Red signals for green laws

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Source: The post is based on article “Red signals for green laws” published in the Business Standard on 4th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS3 – Ecology and Environment

Relevance: Environmental Protection Laws

News: Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has proposed to amend the environmental protection law; and air and water pollution laws.

About the proposals

The government wants to decriminalize the provisions to remove fear of imprisonment for “simple” violations, proposal to raise the penalty from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, instead of the imprisonment for the first default (originally up to five years).

For a repeat offence the penalty would become more interpretational. It will be treated as equivalent to the damage caused.

If the defaulter fails to pay both the original and additional penalty, then imprisonment would follow.

The aggrieved parties can appeal to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the adjudicating officer’s order.

The government would create an environment protection fund where the penalty imposed by adjudicating officers under the amended rules will be deposited.

The fund will be used for the benefit of affected parties.

What are the issues?

The proposal’s aim is to dilute the penal provisions. They would lead to loosening of the environment protection laws and establish a business-friendly regime.

India is facing ecological challenges. For example, the country is among the world’s top climate-induced disaster-hit countries.

There are arguments to keep environmental protection laws as strict as possible.

Traditionally, India has been adherent to the principle of climate justice and keeping environment protection non-negotiable.

What are the other government initiatives that seem to be great cause of concern?

In 2014, the government allowed factories to be set up in eight critically polluted belts.

The mid-sized polluting industries were allowed to operate within 5 km of eco-sensitive areas instead of 10 km.

The effluent norms for thermal power plants were eased. Further, ecologically sensitive areas (ESA) were denotified and coastal regulation zones (CRZ) were loosened.

The amendments to the Forest Act were proposed which aims to enable safaris, zoos, mining and other non-forest use on forest land.

The government has strengthened its role in environmental decision-making bodies. For example, it has reduced the number of independent members on the National Board for Wildlife from 15 to three.

The government also tried to take a bigger role in the appointment of the chairman of the NGT. However, the decision was stayed by the Supreme Court.

Way Forward

The balance between growth and environment sustainability should be maintained at all times.

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