The need for protection and conservation of the environment and sustainable use of natural resources is reflected in the constitutional framework of India and also in the international commitments of India. The Constitution under Part IVA (Art 51A-Fundamental Duties) casts a duty on every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures. Further, the Constitution of India under Part IV (Art 48A-Directive Principles of State Policies) stipulates that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
Several environment protection legislations existed even before the Independence of India. However, the true thrust for putting in force a well-developed framework came only after the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972). After the Stockholm Conference, the National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning was set up in 1972 within the Department of Science and Technology to establish a regulatory body to look after the environment-related issues. This Council later evolved into a full-fledged Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
MoEF was established in 1985, which today is the apex administrative body in the country for regulating and ensuring environmental protection and lays down the legal and regulatory framework for the same. Since the 1970s, a number of environmental legislations have been put in place. The MoEF and the pollution control boards (“CPCB”, ie, Central Pollution Control Board and “SPCBs”, ie, State Pollution Control Boards) together form the regulatory and administrative core of the sector.
Some of the important legislations for environmental protection are as follows:
The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010
The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (No. 19 of 2010) (NGT Act) has been enacted with the objectives to provide for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal (NGT) for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (the “Air Act”) is an act to provide for the prevention, control and abatement of air pollution and for the establishment of Boards at the Central and State levels with a view to carrying out the aforesaid purposes.
To counter the problems associated with air pollution, ambient air quality standards were established under the Air Act. The Air Act seeks to combat air pollution by prohibiting the use of polluting fuels and substances, as well as by regulating appliances that give rise to air pollution.
The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
The Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974 (the “Water Act”) has been enacted to provide for the prevention and control of water pollution and to maintain or restore the wholesomeness of water in the country. It further provides for the establishment of Boards for the prevention and control of water pollution with a view to carrying out the aforesaid purposes. The Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants into water bodies beyond a given standard and lays down penalties for non-compliance.
The Environment Protection Act, 1986
The Environment Protection Act, 1986 (the “Environment Act”) provides for the protection and improvement of the environment. The Environment Protection Act establishes the framework for studying, planning and implementing long-term requirements of environmental safety and laying down a system of speedy and adequate response to situations threatening the environment. It is an umbrella legislation designed to provide a framework for the coordination of central and state authorities established under the Water Act, 1974 and the Air Act. The term “environment” is understood in a very wide term under s 2(a) of the Environment Act. It includes water, air and land as well as the interrelationship which exists between water, air and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms and property.
From time to time, the Central Government issues notifications under the Environment Act for the protection of ecologically sensitive areas or issues guidelines for matters under the Environment Act.
In case of any non-compliance or contravention of the Environment Act, or of the rules or directions under the said Act, the violator will be punishable with imprisonment up to five years or with a fine up to Rs 1,00,000, or with both.
Hazardous Wastes Management Regulations
Hazardous waste means any waste which, by reason of any of its physical, chemical, reactive, toxic, flammable, explosive or corrosive characteristics, causes danger or is likely to cause danger to health or environment, whether alone or when in contact with other wastes or substances.
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 was enacted with the objective of effectively protecting the wildlife of this country and controlling poaching, smuggling and illegal trade in wildlife and its derivatives. The Act was amended in January 2003 and punishment and penalty for offences under the Act have been made more stringent. The Ministry has proposed further amendments in the law by introducing more rigid measures to strengthen the Act. The objective is to provide protection to the listed endangered flora and fauna and ecologically important protected areas.
The Forest Conservation Act, 1980
The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 was enacted to help conserve the country’s forests. It strictly restricts and regulates the de-reservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purposes without the prior approval of the Central Government.
Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991
The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 was enacted with the objectives to provide for damages to victims of an accident that occurs as a result of handling any hazardous substance. The Act applies to all owners associated with the production or handling of any hazardous chemicals.
The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
The Biological Diversity Act 2002 was born out of India’s attempt to realise the objectives enshrined in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 1992 which recognises the sovereign rights of states to use their own Biological Resources. The Act aims at the conservation of biological resources and associated knowledge as well as facilitating access to them in a sustainable manner.
Coastal Regulation Zone Notification
The Ministry of Environment and Forests had issued the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification vide Notification no. S O. 19(E), dated January 06, 2011, with an objective to ensure livelihood security to the fishing communities and other local communities living in the coastal areas, to conserve and protect coastal stretches and to promote development in a sustainable manner based on scientific principles, taking into account the dangers of natural hazards in the coastal areas and sea-level rise due to global warming.
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