India

NITI Aayog backs proposed law for heavy penalties on polluters

30 Aug 2017 | By Ramya Patelkhana

Thousands of polluting industries, including sugar producers, distilleries, pharmaceutical units, mining units, etc. have been issued closure orders by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for violating pollution norms.

However, the government is mulling a proposed law for imposing heavy penalties on polluters instead of shutting them down.

The government's policy think-tank NITI Aayog has also reportedly backed the proposed law.

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In context: Law for imposing bigger fines on polluting industries

30 Aug 2017NITI Aayog backs proposed law for heavy penalties on polluters

Existing penalty for polluters

Currently, those violating pollution norms will have to pay a maximum penalty of Rs. 1 lakh and face up to five years' imprisonment. The penalty can be imposed only when a complaint is filed in court and order against the polluter is obtained.
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Proposed law provides for Rs. 5cr minimum penalty

PunishmentProposed law provides for Rs. 5cr minimum penalty

The proposed law provides hiking the penalty for polluters from Rs. 1 lakh to a minimum of Rs. 5cr and also extending the imprisonment term to up to seven years for causing "substantial" damage to the environment.

Also, it has provisions for imposing up to Rs. 20cr penalty and increasing the imprisonment to life-term in cases where violators cause harm to larger areas.

Proposed LawProposed legislation yet to be sent to Union Cabinet

The proposed law by Environment Ministry, approved by Law Ministry in 2016, is yet to be submitted to the Union Cabinet for clearance.

Environment Ministry officials say the draft needs fine-tuning and certain stakeholders' suggestions need to be incorporated.

They hope the stiff policy will compel industries to take corrective measures, which are ignored by polluters who find paying the penalty is easy.

Most violators escape punishment

Last year, the Centre informed the Supreme Court it was unable to imprison any violator for several years under the existing laws' provisions. It also stated it could impose a maximum of only Rs. 25,000 penalty and that too in a few cases.

CriticismEnvironmental Ministry's proposal criticized by environmentalists

The proposed legislation has drawn a lot of flak from environmentalists who have criticized the "pollute and pay" policy.

They said violators could carry on with their activities by just paying heavy fines.

The ministry, however, said their aim behind introducing civil penalties is to ensure that violators pay for the restoration of the environment without "always" facing closure, which leads to job losses.

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AmendmentNITI Aayog pitches for change in legislation

NITI Aayog's three-year agenda backed modifying the existing Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986, saying the current mechanism often leads to "either drastic action or no action" against polluters.

The proposed law would amend the EPA and NGT (National Green Tribunal) Act.

If amended, EPA would have provisions for three separate green violation categories - minor, non-substantial, and substantial - and impose penalties accordingly.

NITI Aayog's three-year agenda

It said: "Closure and cutting electricity/water should be the last resort. Presently, the choice for a pollution control board faced with non-compliance is to take drastic action or no action. The result is that frequently no action is taken until matters reach a crisis point."