Our Constitution provides protection against laws imposing criminal liability for actions committed prior to the enactment of the law. Article 20 (1) under the Part III (Fundamental Rights), reads: 20. (1) No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence. Thus, the maximum penalty that can be imposed on an offender cannot exceed those specified by the laws at the time. In the context of the Bhopal Gas tragedy in 1984, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the only relevant law specifying criminal liability for such incidents. The CBI, acting on behalf of the victims, filed charges against the accused under section 304 of the IPC (See Note 1). Section 304 deals with punishment for culpable homicide and requires intention of causing death. By a judgment dated September 13, 1996, the Supreme Court held that there was no material to show that “any of the accused had a knowledge that by operating the plant on that fateful night whereat such dangerous and highly volatile substance like MIC was stored they had the knowledge that by this very act itself they were likely to cause death of any human being.” The Supreme Court thus directed that the charges be re-framed under section 304A of the IPC (See Note 2). Section 304A deals with causing death by negligence and prescribes a maximum punishment of two years along with a fine. Consequently, the criminal liability of the accused lay outlined by section 304A of the IPC and they were tried accordingly. Civil liability, on the other hand, was adjudged by the Courts and allocated to the victims by way of monetary compensation. Soon after the Bhopal Gas tragedy, the Government proposed and passed a series of laws regulating the environment, prescribing safeguards and specifying penalties. These laws, among other things, filled the legislative lacunae that existed at the time of the incident. Given the current provisions (See Note 3), a Bhopal like incident will be tried in the National Green Tribunal (once operationalized) and most likely, under the provisions of the the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The criminal liability provisions of the Act (See Note 4) prescribe a maximum penalty of five years along with a fine of one lakh rupees. Further, if an offence is committed by a company, every person directly in charge and responsible will be deemed guilty, unless he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such an offence.

The civil liability will continue to be adjudged by the Courts and in proportion to the extent of damage unless specified separately by an Act of Parliament.

Notes 1) IPC, Section 304. Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, Or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death. 2) IPC, Section 304A. Causing death by negligence Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. 3) Major laws passed since 1984: 1986 - The Environment (Protection) Act authorized the central government to take measures to protect and improve environmental quality, set standards and inspect industrial units. It also laid down penalties for contravention of its provisions. 1991 - The Public Liability Insurance Act provided for public liability - insurance for the purpose of providing immediate relief to the persons affected by an accident while handling hazardous substances. 1997 - The National Environment Appellate Authority Act established to an appellate authority to hear appeals with respect to restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes are disallowed, subject to safeguards under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. 2009 - The National Green Tribunal Act, yet to be notified, provides for the establishment of a tribunal for expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and for giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property. This Act also repeals the National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997. 4) Criminal liability provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 Section 15. Penalty for contravention of the provisions of the Act (1) Whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any of the provisions of this Act, or the rules made or orders or directions issued thereunder, shall, in respect of each such failure or contravention, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both, and in case the failure or contravention continues, with additional fine which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day during which such failure or contravention continues after the conviction for the first such failure or contravention. (2) If the failure or contravention referred to in sub-section (1) continues beyond a period of one year after the date of conviction, the offender shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years. Section 16. Offences by Companies (1) Where any offence under this Act has been committed by a company, every person who, at the time the offence was committed, was directly in charge of, and was responsible to, the company for the conduct of the business of the company, as well as the company, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly: Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall render any such person liable to any punishment provided in this Act, if he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence.

On March 14, 2022 Rajya Sabha discussed the working of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER).  During the discussion, several issues around budgetary allocation, implementation of schemes and connectivity with the North Eastern Region were discussed.  The Ministry of DoNER is responsible for matters relating to the planning, execution and monitoring of development schemes and projects in the North Eastern Region.  In this blog post, we analyse the 2022-23 budgetary allocations for the Ministry and discuss related issues.  

A new scheme named PM-DevINE announced to boost infrastructure and social development

In 2022-23, the Ministry has seen a 5% increase in allocation from the revised estimates of 2021-22.  The Ministry has been allocated Rs 2,800 crore which will be used for various development schemes, such as the North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme and North East Road Sector Development Scheme.  A scheme-wise break-up of the budget allocation for the Ministry is given below in Table 1.  

One of the key highlights of the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech was the announcement of a new scheme named the Prime Minister’s Development Initiative for North East (PM-DevINE).  It will be implemented through the North East Council (nodal agency for the economic and social development of the North Eastern Region).  PM-DevINE will fund infrastructure and social development projects in areas such as road connectivity, health, and agriculture.  The scheme will not replace or subsume existing central sector or centrally sponsored schemes.  The Scheme will be given an initial allocation of Rs 1,500 crore.

Table 1: Break-up of allocation to the Ministry of DoNER (in Rs crore)

Major Heads

2020-21 Actuals

2021-22 BE

2021-22 RE

2022-23 BE

% change from 2021-22 RE to 2022-23 BE

North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme






Schemes of North East Council






North East Road Sector Development Scheme






Central pool of resources for North East and Sikkim


































Note: BE – Budget Estimate; RE – Revised Estimate; Schemes for North East Council includes Special Development Projects.

Sources: Demand No. 23 of Union Budget Documents 2022-23; PRS. 

Allocation towards capital outlay less than demand

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2022) noted that the amount allocated at the budget stage in 2022-23 (Rs 660 crore) was 17% less than the demand by the Ministry (Rs 794 crore).  Capital expenditure includes capital outlay which leads to the creation of assets such as schools, hospitals, and roads and bridges.  The Committee observed that this may severely affect the implementation of several projects and schemes that require capital outlay.  It recommended the Ministry to take up this matter with the Finance Ministry and demand additional assistance at the revised stage of the 2022-23 financial year.

Underutilisation of funds over the years

Since 2011-12 (barring 2016-17), the Ministry has not been able to utilise the funds allocated to it at the budgeted stage (See Figure 1).  For instance, in 2020-21, fund utilisation in case of the North East Road Sector Development Scheme was 52%, whereas only 34% of funds were utilised under the North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (for infrastructure projects relating to water supply, power, connectivity, social infrastructure).  Key reasons for underspending highlighted by the Ministry include late receipt of project proposals and non-receipt of utilisation certificates from state governments.

Figure 1: Underutilisation of funds by the Ministry since 2011-12

 Note: Revised Estimate has been used as the Actual Expenditure for 2021-22.
 Sources: Union Budget Documents (2011-12 to 2022-23); PRS

Delay in project completion

The Ministry implements several schemes for infrastructural projects such as roads and bridges.  The progress of the certain schemes has been inadequate.   The Standing Committee (2022) observed that the physical progress of many road sector projects under the North East Road Sector Development Scheme is either at zero or in single digit percent in spite of release of the amount for the project.  Similarly, projects under the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council (autonomous district council in Assam) and Social and Infrastructure Development Fund (construction of roads, bridges, and construction of schools and water supply projects in the North Eastern Region) have seen inadequate progress.

Need to address declining forest cover

The Standing Committee (2021) has also recommended the Ministry of DoNER to work towards preserving forest cover.  The Committee took note of the declining forest cover in the North East India.  As per the India State of Forest Report (2021), states showing major loss of forest cover from 2019 to 2021 are: (i) Arunachal Pradesh (loss of 257 sq km of forest cover), (ii) Manipur (249 sq km), (iii) Nagaland (235 sq km), (iv) Mizoram (186 sq km), and (v) Meghalaya (73 sq km).  The loss of forest cover may be attributed to shifting cultivation, cutting down of trees, natural calamities, anthropogenic (environmental pollution) pressure, and developmental activities.  The Committee recommended that various measures to protect the forest and environment must be given priority and should implemented within the stipulated timeline.  It also suggested the Ministry to: (i) carry out regular plantation drives to increase forest cover/density, and (ii) accord priority towards the ultimate goal of preserving and protecting the forests under various centrally sponsored initiatives.

Key issues raised by Members during discussion in Rajya Sabha

The discussion on the working of the Ministry of DoNER took place in Rajya Sabha on March 14, 2022.  One of the issues highlighted by members was about the Ministry not having its own line Department.  This leads to the Ministry being dependent on the administrative strength of the states for implementation of projects.  Another issue highlighted by several members was the lack of connectivity of the region through railways and road networks which hampers the economic growth of region.  The DoNER Minister in his response to the House assured the members that the central government is making continuous efforts towards improving connectivity to the North East region through roads, railways, waterways, and telecommunication.         

Allocation by Union Ministries to the North East 

Union Ministries allocate 10% of their budget allocation for the North East (See Figure 2 for fund allocation and utilisation).  The Ministry of DoNER is the nodal Ministry that monitors and keeps track of the allocation done by various Ministries.  In 2022-23, Rs 76,040 crore has been allocated by all the Ministries for the North Eastern region.  The allocation has increased by 11% from the revised estimate of 2021-22 (Rs 68,440 crore).   In 2019-20 and 2021-21 the actual expenditure towards North Eastern areas was lower than budget estimates by 18% and 19% respectively.  

Figure 2: Budgetary allocation by all Union Ministries for the North East (amount in Rs crore)


Source: Report No. 239: Demand for Grants (2022-23) of Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Standing Committee on Home Affairs; PRS.