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Financial penalties to replace legal prosecution for green violations


NEW DELHI: In a move to decriminalize the existing provisions related to violations of four major laws dealing with air and water pollution in the country, the union environment ministry has proposed to deal with non-compliance by imposing financial penalties ranging up to Rs 5 crore by replacing prosecution in the court of law with a maximum imprisonment of 7 years.

Calling it a move to “weed out fear of imprisonment for simple violations”, the ministry has proposed for amendment to the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Public Liability Insurance (PLI), Act 1991.

At present, several sections under these laws invite imprisonment ranging from 3 months to 7 years along with a penalty of Rs 100,000. “Only 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 Environment (Protection) Act,” said the proposed amendments. Under the PLI Act, only non-payment of penalty will attract criminal liability.       

The ministry said that failure or contravention or non-compliance with the provisions of these legislations would be dealt with by imposing a penalty through a duly authorized Adjudicating Officer and not invite criminal liability. It called for creating remediation and environment protection funds in which the amount of penalty imposed shall be remitted. The funds will be utilized for compensation to affected parties.

The proposed amendments also authorize the centre to issue notification exempting certain categories of green/non-polluting industries from provisions of obtaining prior consent to operate under the law.  

Environment experts feel that these and other proposals such as the creation of managed funds and allowing for the central government to introduce exemptions through executive notifications will have a bearing on the extent and nature of legal remedies that can be accessed by people affected by pollution and concerned with legal noncompliance.

“The proposed amendments are designed to substantially modify the environmental liability regime for several industrial and related economic actors, embedded in four major legislations over four decades. The nature of changes allows for an artificial separation between the action of economic actors and its consequences -- releasing emissions beyond standards versus operating without pollution consent,” said Kanchi Kohli, a researcher at the Centre for Policy Research.