According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, the amendment proposes to rationalise criminal provisions and ensure that citizens, businesses and companies operate without fear of imprisonment for minor, technical or procedural defaults. Also, the nature of penal consequence of an offence must be commensurate with the seriousness of offence
The Lok Sabha has passed The Water Amendment (Pollution and Prevention) Act, 2024. The legislation, which was earlier approved by the Rajya Sabha makes important changes to the Water (Pollution and Prevention) Act, 1974 such as decriminalising certain violations of the act deemed “minor,” replaces for the most part the penalties of imprisonment with fines ranging from ₹10,000 to ₹15 lakh.
The amended version of the Act would currently apply to Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and the Union Territories. The original Act, passed in 1974, is applicable in 12 States.
For instance, the 1974 Act says that an offence for which punishment is not explicitly specified is punishable with a prison term of up to three months or a fine of up to ₹10,000, or both.
The new amended act removes imprisonment as a punishment, and prescribes a penalty between ₹10,000 and ₹15 lakh. Failure to pay penalty for violation of any provision under the Act will attract a jail term of up to three years, or a fine up to twice the amount of penalty imposed.
“We propose to remove provisions for imprisonment for minor offences…it is geared to the spirit of ease of doing business. If somebody feels that they have been levied an unfair fine, the current Bill also allows an opportunity for appeal,” said Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav in discussions regarding the Bill.
The legislation also empowers the Centre to frame rules to select the chairpersons of State pollution control boards and frame guidelines that States can follow on matters relating to the grant, refusal or cancellation of consent by any State Board for establishing industries and new operating processes.
“This Bill seeks to establish a balance between the severity of the offence and the gravity of the punishment provided…for decriminalising of minor offences and replacing it with monetary penalty in case of continuation of contravention,” the text of the Act notes.
Responding to the debate on the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Amendment Bill, 2024 in the Lok Sabha, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said the provisions will lead to greater transparency in dealing with various issues related to water pollution.
Yadav dismissed concerns raised by several members that the provisions of the bill was an attempt to weaken environment protection laws or undermine the federal structure.
He said the 1974 law had stringent provisions, including jail term, for minor offenses such as failure to declare information on extraction by industrial units in official forms.
According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, the amendment proposes to rationalise criminal provisions and ensure that citizens, businesses and companies operate without fear of imprisonment for minor, technical or procedural defaults. Also, the nature of penal consequence of an offence must be commensurate with the seriousness of offence, it added.
According to the bill, the central government will be empowered to exempt certain categories of industrial plants from the application of Section 25 relating to restriction on new outlets and new discharges.
“This will reduce the duplication of surveillance and unnecessary burden on regulatory agencies,” Yadav said.
According to the 1974 law, prior consent of the State Pollution Control Board was required for establishing any industry or treatment plant, which is likely to discharge sewage into a water body, sewer, or land.
The amendment Bill specifies that the central government, in consultation with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), may exempt certain categories of industrial plants from obtaining such consent.
It also has provisions for the central government to issue guidelines for the grant, refusal, or cancellation of consent granted by the SPCB.
The amendment bill retains the provision of imprisonment up to six years and fine for establishing and operating an industry without obtaining consent from the SPCB.
The bill also penalises tampering with monitoring devices used in determining whether any industry or treatment plant can be set up. The penalty will be between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15 lakh.