Green Law To Subsume Existing Authorities Mooted – Business Standard – 30-Nov-2014
December 3, 2014 - Uncategorized
A committee set up to review laws related to protection of environment and forests, headed by former Cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, has recommended an omnibusgreen law that will not only subsume existing legislation, but also hold the potential to undo existing judicial pronouncements on environmental issues. The proposed law will also do away with all existing authorities created under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
The panel’s report, which hasn’t been made public yet, was reviewed by Business Standard . If the proposal is accepted, the government could do away with the Supreme Court-appointed central empowered committee (CEC) on forestry issues, as well as the Environment Pollution Control Authority(EPCA). The two bodies have driven the environmental agenda on urban pollution management and forestry for several years.
The Subramanian has recommended new national and state level authorities, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the State Environmental Authority (SEMA), be set up under the new law proposed by the committee, the Environmental Laws (Management) Act, 2014.
In its report, the panel also provided a draft of the law. “All (existing) appellate or revising authorities under the environmental laws shall, from the date of commencement of this Act, cease to have power or jurisdiction conferred on them under those laws in respect of matters covered under this Act,” said the draft, reviewed by Business Standard .
The panel has also recommended once the new law is in place, suo moto and other powers of courts to intervene in environmental governance be severely curtailed. “Subject to the powers of the National Green Tribunal (constituted under Act 19 of 2010) reserved under the succeeding provision of the decisions of the government, NEMA or SEMA under this Act or matters related thereto shall not be questioned before, nor enquired into by any court or tribunal either suo moto or at anyone’s behest on any grounds whatsoever to question the new authorities,” the report said
“The provisions of this Act shall prevail over anything to the contrary contained in any judgment or order of any court or tribunal and other enactments, including the environmental laws dealt with under this Act,” read the provision of the draft law.
In May 2002, the Supreme Court had formed a CEC, following several instances of environmental irregularities. Since then, the CEC has looked into various critical issues across the country, including widespread illegal mining in parts of Odisha, Goa, Karnataka and the Western Ghats. Based on the recommendations of the CEC, the SC has cancelled many mining leases.
The EPCA, formed in 1998, had, among other moves, recommended a ban on diesel vehicles in Delhi. It had also played an advisory role on issues such as fuel quality and vehicle emission.
Together, these two authorities have been involved with about 3,000 cases that have come up came before the Supreme Court so far.
Even before the formation of the high-level panel, the environment ministry had already discussed dilution of the powers of the National Green Tribunal. It had also held discussions on whether the setting up of a new regulator was a legitimate reason to ask for the Supreme Court to wind down the CEC. Previously, the Prime Minister’s Office had also been concerned about litigation onenvironmental issues in the apex court and the green tribunal.
|THE PROPOSED ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS (MANAGEMENT) ACT 2014
The Act seeks to create an umbrella law to tackle the multiplicity of agencies processing environment and forest clearance and revamp the project clearance procedures
|What will it create?
What will it subsume?
The Subramanian panel has also recommended the setting up of an appellate board, to be headed by a retired high court judge; two officers of the rank of secretary in the government, retired or serving, will be the first level of appeal against clearances. Appeals would have to be made within 30 days of a clearance order. As of now, such appeals lie before the National Green Tribunal and can be made within six months of a clearance. The decisions taken by this board will be judicially reviewed by the environmental court — the National Green Tribunal. But the tribunal won’t be able to carry out a technical review of the clearances, as it is empowered to do as of now. The panel has recommended the tribunal’s reviews be conducted only “on grounds permissible and subject to limitations applicable to judicial review of administrative actions by high courts and the Supreme Court.”
The panel has suggested special environmental courts be set up at the district level. These courts, headed by a judge of the rank of a sessions or additional sessions judge, will be solely empowered to deal with infringement of environmental laws.