Environmental Laws: You Must Know
We all are surrounded by the environment in which we breathe and live. It’s our responsibility to keep it clean so that we can breathe fresh air. Our government has taken actions in the form of environmental laws to be followed by every individual in support of the government. We should know about the basic environmental laws, which are provided to protect and conserve our environment. Let’s get to the history of environmental laws in detail:
Constitution of India & Environmental Laws
India has the largest democracy and owns one of the biggest emerging economies. The Indian Constitution is one of the few in the world that contains specific provisions on the environment. Several environmental protection laws existed even before the Independence of India but the real impulsion for bringing about a well-developed framework came only after the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972). As a result, the National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning within the Department of Science and Technology was set up in 1972. It was later evolved into a fully developed Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in 1985. Today, MoEF regulates and ensures environmental protection.
After the Stockholm Conference, in 1976, constitutional sanction was given to environmental concerns through the 42nd Amendment, which incorporated them into the Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights and Duties(sections of the Constitution of India that prescribe the fundamental obligations of the states to its citizens and the duties and the rights of the citizens to the State).
The Directive Principles of State Policy and the Fundamental Duties chapters precisely articulate the national commitment towards environmental improvement and protection. Three constitutional provisions focus directly on environmental matters.
- Firstly, Article 21 states: "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law." In Subhash Kumar v. the State of Bihar, A.I.R 1991 SC 420, and the case of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984, the Supreme Court declared that “issues of the environment must and shall receive the highest attention from this court.” These liberties are implied by Article 21, including the right to a healthy environment.
- Secondly, Article 48A stated that "the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country."
- Thirdly, Article 51A establishes that "it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures."
This landmark interpretation by the Supreme Court set the foundation for the expansion of rights-based approaches to challenging environmental impacts of growth.
Environmental Laws and their Enforcement Authorities in India
The main environmental laws, on behalf of which various environmental permits/clearance are being issued in India, as follows:
- Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: This act was enacted to effectively protect the wildlife of this country and to control poaching, smuggling, and illegal trade in wildlife and its derivatives
- Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act 1974 (Water Act): This act is for the prevention and control of water pollution and maintaining and restoring the quality of water
- Forest Conservation Act, 1980: This Act was enacted for the conservation of forests and matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto.
- Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act 1981 (Air Act): This act is for the prevention, control, and abatement of air pollution. To counter the problems associated with air pollution, ambient air quality standards were established under the Air Act.
- Motor vehicles Act 1988: This act helps in improving technology related to the motor vehicles management system. It deals with the changes in road development technology and how a passenger gets affected by this road transport mechanism.
- Environment Protection Act 1986 (EPA). This umbrella law enables the central government to take necessary measures to protect and improve the environment, and to prevent, control, and abate environmental pollution. A wide range of rules and notifications have been adopted under it, such as the:
E-Waste (Management) Rules 2016, amended in 2018
- Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules 2016: It was aimed at proper disposal, segregation, transport, of infectious wastes like syringes, bandages, surgical masks, surgical waste, etc.
- Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016: This rule is to bring in the responsibilities of producers and generators, both in the plastic waste management system and to introduce collect back system of plastic waste by the producers/brand owners, as per extended producers responsibility
- Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016: This rule is to manage, transport, and dispose of solid waste. It includes the segregation of waste to be followed by every person
- Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules 2016: This rule is for the management of waste comprising of building materials, debris, and rubble resulting from construction, remodeling, repair, and demolition of any civil structure
- Hazardous and Other Waste Rules 2016: To control the generation, collection, treatment, import, storage, and handling of hazardous waste.
- Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2006: Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) is the process or study which predicts the effect of a proposed industrial/infrastructural project on the environment.
- National Green Tribunal Act 2010: This Act has been enacted with the objectives of the establishment of a National Green Tribunal (NGT). It was for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests. It also handles enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property
- Biological Diversity Act, 2002: The Act aims at the conservation of biological resources and associated knowledge as well as sustainably facilitating access to them. The National Biodiversity Authority in Chennai has been established to implement the objects of the Act.
The key regulatory authorities are the:
- Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC)
- Central pollution and control board(CPCB)
- State pollution control board(SPCB)
- District Level Authorities (municipal corporations)
Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) is the process or study which predicts the effect of a proposed industrial/infrastructural project on the environment. It prevents the proposed activity/project from being approved without proper oversight or taking adverse consequences into account. The 1994 EIA notification was replaced with a modified draft in 2006. Earlier this year, the government redrafted it to incorporate the amendments and relevant court orders issued in 2006. The new proposed 2020 draft is facing some issues. It becomes unclear whether it is to save the environment or to destroy the environment:
- The main problem in EIA 2020 draft is that there is no scope for public complaints. Only the project holder or government could file a complaint if the project has some environmental issues
- The Response period for the public to any notification of a project in EIA 2006 was 30 days. But EIA 2020 Draft reduced the public response time to 20 days.
- EIA Draft 2020 suggests that post-facto clearance is accepted. If a project has come up without environmental clearance, it can continue its operation. Environmental clearance can be obtained later by paying a small fine. Till that time the project is permissible to run operations.
- According to the new draft, there is a category of projects which does not require any environmental clearance. But it is not disclosed to the public notice. In the future, it could be modified as per the requirement of any illegal project
- Projects like inland waterways projects, the expansion and widening of national highways, and construction projects with an area of up to 150,000 square meters (compared to 20,000 square meters previously) would also be exempt from prior clearance.
Environmental Awareness and Education
- Environmental education should not be restricted to any group or society. Every person should be aware of this lifelong process of environment protection
- Education is the first and key step to a substantial change over time. In India, some universities teach subjects like environmental science, conservation and management, and environmental health and social science.
- Environmental awareness leads to understanding the environmental issues and teaches people to solve them
- The directives of the Supreme Court, India also gave directions to All India Radio and Doordarshan to highlight their programs on various aspects of the environment.
- The Supreme Court also stated that every state government and educational board promotes and facilitates environmental education.