In a significant legislative stride, the Lok Sabha marked the passage of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Amendment Bill, 2024, affirming a pivotal shift in the landscape of environmental governance.
Introduced in the Rajya Sabha on February 5 and swiftly passed the next day, the bill aims to revamp criminal penalties, focusing on addressing minor, technical, or procedural defaults that do not pose substantial threats to human well-being or the environment.
The central tenet of the amendment empowers the Central government to stipulate the method for the nomination of State Pollution Control Boards' Chairpersons. It also introduces provisions for exempting specific industrial plants from designated regulations and outlines criteria for the grant, denial, or revocation of consent for diverse industrial operations.
A standout feature is the decriminalization of minor offenses, replacing imprisonment with monetary penalties for persistent violations. The imposition and adjudication of penalties will be entrusted to designated officers, holding a rank not lower than Joint Secretary to the Government of India or Secretary to the State government.
Moreover, the Bill enforces more stringent penalties for non-compliance with regulations concerning new outlets, discharges, and sewage disposal. The fines collected from these penalties are earmarked for the Environmental Protection Fund, established under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
The legislative move is seen as a progressive response to balance environmental protection with rationalized penalties, ensuring that punitive measures align with the gravity of the violations. The emphasis on financial penalties over imprisonment underscores a pragmatic approach, enabling swift and effective enforcement.
As the Bill completes its legislative journey, environmentalists and policymakers anticipate its transformative impact on the regulatory framework, fostering a more nuanced and responsive approach to pollution control and prevention.
Author: Anushka Taraniya
News Writer, MIT ADT University