The roots of Environmental Protection in India
The United Nations Conference on Human Environment was convened at Stockholm in 1972 at which nations decided to take steps to protect the environment. Following this conference protection of the environment was recognised as a priority. This was incorporated into the Indian Constitution by way of Articles 48A and 51A wherein Article 48A imposes a duty on citizens to carry out duties to preserve and protect the environment while Article 51A (g) places a fundamental duty on all citizens to preserve and protect the environment and have compassion for all living creatures. So, there arose a need for an all-encompassing legislation to serve as a tenet as far as environmental protection laws in India are concerned. The Environmental Protection Act of 1986 was introduced with an intention to fill this lacuna by providing a blueprint to protect the ecosystem.
Criticisms of the Environment Protection Act, 1986
The Environment Protection Act 1986 aimed to strengthen the Environmental Protection Regime in India and thereby maintain an ecological balance. However, there are a number of loopholes in the existing regime. The glaring one taking the form of Section 2(b) where the term “pollution” has been given a rather restrictive interpretation to include only three kinds of pollution namely air, water and noise pollution as qualified under Section 6 (2) (b). However, the definition is outdated for not including ‘plasma’ which has been a heavy contributor of pollution in recent times. Apart from this, another issue seems to be that the concept of Environmental Impact Assessment is not covered under this Act even though this is a staple feature of Environmental legislations in the developed world.
For example – Section 102 (2)(c) of the National Environmental Policy Act requires a “detailed statement” on the Environmental impact of and alternatives to various federal actions. The Environmental Impact Statement actually gives the environmental consequences and benefits like cost-benefit analysis which is comprehensive to the layman and instructive to the expert. In the United States, it is prepared in consultation with Federal agencies and experts in various fields. This practice, however, does not prevail in India and is not provided for in the Environment Protection Act, 1986 also.
The effect of 2017 amendment to the Environmental Protection Rules
Discussion on the Environmental Protection Act comes in wake of an amendment to Rule 5(c) of the Environmental Protection rules 1986 that elucidates the time period of the central government to respond to any objections against a notification published in the official gazette This amendment goes a step further in ensuring that the ambit of Environmental protection has a wider reach in India. Despite the steady progression of India’s Environmental Law framework, one can conclude that there is still a long way to go.