This article throws light upon the top six Environmental Acts enacted in India. Some of the Environmental Acts are: 1. Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 2. Forests (Conservation) Act, 1980 3. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 4. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977 and Others.
Environmental Act # 1. Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972:
Wildlife Act, a landmark in the history, was enacted for providing protection to wild animals and birds.
Wildlife was transferred from State list to concurrent list in 1976, thus giving powers to the Central government to enact legislation.
The Act also provides the constitution of Indian Board of Wildlife (IBWL), which actively took up the task of setting up Wildlife National parks and sanctuaries.
Objectives of the Act:
1. Restriction and prohibition on hunting and trapping wildlife.
2. Rehabilitation of endangered and threatened species.
3. Preservation of biological diversity by establishing sanctuaries, national parks and biosphere reserves.
4. Grant of a special permit to hunt a wildlife for scientific research, scientific management and collection of specimens for zoological gardens, museums etc.
5. Regulation of trade in wildlife and national conservation strategy.
6. Collaboration with voluntary bodies and NGO’s.
Drawbacks of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972:
1. It seems that the Act has been enacted just as a fallout of Stockholm Conference held in 1972. It has not included any locally evolved conservation measures.
2. The personal ownership certificates for animal articles (tiger, leopard skins etc.) are permissible which very often serve as a tool for illegal trading.
3. The Wildlife traders in Jammu and Kashmir easily get illegal furs and skins from other states which after being made into caps, belts etc. are sold to other countries. This is so happening because J and K has its own Wildlife Act and it does not follow the Central Wildlife Act. Moreover, hunting and trading of several endangered species prohibited in other states are allowed in J and K, thereby opening avenues for illegal trading in such animals.
4. There is little emphasis on protection of plant genetic resources.
5. The offender of the Act is not subject to very harsh penalties. It is just up to 3 years imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 25000 or both.
Environmental Act # 2. Forests (Conservation) Act, 1980:
The Act covers all types of forests including reserve forests, protected forests or any forested land irrespective of its ownership. The Act has made ample provisions to check deforestation and encourage afforestation of non-forest areas.
The National Forest Policy (1980) prohibits State governments for declaring any portion of forests as non-reserved without approval of Central government. The policy also prohibits State government for allotting any forest land for non-forest purposes.
The amended Act (1988) prohibits lease of forest land to anybody other than the government. It enhances conservation, plantation and increase of forest cover to an average of 30%.
Amended Forest Act, 1992:
1. The Act made provision for allowing some non-forest activities in forests without cutting trees with prior approval of Central government. These activities include setting of transmission lines, seismic surveys, exploration, drilling and hydroelectric projects.
2. Wildlife sanctuaries, National Parks etc. are totally prohibited for any exploration or survey without prior approval of Central government even if no tree felling is involved.
3. Cultivation of tea, coffee, spices, rubber, mulberry for rearing silk worms and cash crops are included under non-forestry activities and are not allowed in reserve forests.
4. Even cultivation of fruit bearing trees, oil yielding plants or medicinal plants in the forest area need to be first approved to maintain the balance in the ecology of the forest.
5. Mining is a non-forestry activity and prior approval of Central government is mandatory.
6. Any proposal sent to Central government for non-forest activity must have a cost benefit analysis and also Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the proposed activity.
7. More stringent penal provisions are made against violators of the Act.
Drawbacks of the Forest (Conservation) Act:
1. This Act has just transferred the powers from States to Centres to decide the conversion of reserve forest lands to non-forest areas. Thus powers have been centralized at the top.
2. The Act has failed to attract public support because it has infringed upon the human rights of the poor native people.
3. Very marginal participation of the poor community in the Act remains one of the major drawbacks which affects proper execution of the Act.
4. Forest dwelling tribal communities have a rich knowledge about the fotest resources, their values and conservation. But their role and contribution is neither acknowledged nor honoured.
5. Efforts are now being made to make up for gaps in laws by introducing the principles of Public trust or Human rights protection.
Environmental Act # 3. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974:
The Act defined terms like pollution, sewage effluent, trade effluent, stream and boards.
The salient features and provisions of the Act are summed up as follows:
1. The Act provides for maintenance and restoration of quality of all types of surface and ground water.
2. It provides for the establishment of Central and State Boards for pollution control.
3. The Act assigns powers and functions to these Boards to control pollution.
4. The Central and State Pollution Control Boards are given comprehensive powers to advise, coordinate and provide technical assistance for prevention and control of water pollution.
5. The Act has provisions for funds, budgets, accounts and audit of the Central and State Pollution Control Boards.
6. The Act prohibits disposal of any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to the flow of water in a stream. However, dumping of any material into a stream for the purpose of reclamation of land is not considered an offence.
7. The Act provides for severe and deterrent punishments for violation of the Act which includes fine and imprisonment.
The main regulatory bodies are the Pollution Control Boards, which have been conferred the following functions and powers.
Functions of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB):
1. CPCB advises the Central government in matters related to prevention and control of water pollution.
2. Coordinates activities of State Pollution Control Boards and provides them technical assistance and guidance.
3. Organizes comprehensive programmes on pollution related issues through mass media.
4. Lays down standards for water quality parameters.
5. Collects, compiles and publishes technical and statistical data related to pollution.
6. Prepares manuals for treatment and disposal of sewage and trade effluents.
7. Establishes laboratories for analysis of water, sewage or trade effluent samples.
Functions of State Pollution Control Board (SPCB):
1. The SPCB has similar functions to be executed at state level and are governed by the directions of CPCB.
2. SPCB advises the State government with respect to the location of any industry that might pollute a stream or river.
3. It lays down standards for effluents entering the water bodies.
4. The State Board has powers to obtain information, to take samples of effluents from any industry, to sanction or refuse consent of the industry, to make survey of any area and gauge and keep record of the volume and other characteristics of any stream or well.
5. Every industry has to obtain consent from the Board (granted for a fixed duration) by applying on a prescribed proforma providing all technical details along with a prescribed fee following which analysis of the effluent is carried out.
6. A person empowered by the Board has the right to enter, inspect and examine any plant, record, register, document or any other material object, or for conducting a search of any place where he has reason to believe that no offence of water pollution is committed.
7. The Board has powers to restructure the outlets for dumping pollutants. The Board suggests efficient methods for utilization, treatment and disposal of trade effluents.
While development is necessary for the progress of a nation but it is most important to prevent pollution, which can jeopardise the existence of man. Installation and proper functioning of effluent treatment plants in all polluting industries is a must for checking pollution of water and land. Despite certain limitations in the Act, the Water Act has ample provisions for controlling water pollution through legal measures.
Environmental Act # 4. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977:
1. This Act empowers the Central Water Board to collect cess on water consumed by persons carrying on certain scheduled industries and by local Authorities responsible for supplying water.
2. The cess and the consent fees from the major sources of revenue to run the Central and State Water Boards.
3. The Act has been amended in 1991 with a view to augment the resources of the Boards by removing the lacunae in the Act and to provide rebate to the industries for complying with the consumption and effluent quality standard.
Technical Difficulties in Controlling Water Pollution:
There are, however, several enforcements problems. Although the Water Cess Act was passed to meet the expenses of the Central and State Boards yet the Water Board has no power to take direct action against the erring party. The court procedures are time consuming and delays often prevent quick and preventive action thereby defeating the sole purpose of the Act.
Because of the problems inherent in the implementation of the Act, amendments were proposed for strengthening the working of the State Boards. Inspite of the legislative measures, the pollution of our water ways continues unabated. This is due to the lack of civic sense among people and due to the lack of necessary infra structure for enforcing implementation of the laws efficiently.
Environmental Act # 5. Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981:
The Air Act was passed under Article 253 of the Constitution of India and in pursuance of decisions of Stockholm Conference.
1. The objective of this Act is to provide means for the prevention, control and abatement of air pollution in order to preserve the quality of air.
2. The Act defines relevant terms such as air pollution, air pollutants, vehicular exhausts and industrial plants etc.
Air pollution is defined as the presence of any liquid or gaseous substances in the atmosphere in such a concentration which tends to be injurious to man, animals, plants or environment.
3. The Act also includes automobiles, diesel vehicles, transport, railways and domestic fuels.
4. The Act provides, as per Section 19, the declaration of certain heavily polluted areas as Air pollution control area and no industrial plant shall be operated in these areas without prior consent of the State Pollution Control Board.
5. The Central and State Water Boards have been entrusted with the task of controlling and preventing air pollution and accordingly they have been redesigned as Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Board respectively.
6. The State Boards have to lay down and enforce standards for prevention and control of air pollution.
7. Under Section 20 of the Act, the State Government in consultation with the respective Board may give instructions to the concerned Authority in-charge for Registrations under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939, to ensure emission standards for automobiles. Failure to comply with the conditions prescribed for this purpose is punishable with fine and imprisonment.
8. The State Boards have powers to sue a polluter in a court of law to punish him for polluting the air and the expenses incurred by the Board will be recovered from the polluter.
9. The Boards have powers to authorise any person to inspect the premises of the polluter and to collect samples of emissions from chimneys, flues, ducts or any other outlets for the analysis of pollutants.
10. The Act also includes noise under the category of air pollutants in 1987.
Environmental Act # 6. Environment Protection Act, 1986:
The Environment Protection Act, November 19, 1986 was enacted as per the spirit of the Stockholm Conference held in June 1972 to take appropriate steps for the protection and improvement of the environs and to prevent hazards to human beings, living creatures and property. The Act consists of 26 Sections distributed among four chapters and extends to the whole country.
Section 2 of the Act empowers the Central Government to make following rules for the first time for:
(i) Standard of quality of air, water and soil for various areas and for various purposes.
(ii) Maximum permissible limits of concentration for various environmental pollutants (including noise) for different areas.
(iii) Procedures and safeguards for handling of hazardous substances.
(iv) Prohibition and restrictions on the location of industries and carrying out operations.
(v) Procedures and safeguards for prevention of accidents which may cause environmental pollution and
(vi) Providing for remedial measures in case of accidents.
Salient Features of the Act:
a. EPA is a land mark legislation to provide a single focus in the country for the protection of environment and to plug the loop holes in the earlier laws.
b. The Act ensures enforcement of several Acts/Regulations concerning pollution control.
In fact, EPA is an umbrella legislation which provides a framework for the coordination of Central and State Governments and authorities established under Water and Air Acts.
This Act confers powers to the Central Government to:
1. Take all such measures as it deems necessary for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution.
2. Issue directions (i) for the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation and process and (ii) for the stoppage or regulation of the supply of water, power or any other service even without obtaining court orders.
3. Empower any person to enter, inspect, take samples and test.
4. Establish or recognise environmental laboratories and appoint Government analysts.
5. Prohibit industrial emission or discharge of environmental pollutants over and above the limits stipulated by the relevant standards.
6. Any person can make a complaint of violation of provisions of the Act to the Central Government or authority or officer authorised for this purpose.
7. The Act prescribes stringent penalties to the defaulters for violation of the provisions of the Act.
8. The jurisdiction of Civil Court is barred under the Act. Every State has to set up Green Bench Courts to attend to Public Interest Litigation (PIL) cases concerning environmental hazards affecting the quality of life of citizens.
The State Pollution Control Boards have to follow guide lines provided under schedule 6 of EPA, 1986, some of which are as follows:
a. They have to advise the industries for treating the waste water and gases with the best technology to achieve the prescribed standards.
b. The industries have to be encouraged for recycling and recovery of biogas, energy and reusable materials.
c. The Central and State Boards have to emphasize on the implementation of clean green technologies by the industries to reduce the generation of pollutants.
The Government has taken several steps to provide legal and institutional basis for implementation of the Act. These include issue of rules, notification of standards, action regarding environmental laboratories, strengthening of State Departments of Environment and Pollution Control Boards, delegation of powers, identification of agencies for carrying out various activities for hazardous chemical management and setting up of Environment Protection Councils in the States. Besides this the Ministry has recently taken several new initiatives to steer the country towards the basic premises of sustainable developments and towards providing ecological security for the future.
Amendments to the EPA, Rules:
1. Environmental Impact Assessment:
Under the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, an amendment was made in 1994 for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of various (29 major) development projects. EIA of 29 specified projects falling under sectors such as Industries, Mining, Irrigation, Power, Transport, Tourism etc., require clearance from Central Government before establishment.
The project proponent has to provide EIA report, risk analysis report, NOC from State Pollution Control Board, project report/feasibility report, technical information for environmental appraisal of the project, availability of water and electricity and comprehensive rehabilitation plan etc.
2. Biomedical and Hazardous Wastes:
Under the EPA, 1986, the Central Government has also made Biomedical and Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989.
3. Environmental Audit:
The Government of India promulgated an amendment to the EPA rules, 1992. Every person carrying on any industry or operation requiring consent under the Water Act, 1974 or Air Act, 1981 or hazardous waste rules, 1989 issued under EPA, 1986 shall submit an environmental audit report for each financial year ending 31st March in a prescribed form to the State Pollution Control Board.
This form covers information of quantity of raw materials consumed including water per unit of product, total production, quantity of pollutants and hazardous wastes as well as the extent of recycling and reuse.