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Difficult Word/ PhraseContextual Meaning
Dispense Give or provide in small portions
Safeguard Make safe
Cornerstone the most important part of something that the rest depends on
Wantonly being without check or limitation
Apprehend Get the meaning of something
Contravention Coming into conflict with
Weed out Remove unwanted elements
Grave Causing fear or anxiety by threatening great harm
Deterrent Something that acts to discourage certain behaviour or action
Proponent A person who pleads for a cause or propounds an idea
Substantial Of considerable importance, size, or worth
Penal subject to punishment by law
Woefully In an unfortunate or deplorable manner
Redress Act of correcting an error or a fault or an evil
Backlog Something kept back or saved for future use or a special purpose
Tardy After the expected or usual time
Equitably dealing fairly and equally with all concerned
Tinker Try to fix or mend
Foreboding A feeling of evil to come

Just fine: On amending environmental laws

Justice for environmental crimes must be dispensed (Give or provide in small portions) quickly and equitably

The Union Environment Ministry, tasked with safeguarding (Make safe) India’s forests and its environmental assets, proposes to amend sections of key environmental legislation and make them less threatening to potential violators. India has eight cornerstone (the most important part of something that the rest depends on) pieces of legislation that define a regulatory framework to ensure that natural resources are not wantonly (being without check or limitation) exploited, acts of pollution are apprehended (Get the meaning of something) and there is a mechanism to punish and deter violators. Under provisions in the existing legislation, violators are punishable with imprisonment up to five years or with a fine up to one lakh rupees, or with both. Were violations to continue, there is an additional fine of up to ₹5,000 for every day during which such failure or contravention (Coming into conflict with) continues after the conviction. There is also a provision for jail terms to extend to seven years. Under the new amendments proposed, the Ministry says it wants to weed out (Remove unwanted elements) “fear of imprisonment for simple violations”, and therefore have such violations invite only monetary fines. However, serious environmental crimes that cause grave (Causing fear or anxiety by threatening great harm) injury or death would invite imprisonment under the Indian Penal Code. These penalties would be decided by an ‘adjudication officer’ and transferred to an ‘Environment Protection Fund’. Moreover, the quantum of potential fines has been raised from beyond the one lakh rupees to as much as five crore rupees. These proposals are not yet law and have been placed in the public domain for feedback.

The question of whether the threat of imprisonment acts as a deterrent (Something that acts to discourage certain behaviour or action) has a long history with both proponents (A person who pleads for a cause or propounds an idea) and opponents. The proposed amendments do not cover the destruction of forests and wildlife, which make up a substantial (Of considerable importance, size, or worth) fraction of environmental crime, and would continue to invite existing penal (subject to punishment by law) provisions. Research on environmental crime in the United States and Europe suggests that fining is the most common mode of punishment. India has a long history of corporate violations as well as a woefully (In an unfortunate or deplorable manner) slow redress system. An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment found that Indian courts took between 9-33 years to clear a backlog (Something kept back or saved for future use or a special purpose) of cases for environmental violations. Starting with 2018, close to 45,000 cases were pending for trial and another 35,000 cases were added in that year. More than 90% of cases were pending for trial in five of seven major environmental laws. While fines could theoretically help with faster redress, large environmental fines will continue to be contested in courts, adding to the prevailing practice of tardy (After the expected or usual time) justice. The threat of imprisonment might have acted as a deterrent in India where the effectiveness of environment regulation is under par. Justice for environmental crimes must be dispensed quickly and equitably (dealing fairly and equally with all concerned) before tinkering (Try to fix or mend) with the law to make it less foreboding (A feeling of evil to come).

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