The Environment Protection Act is an important legislation that provides for coordination of activities of the various regulatory agencies, creation of authorities with adequate powers for environmental protection, regulation of the discharge of environmental pollutants, handling of hazardous substances, etc. The Act provided an opportunity to extend legal protection to non-forest habitats (‘Ecologically Sensitive Areas’) such as grasslands, wetlands and coastal zones.The Environment (Protection) Act was enacted in 1986 with the objective of providing for the protection and improvement of the environment. It empowers the Central Government to establish authorities charged with the mandate of preventing environmental pollution in all its forms and to tackle specific environmental problems that are peculiar to different parts of the country.
The Environment Protection Act is an umbrella legislation that consolidated the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981. Within this framework of the legislations, the government established Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) in order to prevent, control, and abate environmental pollution.
Under the EPA, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification was introduced in 1994, it was modified in 2006 and the latest amendment was in 2009. Under the EIA it has become mandatory to seek environmental clearance for several activities and industries with the involvement of the public as per procedure.
Main Features of The Environment Protection Act are:-
i) Co-ordination of actions by the State Governments, officers and other authorities
ii) Planning and execution of a nation-wide programme for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution.
iii) Laying down standards for the quantity of environment in its various aspects.
iv) Laying down standards for emission or discharge of environmental pollutants from various sources whatsoever. Provided that different standards for emission or discharge may be laid down under this clause from different sources having regard to the quality or composition of the emission lr discharge of environmental pollutants from such sources.
v) Restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards.
vi) Laying down procedures and safeguards for the prevention of accidents which may cause environmental pollution and remedial measures for such accidents.
vii) Laying down procedures and safeguards for the handling of hazardous substances.
viii) Examination of such manufacturing processes, materials and substances as are likely to cause environmental pollution.
ix) Carrying out and sponsoring investigations and research relating to problems of environmental pollution.
x) Inspection of any premises, plant, equipment, machinery, manufacturing or other processes, materials or substances and giving, by order, of such directions to such authorities, officers or persons as it may consider necessary to take steps for the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution.
xi) Establishment or recognition of environmental laboratories and institutes to carry out the functions entrusted to such environmental laboratories and institutes under this Act.
xii) Collection and dissemination of information in respect of matters relating to environmental pollution.
xiii) Preparation of manuals, codes or guides relating to the prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution.
In order to check rapid deforestation due to forestlands being released by state governments for agriculture, industry and other development projects (allowed under the Indian Forest Act) the federal government enacted the Forest Conservation Act in 1980 with an amendment in 1988. The Act made the prior approval of the federal government necessary for de-reservation of reserved forests, logging and for use of forestland for non- forest purposes.
The Forest Conservation Act 1980 was enacted to help conserve the country’s forests. It strictly restricts and regulates the de-reservation of forests or use of forest land for non-forest purposes without the prior approval of Central Government. To this end the Act lays down the pre-requisites for the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
This powerful legislation has, to a large extent, curtailed the indiscriminate logging and release of forestland for non-forestry purposes by state governments. While the federal government imposed such strict restrictions, it did not simultaneously evolve a mechanism to compensate state governments for loss of timber logging revenues. This anomaly coupled with increasing pressure for land due to a burgeoning population has generated considerable resentment within state governments resulting in growing pressure to dilute the restrictive provisions of the Act. The Supreme Court of India has currently imposed a complete ban on the release of forestland for non-forestry activities without the prior approval of the federal government.
It states that no project should be undertaken in the vicinity of :-
- Natonal Parks,Wildlife Sanctuaries and Core areas of the Biosphere Reserves.
- Scenic landscapes,areas of geomorphological significance,unique and represantative biomes and eco-systems,heritage sites/structures and areas of cultural heritage and importance.
- Fragile eco-systems such as mountains,areas rich in coral formations as well as marine,coastal,desert,wetland,riverine and island eco-systems.
- Areas rich in biological diversity,genepool and other natural resources.