The government will soon bring in changes to the law to provide for tougher punishments for pollution-related offences, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Javadekar said his ministry has finalised proposals to amend the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and plans to introduce these in the ongoing session of Parliament itself. The proposals have been submitted to the cabinet for approval, he said.
Javadekar also said the government would get the land bill passed in the current session of Parliament. “There is one week to go, and three more days for the Rajya Sabha. Many things can happen in eight days. Many things will be cleared,” he said.
Asked why he thought the opposition will change its stand on the land bill, he said, “Logon ko sadbuddhi aati hai (People are visited with good sense). So let us wait for the final days of the Parliament session.” Although the bill was not mentioned in its list of business for the week beginning Tuesday, the government said on Friday it would like to bring in the bill before the Lok Sabha concludes on May 8.
About the changes to environmental laws, Javadekar said, “Today, you can issue directions, you can register a violation, you can register a criminal case which never gets completed in a time-bound manner. So nobody gets punished in that process. Or, otherwise, you can only close the shop. But that is not the way. You cannot close thousands of industries. So there has to be a third thing. That means, you have to create a mechanism where we increase the penalties.”
Offences under the Environment Protection Act are punishable by a fine up to Rs 1 lakh, imprisonment up to five years, or both. The minister did not specify what the new ceiling of fines would be.
Javadekar conceded that there was “pressure” on India’s land and forest resources because of development needs. “We have only 2.5 per cent of the world’s land mass and have 17 per cent of the human as well as 17 per cent of the cattle population. Therefore, there will always be pressure but still we have to protect our environment and increase the forest cover. How can we do that? The answer is technology,” he said.
The Environment Ministry has been working on making “comprehensive amendments” to six green laws, including the EPA, to bring them in line with current requirements. Javadekar said the work will take about six months to be finalised.
“The T S R Subramanian Committee has given its inputs. Then all the states have given their inputs. All experts and others too have given their inputs. All of them have been put together and we have appointed a law firm to draft the laws. That will take about six months,” he said.
But a law on creating an authority to deal with compensatory afforestation funds, which was cleared by the cabinet recently, will be introduced in the current session itself, Javadekar promised. “CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority) is a major step.”
Javadekar said the Narendra Modi government has performed “miracles” on the environment front in its 11 months so far. “We have made processes transparent. We have started taking decisions. The ministry, which was seen as a speed-breaker and a tax ministry, we have converted into a facilitating and a very transparent ministry, where we are accountable for all our actions.,” Javadekar said.