Environmental protection policies and legislation

By Riya Jain & Abhinash on December 2, 2019

Until the 1960s, environmental protection was not a matter of grave concern for the world. However, after the great smog of 1952, the legislative action was taken by London i.e. setting up of Clean Air Act, 1956. By 1960s, the concept of environmental laws came into existence. Like all other countries, India was also under pressure to start legislative activities to protect its environment and natural habitat. The Water Act (1974) and Air Act (1981) thus was the initial legislative acts formulated by India to protect its air and water bodies. Later, the administration for environment protection was formed at the national and the state level. The Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Department of Environment are the top-level administrators responsible for planning, promoting, and coordinating environment-related actions in India (Gargava, Sengupta, & Biswas, 2001).

Administration levels for environmental protection in India
Figure 1: Administration levels for environmental protection in India (Source: Gargava, Sengupta, & Biswas, 2000)

The Central Pollution Control Board was formulated in 1974 in order to implement environment protection acts and under the funding of MoEF formulate the standards for emissions and effluents.

Formation of policies

With a shift towards Green India, the Indian government through the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change implemented various acts to protect the environment. Some of the environmental regulations that were developed over the years are:

Year Environmental protection regulations
1972 National Committee on Environmental Planning and Coordination (NCEPC)
1974 Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act Amendments, 1988
1977 Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act Amendments 1992, 2003
1981 The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act Amendments 1987
1984 National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring (NAAQM) Programme
1985 Ganga Action Plan Amendments 1933
1986 The Environment (Protection) Act Amendments, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001
1987 National Water Policy Amendments 2002, 2012
1988 Motor Vehicle Act
1992 National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development
1992 Policy Statement for Abatement of Pollution
1993 Yamuna Action Plan
1995 The National Environment Tribunal Act
1995 National Rivers Conservation Plan
2000 Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulations) Act
2001 Energy Conservation Act
2006 National Environment Policy
2006 – National Solar Mission (2010)
– National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC)
– National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency (2009)
– National Mission on Sustainable Habitat (2011)
– National Water Mission
– National Mission for sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (2014)
– National Mission for a Green India (2014)
– National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture
– National Mission for strategic knowledge for Climate Change
2010 National Green Tribunal Act
2015 National Air Quality Index
2017 Energy Conservation Building Code
2017 Graded Response Action Plan
2018 National Electricity Plan
2019 National Clean Air Programme
2019 India Cooling Action Plan

Table 1: Environmental Policies in India (Source: CPR, 2016; ENVIS, 2019; Gargava et al., 2001; Harish, Ghosh, & Dubash, 2019; ICED, 2019; MOEF, 2019; Patra, 2001;ICED, 2019b).

Apart from formulating the above policies and acts activities like programmes to create awareness among the population too were initiated. About Rs. 10 crores is provided to pollution abatement activities of state pollution control board and Swachh Bharat Mission to control pollution and solid waste management in further years.

Implementation of environmental protection policies

In order to work towards an effective environment protection path, the formation of policies is not enough. But also make efforts towards its successful implementation and execution. In the budget of 2017-18, several schemes were introduced to assess pollution. Independent funds were allocated based on pollution type to control the pollution levels.

A total fund of Rs 6887 crores was allocated by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation. Apart from water protection and rejuvenation, these funds are also used in various administrative expenses, central sector schemes and centrally sponsored schemes for economic development.

Figure 2: Budget 2017-18 funds allocation for the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (OpenBudgetIndia, 2018b)

For water quality monitoring under NWMP, an amount of Rs. 75 lakhs were allocated to monitor 2500 stations and to add 500 new stations. Rs 5 crores is allocated under the Water Cess Fund. Rs. 5 lakhs were allocated to monitor and manage interstate rivers. Furthermore, the Ganga river is the longest river with the most tributaries in India was allocated Rs 2250 crore under the National Ganga Plan. Furthermore, Rs 173.34 crore was allocated under the National River Conservation Plan. In order to monitor air quality, a fund of Rs 46.50 lakhs was allocated under NAMP and Rs 3 crore from the cess fund.

Under the National Air Quality Index, an amount of Rs 4 lakh was allotted and Rs 20 lakhs to develop online air quality monitoring system in the urban areas of India. For installation of pollution control equipment and instruments, Rs 59 lakhs was allotted. Rs. 45 lakhs was allocated to acquire necessary infrastructure and materials for quality monitoring data centres and about Rs. 10 lakhs for air quality centres. Rs 1.08 crores was allocated for urban pollution control centres and Rs 1.53 crores for industrial pollution control centres.

The total funds allocated to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change was Rs. 2675.42 crores. The expenditures were governed by the centre under various administrative expenses, central sector schemes and centrally sponsored schemes.

Figure 3: Budget 2017-18 funds allocation for the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (OpenBudgetIndia, 2018a)

Rs. 7.47 crore was invested under the central schemes for pollution abatement and Rs 41 crore for National Mission on Himalayan Studies. Rs 20.22 crore was invested under the Environment Information System to aware people about the environment and Rs 49.61 for environment-related education, awareness, and training programmes. Rs. 161.88 crores were allocated under the National Mission for Green India to promote the efficient usage of resources and achieve sustainability (CPCB, 2017; MOEFC, 2019; MOWR, 2017).

India is falling behind in executing its environmental protection policies

India was ranked 177th among 180 countries in 2018 in a report of global environment performance index (Pandey, 2019). Many policies like:

  • Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 and,
  • Air (Prevention and control of pollution) act 1981,

follows the command and control method of implementing environmental protection schemes. The Policies of India focus to equip industries with pollution control technologies offer rebates and funds but is not mandatory in nature. In 2015, under the National Green Tribunal Act, the Meghalaya government suspended the working of rat-hole mining and coal transportation but the ban retained only until the end of 2015. This was majorly attributed to the inefficiency of the state government to check illegal activities (Kumar, 2019; Pandey, 2019).

Many cities in India fail to monitor environmental quality. Srinagar started to monitor its air quality only after July of 2017. Until 2015 Varanasi also didn’t have any monitoring station. Furthermore, in 2017, it was decided to build 20 new monitoring stations in Delhi but only 11 monitoring stations could be accomplished until 2019 (Agarwal, 2015; ENVIS, 2019; Phukan, 2017; UrbanEmissions, 2019).

Despite the air (prevention and control) act 1981, consent requirement for cement industry settling, there are about 209 cement plants in India (TechSci, 2017). In the case of Rungta mines, despite having environmental permissions to build high walls to avoid draining of solid wastes in the rainy season, the wall is not of the prescribed height (CPR, 2016).

The all India report on Air pollution (Industrial and vehicular) for 23 states show that control of Air pollution Act is poorly implemented and monitored, leading to an increase in air pollution levels. In Mizoram, due to the lack of availability of emission testing facility around 49% of the vehicles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 are running without pollution checks (CAG, 2014).

In Calcutta under the Ganga Action Plan, 2001, performance audit of sewage treatment plants suffered from the problem of faulty planning and inappropriate execution. In Andhra Pradesh under the water supply schemes, 87 projects were started from 1997-2001 and 68 were left incomplete incurring a loss of Rs. 79.25 lakhs.

In Jammu & Kashmir conservation and management, activities reprive Dal Lake in 2006 was started. There was no improvement in the water quality of Dal Lake as the administrators failed to check the discharge of sewage, weed growth, and silt (CAG, 2014).

In 2004, the Supreme Court and the CPCB asked the 54 most polluting cities to strictly implement action plans. Despite the formulation of action plans like National Clean Air Action Plan and City Action plan to achieve an optimum level of air quality standards, many cities have failed to implement it. Under the Environment Protection Act 1986, while the focus is on preventing air and water pollution but most of the states have failed to monitor and execute protection plans. Due to this despite having a strong legal structure, policies are not effective in controlling the damage that environment have to bear (Agarwal, 2015; Roychowdhury, 2019).

Strict execution of policies is required to protect the environment

In India, the non-strict management and monitoring of the quality of the environment are one of the main reasons behind its declining performance of environmental protection efforts. Countries like Mauritius, Singapore, the Netherlands, UK, and Japan are ranked much higher in the pollution performance index than India. The reason behind their better index value is the strict regulation of their environmental protection policies.

Carbon Tax was imposed by the Singapore government in 2019 to control greenhouse gases emissions. Netherland closely monitors the impact of its economic development on its environment. Mauritius has an environmental protection policy similar to the National Environment Policy, 2006 of India. The country has performed far better in the index with a focused and successful implementation of its policies.

Apart from strict regulations in these countries, voluntary support towards the environment by polluting industries contributes majorly in improving the environment. While CSR activities in India is implemented by law, the polluting industries of Mauritius, Singapore, and the Netherlands voluntarily act towards environmental protection.

India is far away from performing better in the performance index and needs to timely execute and monitor the progress of its efforts towards environmental protection.