Most of the offences relate to just two Acts, the Forest Act and the Wildlife Protection Act, with the bulk recorded under the former.

In recent days, the Paris climate talks, New Delhi’s high levels of air pollution and the floods in Chennai have drawn attention to the need to protect the environment. While data is easily available on pollution levels and emissions, statistics on crimes against the environment are harder to come by.

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In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) began compiling data on environment-related offences. They show the all-India tally at 5,835, an incredibly low number. In comparison, 33,981 incidents of murder were recorded in 2014.
Rajasthan alone accounts for half of all environmental crimes committed in India in 2014. In six states and four Union territories, no environmental crimes were recorded.
How does the NCRB define an environment-related offence? It includes violations under only five laws: the Forest Act, 1927; Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (as amended in 1988).

Experts said the NCRB data suffers from both under-reporting and inadequate coverage of laws whose violation would constitute a crime against the environment.
The Water Act has seen the least number of violations, with only 15 crimes recorded under this law across India.

Ironically, Delhi, which rivals Beijing in poor air quality and where the Yamuna is choking under the weight of industrial and household waste, records no crimes under the last two laws.

Most of the offences relate to just two Acts, the Forest Act and the Wildlife Protection Act, with the bulk recorded under the former.
According to Tito Joseph of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, wildlife crime broadly falls into five categories: poaching; illegal trade in body parts of wildlife; illegal possession of wildlife goods; entering a protected wildlife territory to hunt without permission; and taking wildlife goods outside the country without permission.

Of these, illegal trade in body parts was the most common offence, he said. While earlier, the offences mostly involved animal parts like leopard skins, deer antlers or ivory, nowadays they have expanded to include sea horses, pangolin skins, star tortoises, spotted black terrapins and sea cucumbers, with much of this new demand coming from China and South-east Asian countries.

Why are most crimes recorded under the Forest Act of 1927 ?

Wildlife conservationist Prerna Bindra argued that this may be simply because violations under this Act, such as cutting trees, are easier to record.

Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer, attributes a different reason to this.

“This is a well-established colonial-era law, with a well-trained cadre of forest service officers who are tasked with policing responsibilities. They are granted a lot of judicial power, and their promotions and incentives depend on their policing performance,” he said.

“On the other hand, the pollution control boards (PCBs) which deal with air and water pollution were created only in the 1970s. They do not have enforcement officers, no mechanism to address complaints and have no policing functions. They just issue permits,” he added.
Similarly, violations of coastal regulation zones, illegal filling of wetlands, dumping of hazardous waste, violation of electronic waste rules and environmental impact assessment rules are all included under the Environmental (Protection) Act of 1986, but police authorities are often not aware of this fact and hence do not record these as crimes under the Act.

“In most cases, the PCBs just issue a show-cause notice to the entities concerned, and do not register cases with the magistrate. This is why the data does not represent the real extent of such crimes,” he said. The total number of crimes recorded under the Environment (Protection) Act last year was 101 across India.

Bindra also points to other laws whose violations should be recorded as crimes, such as the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and the Mines and Minerals Act, since illegal mining and the resultant environmental degradation should be recorded as a crime.

Why does Rajasthan account for half of the total environmental crimes reported in the country ?

The answer may simply be greater vigilance, especially after tigers disappeared completely from Sariska in 2004.

The state has only 9.5% of its area under forest coverage and even that is under immense pressure; the state recorded 2,666 offences under the Forest Act, which regulates the use of forest produce and resources.

Rajesh Kumar Grover, secretary to the Rajasthan government’s environment department, attributed the state’s high crime rate to a variety of factors: illicit mining for sandstone, logging, overgrazing and demand for raw material for building houses.

“It’s usually the local population that is at fault, and the high rate shows their dependence on the forest. It also doesn’t help that Rajasthan has a 1:5 human-to-cattle ratio, and overgrazing is rampant,” he said.

Source : MINT

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