EHS compliance is becoming increasingly intertwined with the success and evolution of companies all over the world, and India is no exception.
By Rhea Suri, EHS Regulatory Analyst, Enhesa
(This post was originally published here by our EHSQ Alliance Affiliate partner Enhesa. Republished with permission.)
We are only in the first few months of 2019, and EHS regulatory and policy trends in India for the current year seem to be crystalizing already. Although India has traditionally had a poor reputation when it comes to supervising and enforcing compliance with its environmental and occupational health and safety laws, there is evidence that this is changing – both in terms of enforcement actions by the authorities and through new, as well as existing, regulations and policy.
A trend focusing on stringent surveillance and implementation by Indian authorities is on the rise and an increased number of enforcement cases can be expected to be seen in the coming months and years. Although instances of effective enforcement of EHS regulations in the country are still not highly publicized, especially by international media, we feel it is only a matter of time before this will change as well.
Within the broad scope of EHS regulation in India, there are some specific areas that are in the limelight and will see further developments in the near future:
Stringent Plastic Waste Management
Facilities operating within states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry are required to adhere to bans with regard to the use, sale, manufacture, storage, or exhibit of single-use plastic products including plastic carry bags, plates, plastic-coated cups, tumblers, water pouches, and plastic straws.
This plastic ban is expected to be implemented throughout the country in the coming year.
Facilitation of Female Workers in the Workplace
Facilities employing women workers are required to provide amenities and facilities like crèches (daycares) in order to help retain and facilitate women in the workplace. In another woman-focused change, the Government of India, through its Ministry of Women and Child Development, launched the SHe-Box (sexual harassment electronic box) Online Complaint Management System to report and view the status of sexual harassment complaints arising from the workplace, which include the following:
- Physical contact and advances;
- A demand or request for sexual favors;
- Sexually oriented remarks;
- Showing pornography; and
- Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
Also, based on a recent landmark judgment by the Central Administrative Tribunal of India, companies employing temporary or ad-hoc female employees will be required to allow them to take maternity leave.
Safety with Regard to Lifting Machinery
The scope and regulation of lifting machinery has been expanded to include elevators in addition to lifts since facilities are increasingly using them on their premises. In addition to this widening, more stringent requirements like increased testing of machinery and more detailed undertakings by manufacturers of machinery have been adopted.
From 2018 onwards, companies registered in India will be subject to the 2 percent corporate social responsibility (CSR) spending requirement if they meet annual financial thresholds "in the preceding year." This is opposed to during "any financial year" as per the previous requirement under the company laws, which lay down mandatory CSR requirements.
As a result, companies that meet the threshold in the preceding year will be required to spend at least 2 percent of the average net profits made during the three immediately preceding financial years on CSR initiatives. This is an example of the increasing focus on CSR within India.
Consolidation of Labor Laws
The Labour Secretary of India, M Sathiyavathy, recently stated that the Ministry of Labour and Employment is moving towards consolidating more than 44 labor laws at the central level into four broad codes covering: wages; industrial relations; social security; and occupational safety, health, and working conditions. This will remove the multiplicity of definitions and authorities that currently exist and will aid in the ease of compliance without compromising on wages and social security of workers.
In addition to these codes, a Bill to further amend the Contract Labour Act is also expected to be pushed for passage in the parliament this year, and the Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which will enable the central government to enhance paid maternity leave by executive order, is also expected to come through this year. These changes will likely alter the current labor requirements that companies working in India have to fulfill, but what the exact alterations will be is yet to be known since no drafts of the codes or bills are currently available.
A common thread among these EHS areas are the changes that have been put forth with regards to them, all of which point to the following:
Promotion of a Culture of Safety
There is an acceptance that 80 percent of workplace incidents are stress-related, which is the reason why an employee culture focused on happiness and safety is being emphasized in India. The SHe-Box (sexual harassment electronic box) Online Complaint Management System is an example of this.
From another perspective, widening the scope of lifting machinery is another example of the focus on safety and a move towards a zero-harm culture with a focus on preventing accidents.
Tight Enforcement, Higher Fines, and Absolute Liability of Companies
Facilities in India are permitted to operate only after procuring licenses. Non-compliance leads to the adverse results seen in the Sterlites Industries case, where one of the largest copper smelter plants in India was found to be operating without a valid renewal of its environmental consent to operate.
When assessing the company's liability to pay damages (that is, for damage caused to the environment during the 15 years it operated without a valid environmental permit), it was determined that 10 percent of the profit before depreciation, interest, and taxes (PBDIT) had to be paid as compensation, which amounted to INR 1 billion.
Further, in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, the absolute liability rule and the concept of deep pockets was established after an oleum gas leak took place in the Shriram Food and Fertilizers Ltd. complex at New Delhi, resulting in the death or hospitalization of many workers. This case is the benchmark for dealing with instances of damage caused by dangerous chemicals when usage and/or manufacturing is undertaken by a company.
Increased Public Activism
NGOs in the state of Gujarat alleged that a manufacturer of potassium and sodium bichromate dumped more than 45,000 tons of toxic waste in and around its facility. In 2004, because of the growing public outcry and PILs (public interest litigation), the Supreme Court’s Monitoring Committee (SCMC) directed an inspection of the site where the dumping had taken place, after which it ordered the company to have the waste removed by an expert body and to deposit USD $3.7 million towards the initial remediation work.
In another recent incident, interest groups in the state of Maharashtra appealed to the Chief Minister to set up a specialized 'green police' unit to enforce environmental laws and court orders within the State. The green police unit is expected to be trained in environmental law requirements and National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders.
Further, the NGT directed the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to take strict legal action including ordering closure of facilities operating within Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) without operating permits and environmental clearances. The direction was the result of a plea filed by public activists seeking the issuance of closure notices to non-compliant facilities in the Hapur District of U.P.
Growing Number of Closure of Facilities in Cases of Non-Compliance
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) recently ordered closure of 10 dyeing units in the Tirupur knitwear cluster that failed to comply with the Supreme Court order pertaining to pollution caused by the dyeing units on the Noyyal River, which was located close to their facilities. The power and water supply to these units was also disconnected and the Supreme Court of India directed the company to deposit USD $11.6 million to clean up the river.
In another recent example, the Government of Uttar Pradesh sealed 9 industries and dismantled another 33 for violating environmental norms and creating large-scale pollution by discharging fumes from the use of coal. This was done to address the issue of increasing air pollution within the State, which has had an adverse impact on the inhabitants of the city as well as the Taj Mahal.
It is a forgone conclusion that compliance is a necessity to run a safe and effective business. Non-compliance results not only in costly fines, temporary stoppage of production, and damage to the company’s reputation, but also potential criminal charges, all of which are being seen more and more under the Indian jurisdiction and are reflected in recent policy changes.
The natural next step will be increased publicity of instances of non-compliance, the resulting loss of reputation for the companies involved, and the use of increased awareness of the same as a deterrent by Indian authorities.
About the Author: Rhea Suri is an EHS Regulatory Analyst at Enhesa. Rhea is an Indian lawyer who assists multinational clients with their environmental, health, and safety (EHS) regulatory compliance obligations in South Asia, with a particular focus on Indian, Pakistan, Sri Lankan and Bangladesh laws.
Enhesa helps global multinational companies be compliant with, and stay on top of, Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) Regulations wherever they operate. Enhesa’s in-house team of multilingual regulatory analysts provide clear, concise and standardized content and insight on current and future EHS regulatory obligations in more than 286 jurisdictions worldwide. Enhesa’s Compliance Intelligence and Regulatory Forecaster services can be provided as an automated data feed - integrated with the world’s leading EHS software platforms, such as Intelex. Enhesa has offices in Brussels, Washington, D.C., Tokyo, Shanghai and Toronto. For more information, please visit enhesa.com or email email@example.com
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