Environmental crime data in India - are they good enough?

Thu, 24/11/2022 - 16:21

This blog is a continuation of the ‘environmental crime: a brief introduction’ blog and is aimed at helping the reader understand the limitations of how environmental crime data in India is compiled.  

Environmental crimes in India are registered under a few special and local laws (SLLs). Until 2013, there was no publicly available data on environmental crime. In 2014, a chapter on environment-related offences was added to the ‘Crime in India’ statistics. The chapter contains data on the incidence of state and union territory (UT) wise environmental offences and gender-wise persons arrested for such offences. Further, data includes information on police disposal, such as cases investigated, cases pending for investigation, charge sheeting rate, case pendency percentage, etc. and court disposal such as the number of cases that went for trial, cases pending for trial, cases convicted, conviction rate, pendency percentage, etc. A look through the environmental  crime statistics for 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 will help the reader understand the analysis better.  For instance, in Tamil Nadu, the total number of registered environmental offences for the past eight years is as follows, 2014 (33 offences), 2015 (20 offences), 2016 (1), 2017 (20,914), 2018 (14,536), 2019 (13,316), 2020 (42,756) and 2021 (46,458). The blog will answer why there was a sudden surge of environmental offences in Tamil Nadu from 2017 onwards. 

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A few observed limitations of environmental crime data

The NCRB uses the following SLLs to determine the extent of environmental crime registration by police in India (see Table 1).

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Note: See serial numbers 10, 10a and 10 b, the state of Jammu & Kashmir was bifurcated into two UTs, namely, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, in 2020. Also, serial numbers 32 and 32a, two UTs, D&N Haveli and Daman & Diu, were merged as a single UT, namely, D&N Haveli and Daman & Diu, in 2020.

Limitation 1

From 2017, the cases registered under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Forest Conservation Act, 1980 likewise Air Act, 1981 and Water Act, 1974 were combined while reporting the statistics (e.g., refer to page two of 2017 data). This has continued up to the latest ‘Crime in India’ statistics (i.e., 2021). Therefore, no inferences can be drawn from the actual number of cases registered under each SLL mentioned above. 

Limitation 2

The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 primarily regulates the advertisement, trade, commerce, production, supply and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products. While it is undeniable that the tobacco industry has a considerable impact on the environment, the Act does not have provisions to control environmental damage and does not fall under the purview of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) or the Pollution Control Boards/Committees (hereafter PCBs). It focuses  more on public health and criminalising of individual smokers and sellers. Therefore, violations under this Act may not be construed as environmental crimes. In 2021, there were 54,024 cases registered under the said Act. The high number of cases registered under this Act might just be against individuals who smoke in public places or sell such products near educational/health care institutions rather than violations by tobacco product manufacturers. For example, in 2021, cases registered in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Rajasthan alone constitute 94% of the total cases registered for the whole of India. This forms a statistical outlier when compared with other SLLs, and significantly affects and dilutes the inferences that can be drawn out of environmental crime data. Given this trend, Tamil Nadu stands first in the number of booked environmental crimes with a total of 1,38,031 cases, followed by Rajasthan (56,000 cases) and Kerala (22,109 cases) while cumulating eight years of data. This suggests a wrong inference of the environmental crime situation and blindly sticking to ‘just numbers’ will lead to misrepresentation and miscommunication of environmental crime data.

Limitation 3

The Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 includes various rules to handle and regulate plastic waste, solid waste, biomedical waste, etc., including the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. In addition to this, certain states, like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Goa, have a ‘State Act’ to control noise pollution. Therefore, those states will register noise pollution-related cases under their own ‘State Act.’ The remaining states with no ‘State Act’ to deal with noise pollution should register cases under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. It is evident here that there is no uniform law to enlist cases relating to noise pollution. Therefore, presenting data under the head ‘Noise Pollution Act (State/Central)’ seems unnecessary (see page two of 2021 data).

Limitation 4

It is clear from Section 14 (1) of the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 that the Tribunal shall have jurisdiction over all civil cases involving a substantial question relating to the environment. The only offence prescribed in the Act is failure to comply with the orders of the Tribunal. Such offences are deemed non-cognisable under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Thus, if a company or a government department fails to comply with the orders of the NGT, they are liable under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. However, this may not amount to the commission of an environmental offence. Therefore, the NCRB data showing cases registered under the said Act is misleading, as commission of an offence and not complying with the orders of NGT are altogether different.  

Limitation 5

The inferences drawn from the environmental crime data are also limited based on the combination of different heads while presenting the data, as in Table 2. 

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From 2017 onwards, significant environmental law enforcement-related data points, such as the number of persons charge-sheeted by police; convicted, acquitted and discharged by courts, were added. However we cannot infer gender-wise persons arrested, charge-sheeted, convicted, acquitted and discharged under specific SLL in each state/UT. Also, the section on the disposal of registered cases by police and court is the heart and soul of environmental crime data. Unfortunately, the statistics only present either SLL-wise police and court disposal of cases collectively for India or state-wise disposal of cases collectively for SLLs. With this, the cases of charge-sheeted & pending investigation, convicted & pending trial under each SLL in each state/UT is unknown.

Limitation 6

Apart from considering the SLLs discussed above, certain Sections under Chapter XIV of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, have been overlooked. For instance, offences under IPC Sections such as 277 (fouling water of public springs or reservoirs) and 278 (making atmosphere noxious to health) directly affect the environment. 

Limitation 7

The chapter on environment-related offences only includes wildlife crime cases registered by police alone. However, according to the Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972, in addition to police, the forest department officers can also register cases. Therefore, just with the wildlife crime registered by the police, we cannot make any meaningful sense of wildlife offences in India as most of such cases are registered by State/UT forest departments. To overcome this limitation, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) may consider bringing out wildlife crime data by collating the cases registered by state/UT police and forest departments to determine the extent of registered wildlife offences. 

The way forward

To minimise the limitations of environmental crime data, NCRB should consider carrying out an extensive ‘data standardisation’ exercise, including representatives from the MoEFCC, state environment, forest, climate change and wildlife departments, police, PCBs, environmental lawyers and civil society organisations, environmental and social scientists and data scientists. With standardised environmental crime data, much sense can be made on the enforcement of environmental protection laws.

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