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Parliament nod to bill to decriminalise minor water pollution related crimes

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New Delhi, Feb 8 (PTI) Parliament on Thursday passed a bill that seeks to decriminalise minor offences related to water pollution, and exempt certain categories of industrial plants from statutory restrictions.

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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.

The bill, which seeks to amend the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, was approved by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

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.

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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.

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"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.

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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.

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Opposition parties including DMK and RSP strongly opposed a bill amending Water Act in the Lok Sabha, stating it is "draconian" and is taking away the powers of states.

They also asked the government to refer the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Amendment Bill 2024 to the standing committee for scrutiny.

Participating in the debate on the bill, DMK's DM Kathir Anand said that this is a "draconian" bill and it will impact autonomy of states.

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The Vellore MP alleged that the centre has brought similar laws such as national education policy, and citizen amendment act to take away all the rights of the states.

Recall the bill and make amendments in a way that state authority is not questioned, Anand said.

Sharing similar views, RSP's N K Premachandran said he "strongly and vehemently" oppose this bill.

"It is a draconian bill...what is the intent of this bill?," he said, adding it is violating the principles of federalism.

The government, Premachandran said, is trying to facilitate ease of doing business for the industry at the cost of environment and labour.

This bill will dilute the environmental laws and "I oppose this bill. Send it to the standing committee for scrutiny," the Kollam (Kerala) MP said.

Pratima Mondal (AITC) too opposed the bill describing it as "draconian".

She said that untreated water is continously being discharged in rivers like Ganges.

"Penalty limit (in the bill) is not enough to deter pollution" she said adding imprisonment is required in extreme cases.

Supriya Sule from NCP-Shard Pawar faction said that the bill is a "toothless tiger".

"Entire bill is taking away the powers of states and it is very alarming," she said, adding it is anti-federal.

However Shiv Sena's Shrirang Appa Barne, Sunil Kumar JD (U), Anubhav Mohanty (BJD) and R S Verma (BSP) supported the bill. PTI SKU BKS RR ZMN

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