The burning problem of the present day is environmental pollution. In pursuance of the Stockholm Declarations, 1972, several legislations were passed for protection and improvement of the environment. According to N.D. Tiwari Committee’s Report, nearly 200 Central and State legislation are passed in India. Prominent among them are 12, of which the present Environment Protection Act is of great significance and importance. The Environment Protection Act aims to implement the recommendations of the Stockholm Declaration on protection and improvement of the environment.
Salient features: The Environment Protection Act, 1986 (hereinafter called the Act) contains 26 sections and divided into four chapters. The Environment Protection Act aims to achieve the objects, which the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, failed to achieve. The Ministry of Forests and Environment is entrusted with the responsibility to implement the provisions of the Act. The Central Government appointed a Standing Committee consisting of 42 members, headed by V. Narayan Swami to examine the working of the Ministry was not satisfactory.
- Preliminary: Chapter-I of the Environment Protection Act relates to ‘Preliminary’. It contains two sections. Section 1 refers to short title, extent and commencement. The Act is a territorial law, extends to the whole of India including the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and empowers the Central Government to fix different dates for application of the provisions of the Act for different areas. Section 2 defines various expressions used in the Act, viz.: a) environment; b) environmental pollutant: c) environmental pollution; d) hazardous substance etc.
- General Powers of the Central Government: Sections 3 to 6 under Chapter-II of the Environment Protection Act confer on the Central Government power to take measures to protect and improve the environment. Section 3(1) empowers the Central Government to take all such measures as it deems necessary or expedient for protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution.
According to Sec. 3(2) of the Environment Protection Act, the measures taken by the Central Government may include all or any one of the following:
- Co-ordination of actions by the State Governments, Offices and other authorities:
- Under this Act or the rules made thereunder; or
- Under any law for the time being in force, which is relatable to the objects of this Act;
- Planning and execution of a nation-wide programme for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution;
- Laying down standards for the quality of the environment in its various aspects;
- Laying down standards for emission or discharge of environmental pollutants from various sources;
- Restriction of areas in which industrial operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out with necessary safeguards;
- Laying down procedures and safeguards to prevent accidents resulting in environmental pollution and remedial measures for such accidents;
- Laying down procedures and safeguards for the handling of hazardous substances;
- Examining the manufacturing processes, materials and substances likely to cause environmental pollution;
- Carrying out and sponsoring investigations and research relating to problems of environmental pollution;
- Inspection of any premises, plant, equipment. Machinery etc. and directing/ordering the concerned authorities to take necessary steps for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution;
- Establishment or recognition of environmental laboratories and institutes and to supervise the work entrusted to them under the Act;
- Collection and dissemination of information in respect of matters relating to environmental pollution;
- Preparation of manuals, codes or guides relating to the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution; and
- Such other matters as the Central Government deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of securing the effective implementation of the provisions of this Act.
In exercise of the provisions under Sec. 3(2) of the Act, the Supreme Court in M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, AIR 1992 SC 382, directed all cinema halls to exhibit slides on environmental pollution free of cost and Radio and T.V. for transmission of such information in national and regional languages.
Section 3(3) of the Environment Protection Act empowers the Central Government to constitute an authority or authorities to issue necessary directions to the polluters to take necessary steps.
Section 4 empowers the Central Government to appoint officers with such designations, functions and powers. They are under the direct control of the Central Government or under the authority constituted by the Central Government. According to
Sec. 5, the Central Govt. can confer power on the authority to issue such directions as to closure or regulation of any industry.
Sec. 6 empowers the Central Government to formulate the rules on all or any matter referred to in Sec. 3(2).
- Prevention, Control and Abatement of Environmental Pollution: Sections 7 to 17 under Chapter-Ill lay down the provisions relating to the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution.
According to Sec. 7, persons carrying on hazardous processes shall not discharge or emit or permit to be discharged or emitted, any environmental pollutant in excess of the prescribed Standard/quantity. Sec. 8 insists upon the persons handling hazardous substances to comply with the procedural safeguards.
Section 9 says that where the discharge of any environmental pollutant in excess of the prescribed standard takes place due to accident or other cause, the person in charge of the place is bound to prevent or mitigate the pollution as a consequence of such discharge and shall also forthwith:
- intimate the matter to the concerned authorities and
- be bound. if called upon to render assistance to such authorities or agencies as may be prescribed.
On the receipt of the information, the authorities or agencies shall as early as possible cause such remedial measures to be taken to prevent or mitigate environmental pollution. Expenses, if any. incurred in this connection can be recovered from the person who caused the pollution.
Power of Entry and Inspection: According to Sec. 10, the Central Government can empower any person to enter any industry at all reasonable times to inspect any place, plant, equipment, records etc. The occupier is bound to make necessary arrangements and render necessary assistance. If the occupier/owner wilfully obstructs the inspection officials from performing their duties, he shall be guilty of committing an offence under the Environment Protection Act.
Sec. 11 empowers the Central Govt. or the authorised officer to take/collect samples of air, water, soil or other substances for the purpose of analysis. Sec. 12 makes provision for the establishment of one or more environmental laboratories or institutions by the Central Government by notification in the Official Gazette. Sec. 13 empowers the Central Government, to appoint Government Analysts for analysing the samples collected (air, water, soil or other substance). The reports signed by the analyst may be used as documentary evidence (Sec. 14).
Penal Provisions: Sec.15 lays down penal provisions. Whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any provision of the Environment Protection Act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for the term, which may extend to five years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees or with both. In case, the failure or contravention continues, an additional fine of Rs. 5,000/- per day shall be imposed.
Miscellaneous Provisions: Sections 18 to 26 under Chapter IV of the Environment Protection Act lay down the miscellaneous provisions. Sec.18 says that “no suit, prosecution or Other legal proceedings shall lie against the Govt. or any officer or employee of the Govt. or authority under the Act for acts done in good faith. Sec.19 deals with cognizance of offences. No court shall take cognizance of any offence under the Act except on a complaint made by (a) the Govt. or its authority or an officer; or (b) a person who has served a notice of 60 days to lodge a complaint against the alleged offence.
According to Sec. 21, all the members, officers and employees of the authority constituted under. Sec. 3 are “Public Servants” under Sec. 21 of the Indian Penal Code. Sec. 22 speaks about ‘Bar of Jurisdiction’. No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceeding against the order or direction of the Central Government or an authority constituted by the Central Government, or an officer appointed by the Central Government under the Act.
Power to make Rules: Sec 25 of the Environment Protection Act empowers the Central Government to make rules. The Central Govt. may be in the Official Gazette, make rules for carrying out the purposes/objects of the Act. Section 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 19 deal with the rules. Finally, Sec. 26 says that the rules made under the Act shall be laid/placed before each house of the Parliament for approval.
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