Current Affairs

Government issues SoPs for tackling violators of green guidelines

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  • Published
    14th Jul, 2021
  • Context

    Acting on order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and several observations made by different courts time-to-time, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has come out with standard operating procedures (SOPs) for dealing with cases of green violations.

  • Background

    • The SOP, issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in the form of an Office Memorandum, is a result of orders from the National Green Tribunal.
    • NGT earlier this year directed the ministry to put in place penalties and an SOP for green violations.
  • Analysis

    What is in the SOP?

    • The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) aims to deal with environmental violations.
    • Penalties: It includes stiff penalties — including shutting down projects and demolition of projects that have failed to acquire environmental clearance or are in non-compliance of the clearance they have received.

    Environmental Governance in India

    Currently, three main legislations govern the environment jurisprudence of India, that is:

    • Environment Protection Act, 1986 (“EP Act”)
    • Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (“Air Act”)
    • Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (“Water Act”)
  • What kind of ‘violations’ are considered here?

    • The given SOPs refer to two categories of green violations, as given below:
      • ‘Violations’ involving cases where construction work, including expansion of an existing project, has begun without the project proponent having acquired environmental clearance.
      • ‘Non-Compliance’ in which prior environmental clearance has been accorded to the project, but it is in violation of norms prescribed in the approval.
  • How permissibility of the project will be examined?

    • Demolition: Projects that are not permissible for environmental clearance are to be demolished.
    • Shut down: Projects which are permissible according to environmental law but which have not acquired the requisite clearance are to be shut down.
    • Reverting construction: In cases of expansion of a project, including increase in volume of production, if environmental clearance has not been received, then the government agency can now force the project proponent to revert to the level of construction/manufacturing before the expansion.
  • Who is empowered to take actions?

    • The memorandum gives powers to government agencies to identify such violations and take penal action against them.
    • The government agencies include:
      • Central Pollution Control Board of India (CPCB)
      • State pollution control boards
      • State environment impact assessment authorities

    What is an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?

    • EIA is a procedure evaluating environmental, social, economic and health impacts in an area due to development projects such as highways, industries, mines, dams, etc.

    Factors studied in EIA

    • Topography, local climate and acceptable levels of pollution in an area
    • Biological diversity that needs to be preserved
    • Proximity to human settlements, archaeological sites, national parks, etc
    • Emissions/discharge of environmental pollutants to an area due to a project

    EIA Stages

  • What are the environmental laws and practice in India?

    • India has been a signatory to numerous international conventions pertaining to environmental protection and climate change. Some of the important agreements are as follows:
      • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES), 1973
      • Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer (to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer), 1987
      • Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes, 1989
      • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992
      • Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992
      • Agenda 21
      • UN Convention on Desertification, 1994
      • Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
      • Paris Agreement
    • Environmental jurisprudence emerged from the judicial interpretation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and is strengthened by Articles 48-A and 51-A(g).
    • Various environmental legislations and policies have been formulated by the government.
      • National Clean Air Programme
      • Jal Jeevan Mission
      • Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABHY)
      • Nagar Van Scheme
      • Green Skill Development Programme (GSDP)
      • Namami Gange Programme
    • The Supreme Court of India has been instrumental, with its numerous precedents on the principle of sustainable development.
    • The inception of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2010 was a noteworthy milestone.
  • What are the concerns raised by Environmentalists?

    • Normalization of violations: The memorandum normalises “post facto regularisation of violations” – in which violations are first committed and then the project proponent files for clearance by which they “are let off by paying a penalty”.
    • Weak laws: Despite EIA rules being in place for seven years, most projects seem to continue to fall outside the prescribed environmental norms and are therefore violators.

    Earlier the environment ministry has published the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020, with the intention of replacing the existing EIA Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. In 2017, the ministry had initiated a six-month amnesty scheme on penalising green violations, which was later extended.

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