#environment, #greenrules, #anti-pollution, #GEA

Theenvironment ministryhas its work cut out for the next three years. The Prakash Javadekar-led ministry will now devote all its efforts to ensure compliance of the environmental laws. For this, the ministry is planning to introduce hefty penalty for violation, using technology for monitoring violations round the clock and creating capacities at local level for strict implementation of environmental laws.

“Next three years would be (devoted to) compliance, compliance and compliance (of all environmental\anti-pollution laws\rules),” Javadekar said on Monday.

He said his ministry will come out with a civil penalty bill to scale up the monetary fine so that it can work as a real deterrent. The bill will help in compliance of all the existing environmental laws as well as various rules that had been tightened up in the past two years.

Though the minister did not give any time frame, nor did he share details of the proposed legislation, the bill is expected to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament. The Times of India had in March reported about this upcoming law where the ministry is looking to increase the fine to a minimum of Rs 5 crore up from existing Rs 1 lakh and imprisonment up to seven years for causing ‘substantial’ environmental damage.

Noting how the compliance is a real problem at this juncture when the country has many laws and hundreds of rules, Javadekar highlighted that the existing penalties are too meagre to be taken up seriously by violators.

“Anyone is happily ready with a fine of Rs 800 for cutting a tree at present. Similarly, a fine of Rs one lakh for violating anti-pollution norms by industries is nothing. Violators have always been ready to pay such paltry sum. This has to change. We have to bring a regime of hefty penalty that can work as a deterrent,” Javadekar said while addressing a press conference.

“We are in the process of finalizing the details of the proposed civil penalty bill. We will make compliance easy and violation very costly,” he said.

The proposed bill will set the the upper limit of fine as high as Rs 20 crore and imprisonment that may be extended to a life term if ‘substantial’ environmental damage has been caused in a large area. If the damage continues unabated over a period of time, violators may have to pay additional Rs 1 crore a day.

The penal provisions and monetary fines in the bill are quite stiff as compared to provisions in the existing Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

At present, the violator can pay a fine of merely Rs 1 lakh and face imprisonment up to five years (which can be extended to seven years in certain cases) on conviction. In case the violation continues, the offender under the present law has to pay additional fine up to Rs 5000 a day during which the contravention continues.

Speaking about the ministry’s efforts in the past two years to digitize decision making and forest\environmental clearance processes to bring transparency and cut delays, Javadekar said, “Ab office-office khel band ho gaya hai (It’s an end to the office-centric approach)… everything is being tracked\monitored online in the ministry.”

Asked about his ministry’s view on genetically modified (GM) crops, the minister took a progressive and pro-science approach saying the government was not in favour of blocking science as it wanted to increase production and productivity of food-grains in India.

“Our job is to increase production and productivity and it can be achieved through science and technology. How can we do that by blocking science? We can’t be a hindrance,” Javadekar said.


He also noted that his ministry’s regulator – Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) – had allowed field trials of 18 transgenic varieties of seeds with adequate safety measures in past two years. But, he said, it would entirely depend on states to allow such trials or not after the GEAC clearance.

On Ganga river pollution, the minister claimed that the has managed to reduce the industrial pollution in the Ganga by 35% through strict implementation of norms for critically polluting industries located near the river.

Javadekar enlisted increase of forest cover, better monitoring and controlling of industrial pollution, approval of 2000 projects worth investment of Rs 10 lakh crore and potential of creating 10 lakh jobs, reducing the project approval time from 600 days to 190 days and protecting interests of India at the Paris climate negotiation as five major achievements of his ministry during the past two years.

Asked when India would ratify the Paris agreement on climate change, the minister said, “We have decided to ratify it. After all, we have not signed it just like that. Our ratification (process) is on track. There is a due process. Once the process is completed, we will ratify it. There is a process and therefore I cannot tell you about the final date or time-line.”