Environment crimes show decline: Activists cite under reporting

  • Maharashtra had the highest number of cases related to the Environment Protection Act and Air Act.
  • Many states reported zero violations, casting doubts about the reporting process.
  • Activists says that the report has grossly under reported environmental crimes.

Maharashtra topped the list of states with the highest number of cases pertaining to violations under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986, and air pollution control rules, according to the ‘2016 Crime in India’ report released by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) in late 2017. The report said 97 of the 120 EPA violations and 21 of the 25 excesses of the air pollution rules in India in 2016 were in Maharashtra. Twenty-two states reported zero violations.

Overall, Maharashtra recorded 170 environment-related offences in 2016, up from 136 in 2014 and 127 in 2015. These are offences under five major laws: 1) Forest Act, 1927; 2) Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, 3) EPA; 4) Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, and 5) Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. 

Maharashtra recorded 33 offences cases under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; 19 violations under the Indian Forest Act, 1927; but zero violations under the Water Act. Together, under all five laws, the state accounted for 170 environment-related offences, the NCRB report said.

Experts feel that the rise in violations in Maharashtra does not reflect the grievous state of the environment; instead, it may merely suggest a better enforcement than other states. Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a list of 30 most polluted cities in the world, which included Gwalior, Allahabad and Delhi, but none from Maharashtra.

The polluted Oshiwara river near Mumbai. Photo by Jan Jorg / Wikimedia Commons.

We are regularly filing cases of environmental violations. There is no tolerance for such illegal acts,” said Satish Gavai, additional chief secretary to the state environment department, quoted in a story in the Hindustan Times. “There are very few isolated incidents like in Taloja industrial area, where there is connivance, but even there we are developing systems, which will eliminate human subjectivity and bring increased deterrence.”

In 2015 too, Maharashtra had recorded maximum violations in the country under Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 – that year, 42 of the 50 offences in India were from the state.

Are environmental crimes going down?

Rajasthan reported zero cases of violations under the Water Act, Air Pollution rules and the EPA, while Uttar Pradesh reported zero cases under Air Pollution and Water Act, but only 11 cases of violations under the EPA.

Environment-related offences across India have been on a steady decline – 5,835 cases in 2014, 5,156 in 2015 and 4,732 in 2016, the NCRB report said.

This year, across India, 8365 persons were arrested for environmental offences, of which 239 people – 234 men and five women — were arrested in Maharashtra, the NCRB report said.

‘Gross under-reporting’

The data indicates gross under-reporting of environmental violations in the country,” environmental activist and researcher Shripad Dharmadhikary of the Manthan Adhyayan Kendra told Mongabay-India. “That so many states have no cases under EPA violations is unpalatable,” he said from Pune where he currently works on increasing compliance with environmental laws.

A polluted beach in Mumbai. Photo by Raju Kasambe / Wikimedia Commons.

Factor this, for instance: 12 of the 29 states did not report a single violation under Forest Act; six states had zero violations under the Wildlife Protection Act, though there were 852 cases registered in this category across India. Twenty-two states had zero EPA violations, and 120 cases were reported in the remaining states. Twenty-six states showed zero violations of Air Pollution rules, with only 25 cases filed nation-wide; and 25 states did not have a single case registered under the Water Act, under which only 11 cases were filed in the NCRB report.

The data collated by the NCRB actually hides more than it reveals, said activist, lawyer and President of the National Green Tribunal Bar Association (West Zone), Asim Sarode. “It is unbelievable that in Maharashtra shows zero cases under the Water Prevention and Preservation Act 1974 when I am myself dealing with various cases of water pollution before the National Green Tribunal (NGT),” he exclaimed. “It just means those cases haven’t been recorded in the state records bureau, which is why the NCRB data does not reflect the reality.”

According to Sarode, ground and surface water is getting contaminated. Various industries are violating the Water Act by releasing untreated effluents into natural water bodies. On one hand, the state pollution control boards are turning a blind eye towards implementation of environmental laws and rules, and on the other hand, the police force is not sufficiently equipped with the knowledge about how to take legal action against environmental offenders.

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