What are the environmental laws in India? What is the history of environmental legislation in India? Read here in detail about the environmental laws in India.
Environmental laws are an important part of any governance body. It comprises a set of laws and regulations concerning air quality, water quality, and other aspects of the environment.
The environmental laws in India are guided by environmental legal principles and focus on the management of specific natural resources, such as forests, minerals, or fisheries.
The environmental laws in India are a direct reflection of what was envisaged in the constitution. 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.
Environment Related Provisions in the Indian Constitution
Environment protection is mentioned in the Indian Constitution as part of Directive Principles of State Policy as well as Fundamental Duties.
Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV) Article 48A
Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
Fundamental duties (Part IV A) Article 51A
To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.
History of environmental laws in India:
The detailed and developed framework for environmental protection came after the UN conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, in 1972.
This led to the formation of the National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning in 1972 within the science and technology department.
This was set up to establish a regulatory body for the overview of the environmental-related issues and concerns.
This council was later converted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The government of India has made numerous acts to protect the environment and biodiversity. The important and impactful environmental laws and acts are listed and explained below.
(1) The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
The Act provides for the protection of wild animals, birds, and plants; and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto. It extends to the whole of India.
It has six schedules that give varying degrees of protection:
- Schedule I and part II of Schedule provide absolute protection, offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties.
- Species listed in Schedule III and Schedule IV are also protected, but the penalties are much lower.
- Animals under Schedule V, e.g. common crows, fruit bats, rats, and mice, are legally considered vermin and may be hunted freely.
- The specified endemic plants in Schedule VI are prohibited from cultivation and planting.
Statutory bodies under WPA:
- National Board for Wildlife and state wildlife advisory boards
- Central Zoo Authority
- Wildlife Crime Control Bureau
- National Tiger Conservation Authority
(2) The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
Objective: To provide prevention and control of water pollution. Maintaining or restoring of wholesomeness and purity of water in the various sources of water.
It vests regulatory authority in Centre Pollution Control Boards (CPCB) and State Pollution Control Board (SPCB).
CPCB and SPSB are statutory bodies created under the Water Act, 1974. It empowers CPCB and SPCB to establish and enforce effluent standards for factories discharging pollutants into water bodies.
CPCB performs these same functions for union territories along with formulating policies related to the prevention of water pollution and coordinating activities of different SPSBs.
SPCB controls sewage and industrial effluent discharge by approving, rejecting, and granting consent to discharge.
(3) The Air (prevention and control of pollution) act, 1981
The act targets to control and prevent air pollution in India and its main objectives are:
- To provide for prevention, control, and abatement of air pollution.
- To provide for the establishment of the boards at the central and state levels to implement the act.
CPCB and SPCB were given the responsibility.
It states that the sources of air pollution such as internal combustion engines, industry, vehicles, power plants, etc., are not permitted to release particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or other toxic substances beyond the predetermined limit.
It empowers the state government to designate air pollution areas.
(4) The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
This act was passed under article 253 (legislation for giving effect to international agreements)
This was passed in the wake of the Bhopal gas tragedy in December 1984.
It was enacted to achieve the UN conference on the human environment, 1972- Stockholm declaration.
Eco-sensitive zones or ecologically fragile areas are notified by MoEFCC under EPA, 1986 – 10 km buffer zones around protected areas.
Statutory bodies under the EPA, 1986:
- Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee
- National Coastal Zone Management Authority (later converted to National Ganga Council under Ministry of Jal Sakthi)
The ozone-depleting substances (regulation and control) rules, 2000.
It set deadlines for phasing out of various Ozone Depleting Substances (ODSs) and regulating production, trade import, and export of the product containing ODS.
These rules prohibit the use of CFCs, halons, ODSs such as carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform, and SFC except in metered-dose inhalers and for other medical purposes.
Coastal Regulation zone notification 2018:
It was notified based on the recommendations of the Shailesh Nayak Committee.
To promote sustainable development while taking into account the natural hazards such as increasing sea levels due to global warming.
To conserve and protect biodiversity besides livelihood security to local communities including the fishermen.
CRZs have been classified into 4 zones for regulation:
- CRZ I– ecologically sensitive areas such as mangroves, coral reefs, salt marshes, turtle nesting ground, and the inter-tidal zone.
- CRZ II– areas close to the shoreline, and which have been developed.
- CRZ III- Coastal areas that are not substantially built up, including rural coastal areas.
- CRZ IV- water area from Low Tide Line (LTL) to the limit of territorial waters of India.
(5) The energy conservation act, 2001
It was enacted as a step towards improving energy efficiency and reducing wastage. It specifies the energy consumption standards for equipment and appliances.
It prescribes energy consumptions norms and standards for consumers. It prescribes energy conservation building codes for commercial buildings.
Bureau of energy efficiency (BEE) is a statutory body established under the act.
(6) Biological diversity act 2002
It was implemented to give effect to CBD, Nagoya Protocol.
To check biopiracy, protect biological diversity, and local growers through a three-tier structure of central and state boards and local committees.
To set up National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), State Biodiversity Boards (SBBS), and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCS).
(7) Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA)
The act recognizes and vests the forest rights and occupation in forest land in Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD)who have been residing in such forests for generations. This act comes under the aegis of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
The act also establishes the responsibilities and authority for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity, and maintenance of the ecological balance of FDST and OTFD.
It strengthens the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring the livelihood and food security of the FDST and OTFD.
It seeks to rectify colonial injustice to the FDST and OTFD who are integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem.
The act identifies four types of rights:
1. Title rights
It gives FDST and OTFD the right to ownership of land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares.
Ownership is only for land that is being cultivated by the concerned family and no new lands will be granted.
2. Use rights
The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, grazing areas, pastoralist routes, etc.
3. Relief and development rights
To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection
4. Forest management rights
It includes the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.
(8) The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010
It was established in concurrence to Rio Summit 1992 to provide judicial and administrative remedies for the victims of the pollutants and other environmental damage.
It also agrees with article 21, the Right to a healthy environment to its citizens of the constitution.
The NGT has to dispose of the cases presented to it within 6 months of their appeals.
NGT has original jurisdiction on matters related to substantial questions of the environment.
NGT deals with the civil cases under the 7 acts related to the environment:
- Water (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Act, 1974
- Water (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Cess Act, 1974
- Air (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Act, 1977
- Forest Conservation Act, 1980
- Environmental Protection Act, 1986
- Public Liability Insurance Act 1991
- Biological Diversity Act, 2002
2 acts have been kept out of the jurisdiction of NGT:
- Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
- Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA)
The decisions of the NGT can be challenged in High Courts and the Supreme Court.
(9) Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016
The CAF Act was enacted to manage the funds collected for compensatory afforestation which till then was managed by ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).
- Compensatory afforestation means that every time forest land is diverted for non-forest purposes such as mining or industry, the user agency pays for planting forests over an equal area of non-forest land, or when such land is not available, twice the area of degraded forest land.
As per the rules, 90% of the CAF money is to be given to the states while 10% is to be retained by the Centre.
The funds can be used for the treatment of catchment areas, assisted natural generation, forest management, wildlife protection and management, relocation of villages from protected areas, managing human-wildlife conflicts, training and awareness generation, supply of wood saving devices, and allied activities.
UPSC CSE Previous year questions from the topic
At the national level, which ministry is the nodal agency to ensure effective implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006?
(a) Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climatic change.
(b) Ministry of Panchayat Raj
(C) Ministry of Rural Development
(d) Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
Reference: Important Acts that Transformed India
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