Editorials, Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

The gap in Environmental Crime Statistics

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The recently concluded Paris Climate talks and New Delhi’s new Odd-Even formula indicate that environmental protection is receiving a greater attention from the whole world. While data is easily available on pollution levels and emissions, statistics on crimes against the environment are harder to come by.

In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) began compiling data on environment-related offences. The data revealed the following details:

  • Total all-India environment related offences registered in 2014: 5,835.
  • Rajasthan recorded the most environmental crimes. Rajasthan, with 2927 cases, accounts for half of allenvironmental crimes committed in India in 2014 (Rajasthan has less than 5% of the country’s forest cover).
  • It is closely followed by Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand.
  • 8,765 people were arrested across India during 2014 on account of environmental crimes. Of those 8,765 people, nearly 75% (6,601) were from Rajasthan (3,320) and Uttar Pradesh (3,281) alone. The next highest number of people arrested were from Karnataka at 393 cases.
  • Most cases and arrests were regarding violation of the Forest Act 1927. A total of 4,901 offences were registered and 7,038 people were arrested for violation of the Forest Act in 2014. Offences under this law are often illegal felling of trees or illegally moving forest produce.
  • In six states and four Union territories, no environmental crimes were recorded.

How does the NCRB define an environment-related offence?

According to NCRB, an offence is considered to an environment-related offence, if it includes violations under five laws:

  1. The Forest Act, 1927.
  2. Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  3. Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  4. Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
  5. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (as amended in 1988).

Problems with the NCRB data:

  • 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. Delhi, 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.
  • 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. 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. NCRB has failed to recognize this fact.

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

  • This may be simply because violations under this Act, such as cutting trees, are easier to record.
  • Another reason: Forest Act 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. And hence, they are actively involved.

Why a very less number of cases are registered under other laws?

  • 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.
  • 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. The total number of crimes recorded under the Environment (Protection) Act last year was 101 across India.
  • Violations of other laws such as the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and the Mines and Minerals Act are often not recorded as crimes.

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

  • It is due to greater vigilance, especially after tigers disappeared completely from Sariska in 2004.
  • Rajasthan’s high crime rate is also related to a variety of other factors: illicit mining for sandstone, logging, overgrazing and demand for raw material for building houses.
  • In Rajasthan often cases are registered against the local population, and the high rate shows their dependence on the forest.
  • It should also be noted here that Rajasthan has a 1:5 human-to-cattle ratio, and overgrazing is rampant.

Conclusion:

NCRB’s new move to compile data on environment-related offences can be hailed as a fantastic step and a good starting point. It is very good that environmental crime data is being put out in public domain. It is really very important for such data to come out in public domain so that the public is sensitised about it. But, for environmental protection to be more effective, NCRB should consider expanding the definition of environment-related offence and classify violations under the above mentioned laws as crimes.

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