Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Penalty for environmental offences to be raised

NAGPUR: The existing quantum of penalty prescribed under the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA), 1986 being too meagre and the process of imposing penalty so cumbersome, the quantum of penalty for non-compliance of the environment clearance (EC) conditions for projects is likely to be made sufficiently high and there may not be any ceiling on the quantum of penalty amount for serious offences.

A high-powered committee headed by J M Mauskar, additional secretary (impact assessment), of the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), in its report submitted on January 11, has recommended that serious offences may be made cognizable by police and also non-bailable. The process of imposing penalty needs to be made swifter and prompt in terms of payment of penalty.

The panel was set up on December 14, 2009 to streamline monitoring and compliance of conditions for environmental safeguards and there by making it more comprehensive, effective and transparent.

"The government is expected to implement the recommendations in a year. To make EPA violations cognizable and non-bailable, amendment will have to be made in the EPA," Mauskar said. The state pollution control boards (SPCBs) have already adopted alternate mechanisms such as securing of bank guarantee for ensuring compliance of the commitments made by the companies. MoEF is analysing the issue.

The EPA of MoEF is an umbrella Act for protection and improvement of environment. Under the Act, the ministry has brought out several notifications prescribing rules, standards, identification of ecosensitive zones etc.

The MoEF is also proposing to constitute a National Environment Assessment and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA), an independent agency to undertake environmental appraisal of projects under EIA Notification, 2006, and also to undertake monitoring of the stipulated conditions for their effective implementation during the project cycle.

The committee's recommendations are based on basic principles that 'polluter pays' and 'prevention is better than cure' which puts the entire responsibility of operating a project in conformity with the best environmental practices and in compliance with the stipulated conditions.

Since Jairam Ramesh took over, the MoEF, as part of making the whole system of monitoring more transparent, has been asking the project proponents to put the monitoring reports on their website to make it available in the public domain.

"Yet, the existing system of environment monitoring suffers short comings due to procedural and administrative deficiencies, inadequate infrastructure and trained technical manpower and legislative deficiencies," the report said.

In Vidarbha itself, projects especially relating to power sector, highways, irrigation and construction sector have their impacts essentially during construction phase and hence would require rigorous monitoring of EC conditions.

Keeping in view the limitations of the existing system of monitoring and analysis of the EC conditions during different stages of the project, a new approach to monitoring of EC compliance has been envisaged.

The panel has recommended involvement of specialised agencies and institutions in monitoring EC compliance; transparent self-monitoring by project proponent and enabling community scrutiny and verification; enhancement of penalty; putting information in public domain on the website as also on display boards etc.

The report lists out Raigad and Ratnagiri in Western Maharashtra as areas where concentration of developmental activities is more and may prove detrimental to environment. "Such areas should be monitored regularly to assess the environmental matrices of the region in terms of the impact of these activities on air, water, flora and fauna and critical habitats," the report says. However, the committee has ignored Vidarbha, where 85 power projects are being proposed thereby threatening the ecology here.

The committee has also considered assessment of Raigad and Ratnagiri mentioning the areas rich biodiversity and alphanso mangoes. However, there is no mention of Vidarbha which is famous for its oranges.

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