Seeking to impose a serious and effective deterrent to prevent violation of environmental laws, the Centre plans to introduce an amendment bill proposing to scale up the fine to a minimum of Rs 5 crore up from Rs 1 lakh and imprisonment up to seven years for causing 'substantial' environmental damage.
The bill will be introduced during the second half of the budget session between April 25 and May 13.
The bill sets the the upper limit of fine as high as Rs 20 crore and imprisonment may be extended to a life term. If the damage has been unabated over a period of time, violators may have to pay additional Rs 1 crore a day.
While the government has moved to ease what has been described as "green tape" and make clearances faster and more transparent, it expects industries to adhere to the law or face stiff penalties if caught violating regulations. "The law ministry has already cleared the draft of the Environment Laws (Amendment) Bill - meant to amend the existing Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 - and sent it back to the environment ministry. It will now go to the Cabinet and will be introduced in the Parliament after the recess", said an official.
The proposed amendment suggests that the penalty amount will be used for remediation and reclamation of polluted sites and improvement of environment - measures that also seem intended to counter criticism that the government has been keen to cater to big business.
At present, a violator has to pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh and faces imprisonment up to five years (can be extended to seven years in certain cases) on conviction. In case the violation continues, the offender has to pay additional fine up to Rs 5,000 a day during which the contravention continues.
Officials argue the stiff fines will force polluting industries to take corrective measures that they are willing to avoid. "At present, many violators find it easier to pay fine and carry on with their activities," an official said.
Under the existing law, state pollution control boards act as appellate authorities for assessing environmental damage and impose a fine. But the proposed amendment has separate provisions of categorisation of violations into 'minor', 'non-substantial' and 'substantial' on extent of damage. "It will minimise the discretion of the state boards. In absence of the process of quantification or assessment and corresponding provision of penalty, some cases land up in a long legal battle", said the official.
There is also a proposal of setting up an adjudicating authority, comprising of a district judge and two technical\environmental experts, that will assess the damage on the basis of quantified parameters and impose fines accordingly.
Under the proposed amendment, the violator will be allowed to appeal before the National Green Tribunal against the order of the adjudicating authority. But then, the violator will have to deposit 75% of the amount of penalty imposed by the adjudicating authority.