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Insights into Editorial: A clean-up act with a short sweep + Mindmaps on Issues

Insights into Editorial: A clean-up act with a short sweep + Mindmaps on Issues

18 November 2015

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), in its recently released report, has indicated that respirable particulate matter in the national capital has crossed hazardous limits.

  • As per the analysis of data for last three years, PM10 has exceeded the prescribed norms in all Delhi and surrounding six major cities.
  • PM10 particles are less than 10 micrometers in diameter and are so small that they can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems.

However, quantifying environmental damage has not always been an easy task. It is difficult to identify when the damage exactly started and what its impact will be. It is also difficult or nearly impossible to find the exact source and cause of damage.

Sensing the urgency of the situation, the government of India has come with the Environmental Laws (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to define the scope of damage by gauging its distance from a project site, and circumscribing penalties for damage. This is also an attempt to quantify and penalize environmental damage. However, the Bill falls short in understanding the scope, ramifications and extent of environmental damage.

Problems with the proposed bill:

  • The Bill focuses on environmental damage as pollution. Pollution is an important source of damage, but all damage is not just pollution. There are several other types of environmental damage- like dredging activities that can fill up an important wetland-that merit inclusion in the Bill that change the ecological integrity or character of an ecosystem.
  • The Bill suggests that there are three kinds of environmental damage — substantial, non-substantial and minor. But it does not elaborate on what the differentiating factors between these categories are. And there is no scientific and legal basis for categorising offences as ‘substantial’, ‘non substantial’ and ‘minor’.
  • The bill does not consider damage to wild species and wild places as environmental damage.
  • The Bill in its present form also violates India’s international commitment under the Rio Declaration, 1992.
  • The Bill in its present form does not achieve the stated objective to provide for ‘effective deterrent penal provisions and introducing the concept of monetary penalty for violation and contraventions’. The maximum penalty of `20 crore irrespective of the nature of industry and offence cannot act as a comprehensive deterrent.
  • The Bill also fails to address the grievances of affected citizens. While the party against whom a penalty is imposed by the adjudicating authority can directly approach the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the affected citizens have to go through a process which is complicated if the penalised party fails to pay the penalty. By doing so, the Bill favours the guilty over those affected by the offense.
  • The Bill also curtails powers of the NGT to award compensation and damages making it accessible mainly for polluting units to redress their grievances and not for affected people.
  • The Bill suggests that the costs of environmental damage, in the form of hazards and pollution, may extend to 10 crore rupees within a 5 km distance from a project site. However, for certain categories of industries the damage near the project site can be more than the damage beyond 5 kms.

What should be considered?

  • The bill might consider quantifying environmental damage by measuring a difference or drop in ecosystem services. For example, land degradation can affect plant pollination and forests can turn barren, in turn affecting carbon sequestration and air purification.
  • The Bill might consider defining environmental damage beyond human-centric definitions. For example, Under British law, environmental damage is defined as that which causes a significant, harmful effect on the conservation status of an EU [European Union] protected species or natural habitat.
  • Projects that fragment wild habitats or irretrievably damage ecosystems can also be considered as factors that cause environmental damage.

India has already begun taking steps in the right direction. But the situation demands more action in order to control further environmental damage. The economic gain due to avoidable loss of human life is too huge to be ignored. Central Pollution Control Board can be divested into various regional air boards that will be responsible for securing the environment in a more proactive manner. If mandatory, more laws need to be enacted and strictly enforced to accomplish these goals.

 

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