious conviction hardly happened in such cases. Criminal prosecution leads to a very long drawn process that goes on for years together. The action should be swift and simple. Also, the threat of criminal prosecution was often misused which may be addressed now,” said a senior environment ministry official.

The changes in the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, also focuses on decriminalising certain provisions. However, serious violations would shall be prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code. The amendments propose creating a corpus called the environmental protection fund.

Legal experts are divided on the implications of the proposals.

“If you go by principle, it may seem like criminal prosecution is important. But state pollution control boards have no capacity to do criminal prosecution. Communities affected by pollution want two things, immediate remediation of pollution and compensation,” said Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer. “What is important is closure notices, penalising and remediation. We need effective deterrent and civil consequences.”

“These proposed amendments not just reinstate the techno-managerial approach to environment regulation, but are also set up to lower the liability of polluters and violators of environmental norms at a time when the global environmental discourse is increasingly demanding higher levels of penalties and adjudication against environmental crimes,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank.

“The present set of amendments create a hierarchy of offences, which give the impression that non-adherence of pollution control standards, nor holding back necessary documentation is a minor act of non-compliance, de-linking it from actual loss of life and property. It also assumes that weeding out fear of imprisonment will create an incentivise higher levels of commitment to environmental laws,” she said. “This approach is neither built on the long history why environmental offences have been rarely resulted in criminal prosecution, nor is it a recognition that a casual approach to environmental safeguards is directly linked with industrial accidents and decades of relegating communities to contaminated and insecure futures.”

The last date for submitting comments on these proposed amendments is July 21.

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