Data from the NCRB indicates that the number of cases registered under various environment-related offences has increased by 78% in 2020. Most of this increase is due to the 120% increase in cases registered under the COTPA act. 86% of the cases registered under COTPA in 2020 were from Tamil Nadu.
Responding to a question in Lok Sabha recently on 14 March 2022, the government stated that the number of ‘Environment-related offences’ have increased in 2020. A total of 61,167 new cases were registered in 2020, under various laws related to environmental-related offences.
This number was only 34,674 in 2019. The Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) and Noise Pollution Acts are the laws under which the majority of these offences are booked. The total number of cases investigated in 2020 was 68,291 which also includes cases from the previous year that have not been disposed yet.
The information provided in the Lok Sabha is based on National Crime Records Bureau’s Crime in India reports. In the first of this two-part story, we look at the trends in reporting of the cases related to ‘Environment-related offences’ under various acts.
78% increase in the new cases registered for Environmental Related offences in 2020.
As stated in the Lok Sabha answer, there is a significant increase in the total number of new environment-related offences registered in 2020.
As per NCRB’s Crime in India Report, the Environment related offences include:
- The Forest Act & The Forest Conservation Act, 1927
- The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
- The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
- The Air (1981) & The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
- The Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA, 2003)
- Noise Pollution Acts (State/ Central)
- The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010
In the year 2020, a total of 61,767 new cases were registered compared to 34,676 cases in 2019 i.e., a 78% increase in the number of new cases. Prior to 2020, there has been a two-year declining trend in the new number of cases registered under the various Environment-related offences.
In 2017, there was a major increase in the number of cases reported in NCRB’s Crime in India report under the environment offences. A total of 42,143 new cases were registered in 2017 as against 4,732 cases in 2016.
This is due to the inclusion of the COTPA & Noise Pollution Acts under the specific category of Environment related offences. Prior to 2017, they were reported under ‘Other SLL crimes’.
Furthermore, NCRB started reporting Environment-related offences as a separate category only from 2014.
Increase in 2020 is primarily due to cases registered under COTPA
Since the inclusion of COTPA & Noise Pollution Acts in ‘Environment-related offences’ in 2017, they form a major share of cases reported under this head.
The significant increase in cases in 2020 under his head can be attributed to the increase in the number of cases under COPTA. In 2019, a total of 22,667 cases were registered under COTPA which increased by 120% in 2020 to reach 49,870. However, it must be noted that since the inclusion of COTPA cases under Environment-related offences, there has been a year-on-year decline in cases registered under this act only to increase by more than 100% in 2020.
The COTPA was introduced in 2003 and has provisions for restriction of sale, smoking, promotion of tobacco products. Detailed information on the various provisions of COTPA can be read in this explainer by Factly.
While no official reason is provided for the increase in new cases registered under COTPA in 2020, the COVID-19 related measures are being cited as one of the reasons for the increase in the cases in various quarters.
In the National directives for COVID-19 management, it is stated that there should be a strict ban on the sale of liquor, gutka, tobacco etc. in public places and spitting should be strictly prohibited. These directives were to be enforced using fines & penal actions. This could have led to the law enforcement authorities being more vigilant and booking cases under COTPA.
Another major act that contributes to a significant number of cases under the ‘Environment-related offences’ is the Noise Pollution Act. However, the trend has varied over the years. The number of new cases registered under these acts in 2020 was 7,318 which is the lowest in the four years of NCRB’s separate reporting of the cases under this act.
COVID-19 related restrictions which curtailed movement and restricted public gatherings could be one of the reasons for the fall in numbers.
A steady decline in the number of new cases registered under the Forest Act is also observed over the years with 2,287 new cases in 2020, compared to 4,901 in 2014. The same is the case with Wildlife Protection Act.
On the other hand, there is an increase in the number of cases booked under the Environment Protection Act in 2019 & 2020. Similarly, the number of cases under The Air & The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act also increased from 160 in 2019 to 589 in 2020.
There isn’t any reliable information about what could be influencing these trends under the respective acts except the knowledge of specific factors like COVID-19. As noted even in our earlier stories, the NCRB numbers only reflect the cases which are reported and do not necessarily reflect the actual crime scene. Questions have also been raised on the inconsistency in the reporting of offences under the actual environment-related offences.
Most numbers of COTPA cases are reported from Tamil Nadu
As already observed, the data relating to Environment-related offences is skewed by the number of cases booked under COTPA. They not only form a major share of the cases being reported under this head but also are the reason for more than a 75% increase in the number of reported cases in 2020.
Of the COTPA cases reported across the country, most of them are from Tamil Nadu. Out of 49,710 cases reported from across India in 2020, a total of 42,731 i.e., 86% of the cases were from Tamil Nadu alone. In an earlier story, we had observed that in 2020, Tamil Nadu has reported the greatest increase in the Crime rate in 2020. As highlighted earlier, COVID-19 control measures could be one of the reasons for such a significant increase in the number of cases. The case of COTPA also looks similar to the sale of tobacco products & spitting in public places was strictly prohibited under the COVID-19 guidelines.
It is to be noted that Tamil Nadu had the highest share of the cases registered under COTPA even in the earlier years. Kerala & Rajasthan are the other two states which report a significant number of cases registered under COTPA. The higher numbers in these states could be a case of better reporting & enforcement rather than a higher incidence of crime.
On the other hand, Rajasthan has the highest incidence of cases under Noise Pollutions Acts while Uttar Pradesh is the main contributor towards the cases registered under – The Forest Act, Environment Protection Act, and also Air & The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act.
Reporting inconsistencies might be influencing the number of cases reported under most of the Environment related acts.
While the increase in the number of cases under COTPA can be attributed to a large extent to COVID-19 related restrictions, there aren’t any specific reasons that can be cited to explain the trends in cases registered under the other environment-related acts.
Activists and experts have often cited inconsistent reporting & underreporting as major concerns in relation to environmental offences. Underreporting is a concern even for many other crimes.
The reporting & registration of an offence tells only a part of the story. The disposal of these offences would shed more light on the efficacy of the police investigation. In the second part of the story, we review the trends in police & court disposal of cases under the various Environment related acts and look at certain specific cases.
Featured Image: Cases registered under COTPA