Environmental Law Compliance for Business in India: Need of the hour!

India is touted as one of the fastest-growing economies of the world. As per a report by LiveMint, India could regain its position of the fastest growing economy in the world in 2018. However, in the scripting of its growth, there are certain ink spots which cannot be ignored. While the Indian manufacturing sector has been given the necessary impetus time and again and the National Manufacturing Policy is trying it’s best to reach its objective of increasing the sectoral contribution to the GDP by 25%, the government is also giving more initiatives to foster the ease of doing business in India a significant push.

Initiatives like Make in India, Startup-India-Standup-India, E-Biz Project, Skill Development programmes and other reforms in various sectors are few such examples of the government trying to push in reformative agendas. However, due to this “development,” India is slowly running behind in the sector of environment protection. In fact, while the 2013 amendment to the Companies Act went ahead in carefully bringing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into the regulatory ambit, little or no efforts were put in to accelerate environment protection.

While the capitalists argue that the pre-existing environment laws are sufficient, the truth remains the same. In spite of tribunals like National Green Tribunal being functional, the corporates are non-compliant with environmental permits.

There are many drivers which explain why companies should incorporate environmental concerns into their own strategic decision making. Reasons are a mix of incentives and risks directed to companies in order to improve standards.

Corporate Environmental Responsibility concerns the environmental aspects of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It is commonly defined as is the way in which organizations can incorporate environmental issues into their operations in order to eliminate waste and emissions, maximize the efficiency and productivity of its resources and minimize practices that badly affect the country’s natural resources. It takes all its meaning in the current context (global warming, destruction of biodiversity, etc.) and becomes a pillar of development for some organizations that voluntarily engage. Corporate Environmental Responsibility is about managing the use of natural resources in the most effective and efficient manner in order to reduce environmental impacts and financial costs.

Besides, in a context of the information revolution, business practices are brought to light around the world which affect the company’s reputation. Thus, companies are more frequently judged on their environmental stewardship. Consumers, shareholders, employees and partners increasingly require organizations to become more environmentally aware and socially responsible. They also want more transparency from companies. Which means that companies benefit from corporate social responsibility & environmental management.

All of these drivers have encouraged or compelled companies to integrate environmental concerns in business strategy.

The need for protection and conservation of the environment and sustainable use of natural resources is reflected in the constitutional framework of India and also in the international commitments of India. The Constitution under Part IVA (Art 51A-Fundamental Duties) casts a duty on every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures. Further, the Constitution of India under Part IV (Art 48A-Directive Principles of State Policies) stipulates that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

Several environment protection legislations existed even before the Independence of India. However, the true thrust for putting in force a well-developed framework came only after the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972). After the Stockholm Conference, the National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning was set up in 1972 within the Department of Science and Technology to establish a regulatory body to look after the environment-related issues. This Council later evolved into a full-fledged Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (No. 19 of 2010) (NGT Act) has been enacted with the objectives to provide for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal (NGT) for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The Environment Protection Act, 1986 (the “Environment Act”) provides for the protection and improvement of the environment. The Environment Protection Act establishes the framework for studying, planning and implementing long-term requirements of environmental safety and laying down a system of speedy and adequate response to situations threatening the environment. It is an umbrella legislation designed to provide a framework for the coordination of central and state authorities established under the Water Act, 1974 and the Air Act. The term “environment” is understood in a very wide term under s 2(a) of the Environment Act. It includes water, air and land as well as the interrelationship which exists between water, air and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms and property.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (the “Air Act”) is an act to provide for the prevention, control and abatement of air pollution and for the establishment of Boards at the Central and State levels with a view to carrying out the aforesaid purposes.

The Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974 (the “Water Act”) has been enacted to provide for the prevention and control of water pollution and to maintain or restore the wholesomeness of water in the country. It further provides for the establishment of Boards for the prevention and control of water pollution with a view to carrying out the aforesaid purposes. The Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants into water bodies beyond a given standard and lays down penalties for non-compliance.

The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 was enacted with the objective of effectively protecting the wildlife of this country and to control poaching, smuggling and illegal trade in wildlife and its derivatives. The Act was amended in January 2003 and punishment and the penalty for offences under the Act have been made more stringent. The Ministry has proposed further amendments in the law by introducing more rigid measures to strengthen the Act. The objective is to provide protection to the listed endangered flora and fauna and ecologically important protected areas.

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.

The Biological Diversity Act 2002 was born out of India’s attempt to realise the objectives enshrined in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 1992 which recognises the sovereign rights of states to use their own Biological Resources. The Act aims at the conservation of biological resources and associated knowledge as well as facilitating access to them in a sustainable manner. The National Biodiversity Authority in Chennai has been established for the purposes of implementing the objects of the Act.

In M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors. [Ganga Tanneries Case], the Court had held the city municipality, Kanpur Nagar Mahapalika (Mahapalika), responsible for water pollution. The Mahapalika had a statutory duty to protect the environment and maintain public cleanliness. The duties and powers of the Mahapalika and its authorities were set out in Chapter V of the Uttar Pradesh Nagar Mahapalika Adhiniyam (the Act), Chapter 114, Clauses (iii), (vii) and (viii), which also

In Union Carbide Corporation vs Union Of India [Bhopal Gas Tragedy] the Union Carbide Corporation filed an application in revision in the Supreme Court, in terms of Section 155 of the CPC, against the order of the Bhopal District Court, in a claim for damages made by the Union of India on behalf of all the claimants, under the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claim) Act, 1985. The Union Carbide Corporation as well as the Union of India filed separate appeals in the Supreme Court against the judgment of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, both of which were heard together.

Government environmental laboratories exist to serve the public and help protect people from environmental contaminants. These laboratories test a wide range of environmental matrices as well as human tissue samples, food sources, consumer products, and other items encountered in daily life.

Needless to say, businesses, big or small, have an equal liability to protect and safeguard the environment. In this case, their liability increases perhaps a little more because their actions are of greater magnitude and have far-reaching consequences. This is exactly why they are more than obligated to ensure that these compliances are adhered to.

There is no denying the fact that such regulations and compliances can be cumbersome and tedious and it might not be possible for everyone to keep a track of them. 

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