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Hazardous Substance regulation in India

The regulation of hazardous substances in India is a critical aspect of environmental protection and public health. Hazardous substances, by their very nature, pose significant risks to human health, the environment, and the biodiversity of the region.

The need for stringent regulations arises from the potential for these substances to cause harm through exposure, accidents, and mismanagement.

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In India, the rapid industrialization and technological advancement have led to an increased use of chemicals and hazardous materials, making it imperative to have robust legal and administrative frameworks to manage these risks.

Hazardous substance rule and laws in India

Sec. 2(e) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, defines a "hazardous substance to mean any substance or preparation which, by reason of its chemical or physico-chemical properties or handling, is liable to cause harm to human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms, property or the environment.

Key Hazardous Substance Regulation

The foundation of hazardous substance regulation in India is built on several key pieces of legislation and rules. These laws not only define hazardous substances but also outline the responsibilities of various stakeholders and the regulatory mechanisms in place.

  1. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986:

  2. Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989

  3. Hazardous Chemicals (Manufacture, Storage and Import) Rules, 1989:

  4. Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998:

Lets understand Each one of them in detail : -

The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986: A Cornerstone in Hazardous Substance Regulation

The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, serves as the primary legal framework for environmental protection in India, including the management of hazardous substances.

It empowers the Central Government to take measures necessary to protect and improve environmental quality, set standards and regulations, and oversee the implementation of these rules.

Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989: Scope and Applications

Under the provisions of the Environment Act, 1986, the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989, were formulated.

These rules specifically address the handling, treatment, and disposal of hazardous wastes, defining the responsibilities of persons generating such waste and the authorities in charge of enforcing the regulations.

Scope and Applicability

The rules apply to specific categories of hazardous wastes, as detailed in the Schedule of the Rules. This includes a range of substances like cyanide wastes and wastes from dyes.

However, it's important to note that these rules do not cover radioactive wastes (regulated under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962), wastes discharged from ships (covered under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958), and waste water and exhaust gases (regulated under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981).

Key Provisions of the Rules

  • Rule 4: This rule mandates that any person generating hazardous wastes in quantities beyond specified limits must ensure that such wastes are properly handled and disposed of without causing adverse effects. This includes responsibilities for handling, storage, and disposal.

  • Rule 5: It introduces a permit system, administered by State Pollution Control Boards, for the handling and disposal of hazardous wastes. No person is allowed to collect, receive, treat, transport, store, or dispose of hazardous wastes without Board authorization.

  • Rule 6: Grants the State Pollution Control Boards the authority to suspend or cancel an authorization if needed.

  • Rule 7: Outlines requirements for the packaging, labeling, and transport of hazardous wastes, ensuring safe and standardized handling procedures.

  • Rule 8: Requires State Governments to compile and publish an inventory of hazardous waste disposal sites and conduct environmental impact assessments for these sites.

  • Rule 10: In the event of an accident at a hazardous waste facility, site, or during transportation, immediate reporting to the respective Board is mandatory.

  • Rule 11: Prohibits the import of hazardous wastes into India for dumping and disposal, except under specific conditions approved by the Central Government, such as for processing or reuse as raw materials.

In January 2000, comprehensive amendments were introduced to these rules. These amendments expanded the scope of the rules to include previously unregulated processes and wastes, like zinc and lead wastes. Additionally, they strengthened the existing permit system and introduced new regulations to restrict the export and import of hazardous wastes, particularly concerning recycling and reuse. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change was designated as the nodal agency for overseeing the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.

Hazardous Chemicals (Manufacture, Storage and Import) Rules, 1989: Ensuring Safe Practices

These rules focus on industries that deal with the manufacturing, storage, and import of hazardous chemicals. They aim to mitigate risks associated with chemical accidents and ensure safe handling and storage practices. The rules also outline the need for emergency plans and safety audits to prevent and respond to chemical accidents.

Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998: Ensuring Safe Disposal of Medical Waste

Medical waste handling

The Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998, are a critical set of regulations in India, governing the management and disposal of bio-medical waste. These rules are designed to minimize the adverse effects of bio-medical waste on human health and the environment.

Scope and Applicability

The rules apply to all entities and individuals involved in the generation, collection, reception, storage, transportation, treatment, disposal, or handling of bio-medical waste in any form. This includes a wide range of healthcare and related facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, dispensaries, veterinary institutions, animal houses, pathological laboratories, and blood banks.

Key Provisions of the Rules

  • Segregation, Packing, and Disposal: The rules emphasize the segregation, packing, and disposal of bio-medical waste according to ten specified categories, as listed in the Schedule to the Rules. This categorization is crucial for ensuring that different types of bio-medical waste are handled and disposed of in appropriate ways, considering their potential risks.

  • Responsibilities of the Occupiers: The rules mandate that every occupier of an institution generating bio-medical waste must take necessary steps to ensure that such waste is managed without causing harm to human health and the environment. This includes strict adherence to the prescribed methods of handling and disposal.

  • Limit on Storage of Untreated Bio-Medical Waste: It is stipulated that no untreated bio-medical waste shall be stored beyond a period of 48 hours. This provision is intended to prevent the risks associated with the accumulation of medical waste.

  • Establishment of Prescribed Authority and Advisory Committee: The rules require the establishment of a prescribed authority responsible for the implementation of these rules. This authority operates under the control of the State Government. Additionally, an Advisory Committee consisting of experts and members from the State Pollution Control Board or Pollution Control Committee is to be constituted to provide guidance and oversight.

Other Relevant Acts

In addition to the Environment Act, several other acts play a crucial role in regulating specific types of hazardous substances, such as the Explosive Substances Act, 1908, the Indian Petroleum Act, 1934, and the Inflammable Substances Act, 1952. These laws cater to particular industries and types of hazardous materials, ensuring a comprehensive coverage of all potential risks.

Regulatory Landscape :Hazardous Substance regulation in India

The regulatory framework for hazardous substances in India is not static; it evolves to address emerging challenges and incorporate technological advancements.

Rule 13 of Environment Protection Rules: Handling of Hazardous Substances

Rule 13 focuses on the conditions under which the Central Government permits the handling of hazardous substances. It requires a thorough assessment of the substance's potential to harm human health, the environment, and other living beings before any permission is granted.

National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995: Liability and Compensation

This Act provides a legal framework for dealing with accidents involving hazardous substances. It establishes a tribunal for the expeditious disposal of cases and imposes strict liability for damages caused by such accidents.

Amendments to Hazardous Wastes Rules, 1989:

In 2000, significant amendments were introduced to the Hazardous Wastes Rules of 1989. These amendments expanded the scope of the rules to include previously unregulated wastes and processes, thereby strengthening the permit system and introducing new regulations on the export and import of hazardous wastes.

Hazardous Micro-Organisms Rules, 1989: Regulating Genetic Engineering

These rules were formulated to regulate the manufacture, use, import, export, and storage of hazardous microorganisms and genetically engineered cells/organisms. They highlight the need for careful supervision and control over activities involving genetic engineering, emphasizing public health and environmental safety.

Navigating Challenges in Hazardous Substance Regulation in India

Effective management of hazardous substance regulation in India not only involves strict regulatory measures but also requires comprehensive risk assessment and management strategies. The lack of detailed knowledge about the nature and characteristics of many hazardous substances poses a significant challenge. This gap in information hinders the ability to conduct thorough risk assessments, which are crucial for understanding the potential impact on human health and the environment.

The Challenge of Data and Knowledge Acquisition

One of the primary obstacles in the path of effective regulation of hazardous substances is the scarcity of crucial data needed for comprehensive risk assessment. This includes information about the toxicity, interaction with other substances, and long-term environmental impacts of these substances. Without this knowledge, it's challenging to evaluate the potential risks accurately and implement appropriate safety measures.

Environmental Management Programme for Hazardous Substances

The establishment of an Environmental Management Programme for Hazardous Substances would significantly contribute to the collection and analysis of critical data. Such a program could aid in identifying and classifying the risks associated with various hazardous substances and in developing effective strategies for their management and regulation.

Importance of Regional Registers for Toxic Substances

Creating regional registers for potential toxic substances at various centers across the country is a key step towards gathering the necessary data.

These registers would serve as comprehensive databases, providing valuable information to stakeholders, including industry players, policymakers, and regulatory authorities, thereby facilitating better-informed decision-making processes.

Location and Relocation of Hazardous Industries

The location and relocation of hazardous industries are crucial aspects of the regulation of hazardous substances in India.

The Environment Protection Act, 1986, and other related policies empower the government to regulate the concentration of hazardous industries, especially in densely populated areas, to mitigate risks to public health and the environment.

Supreme Court's Guidelines for Industrial Location

In the wake of the Bhopal Gas Leak Tragedy and other industrial accidents, the Supreme Court of India has emphasized the need for developing national guidelines for the location of toxic and hazardous industries.

The court advised that industries should ideally be surrounded by a "green belt" of 1 to 5 kilometers to provide a buffer zone, thereby reducing the risk of exposure to the surrounding population.

Case Studies: Shriram Gas Leak and Relocation of Industries in Delhi

The relocation of hazardous industries from urban areas has been a subject of significant judicial intervention. Notable cases such as the Shriram Gas Leak and the directive for relocating 168 hazardous industries out of Delhi highlight the judiciary's role in enforcing environmental safety and public health concerns.

These cases demonstrate the complexities involved in balancing industrial development with environmental and health considerations.

National Policy for Location of Chemical and Hazardous Industries

The proposal for a national policy on the location of chemical and hazardous industries aims to address the challenges of industrial concentration in populated areas.

This policy would consider factors like population density, environmental sensitivity, and existing infrastructure, ensuring that the location of hazardous industries minimizes risks to communities and the environment.

Case Law and Judicial Interventions: Shaping Hazardous Substance Regulation

The judiciary in India has played a pivotal role in shaping the regulations governing hazardous substances.

Through various landmark judgments, the Supreme Court and other courts have contributed significantly to the evolution of legal principles and norms related to hazardous substance management and liability.

Case Law Shaping Legal Frameworks

  • Shriram Gas Leak Case (M.C. Mehta v UOI): This case introduced a new standard of "no-fault" liability, also known as absolute liability, for industries engaged in hazardous activities. The Supreme Court emphasized the need to develop new principles to address the challenges of a highly industrialized economy.

  • Dr. Shivarao Shantaram Wagle v UOI: Following the Chernobyl disaster, this case dealt with concerns about radioactive contamination in imported butter. The court appointed an expert committee, which concluded that the butter was safe based on the standards of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

  • M.K. Sharma v Bharat Electronics Ltd.: This case highlighted the responsibilities of employers in industries where workers are exposed to hazardous substances, like X-ray radiation. The court emphasized the need for periodic health evaluations and insurance for workers in hazardous industries.

  • Consumer Education & Research Centre v UOI: The court laid down guidelines for asbestos industries, including mandatory health insurance for workers and compensation for those suffering from occupational health hazards.

The Role of the Supreme Court in Environmental Safety

The Supreme Court's active involvement in cases related to hazardous substances has been crucial in ensuring environmental safety and protecting public health. The court's decisions have often led to the development of new guidelines and regulations, reflecting the evolving nature of environmental jurisprudence in India.

Challenges in Implementation and Enforcement:

Despite the comprehensive legal framework for regulating hazardous substances in India, there are significant challenges in the effective implementation and enforcement of these regulations.

Issues of Coordination Among Regulatory Authorities

One of the main challenges is the lack of coordination among various regulatory authorities. This leads to inconsistencies and gaps in the enforcement of laws and regulations. There is a need for a unified approach and better collaboration among different governmental agencies to ensure effective regulation of hazardous substances.

The Need for Adequate Resources and Training

Effective enforcement of regulations requires adequate resources, including trained personnel and funding. Many regulatory bodies in India face a shortage of skilled staff and financial constraints, hindering their ability to enforce laws effectively.

Balancing Environmental Concerns with Industrial Development

Another challenge is balancing the need for industrial development with environmental protection and public health concerns. This requires a nuanced approach that takes into account the economic benefits of industrial activities while ensuring that they do not compromise environmental integrity and human health.

Addressing Implementation Gaps

While the legal framework for regulating hazardous substances is comprehensive, there are gaps in its implementation on the ground. Strengthening the enforcement mechanisms, increasing public awareness, and enhancing the capacity of regulatory bodies are essential steps towards bridging these gaps.

Future Prospects

Looking forward, addressing these challenges will be crucial in shaping a safer and more sustainable approach to managing hazardous substances in India. The continual evolution of regulations, coupled with effective implementation and enforcement, will play a key role in safeguarding the environment and public health.

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