Everything you should know about Environment Protection Laws



This article is written by Sana Virani 


Environment Protection Laws



We all are entitled to live a healthy life which directly depends on the environment we live in. The major dependence on our planet for natural resources binds all of us to be conscious of our environment. It is important for us to eradicate the imbalance, and to have a smooth relationship with the environment so that a healthy ecosystem can flourish.

Not only the extreme manipulation of resources but a change in the economy with factors like urbanisation, and industrialisation has led to the disruption of natural ecological balances and deterioration of the environment in every form.

Climate change has adversely affected the quality of natural resources which all together take a toll on our lifestyle. Since economic development is the root cause of the degradation of the environment, everyone should be responsible for the development.

The first wave of reformation toward the environment

The protection of the environment has been important on an international level as well because the carelessness of one country towards the environment turns out to be a problem for everyone around the globe.

The environmental crisis is a global problem and only global action will resolve it. 

-Barry commoner 

Till the year 1972, there wasn’t a single decision made to look for the welfare of the environment on a global level and that is where the Stockholm declaration stood out to have great importance. The Stockholm declaration was the prime pursuit to conserve and protect the human environment by imposing a duty on states at the international level.

Parallel to measures taken by the authorities of other countries, the Indian parliament amended the constitution of India in 1976 by inserting two articles for the improvement of the environment.

Treaties and conventions that gave a boost to environmental protection 

Basel Convention1989
CITES1973
Convention on Biological Diversity1992
COP212016
Rotterdam Convention1998
UN-REDD2008
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)1992
Vienna Convention and Montreal protocol1985 and 1987

Environment Protection in India under Indian Constitution

Apart from the moral obligation, the legal duty of every person to keep a healthy environment has been enshrined in the constitution of India. There are 3 provisions in the Indian constitution that directly affect the environment in India.

  1. Duty to Protect and Improve Environment

Articles 48A and 51A were added to the Indian constitution to impose a duty to improve/protect the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

However, article 51A is a fundamental duty imposed on each and every citizen of India and article 48A directs the state to take measures to protect the environment.

According to both the provisions, Part IVA Indian Constitution not only stipulates a duty on the state to safeguard the environment but also every citizen of India is bound by a duty to protect and improve the environment and its resources like lakes, rivers, and wildlife.

  1. Right To Life 

Article 21 of the Indian constitution also proves to be an essential component which represents that the right to healthy life and environment also comes under the umbrella of the fundamental right to life. The Supreme court has in various case laws also indicated that Article 21 is the heart of fundamental rights and thus holds greater importance. 

  1. Writ Petition and PIL

Apart from these provisions, Article 32 of the Indian constitution plays a vital role in securing the fundamental mental right to live in a clean environment. When there is a violation of fundamental rights, a writ petition can be filed in the supreme court under article 32 and in the high court under article 226.

Most of the time the writ of mandamus, prohibition and certiorari are applicable in matters of the environment. PIL which stands for public interest litigation is a result of judicial activism. The main purpose of PIL is the protection of the public interest.

In S.P Gupta v. Union of India, Justice P.N Bhagwati held that any number of the public or social action group acting bonafide can invoke the Writ Jurisdiction of the High Courts or the Supreme Court seeking redressal against violation of a legal or constitutional right.

Due to this case, the PIL movement through which citizens of India or social action groups can knock on the doors of the apex court on the violation of fundamental rights of the public.

“The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.”

-Lady Bird Johnson

Various Environmental legislations

The developments throughout the years for the protection of the environment have led to the enactment of various environmental legislations.

The following acts have made it easy for the citizens to voice their opinion in order to follow the moral obligation as well as the duty imposed by the state to protect & improve the environment:

  1. The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010

As time is passing, the damage caused to the environment is getting severe. The inevitable blooming of industries and urbanisation have led to the exploitation of natural resources.

The major reason why the national green tribunal act came into existence was to impose restrictions against damaging the environment and imposing strict liability on the citizens that commit it. This act also allows the establishment of tribunal courts to understand the legal rights of the environment better and effective hearing of issues related to the environment.

  1. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981

The Stockholm declaration in the year 1972 emphasised the conservation of natural resources and hence Indian parliament took the crucial step of enacting The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act in the year 1981.

The main objective of this act is to prevent, control and restrict activities that ignite air pollution. This act also penalises certain acts and gives the state government the power to make rules to restrict air pollution.

  1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

Pollution contaminants destroy the biological, chemical as well as physical properties of the water and this directly risks the health of the public. To prevent this problem for the well-being of public health, the legislative assembly with the aim to eradicate water pollution added provisions that help in eradicating water pollution in near future.

This act also focuses on the restoration of water from the damages in the past and also in controlling the activities that add to water pollution. The state and central government are also entitled to set up PCBs to monitor water pollution so that steps can be taken to prevent and control it.

The water (prevention and control of pollution Act, 1974 is a compilation of 60 sections that include certain amendments from the years 1978, and 1988.

The above-mentioned provisions directly focus on the natural resources that contribute to covering the main aspects of the environment. It’s important to focus on forest conservation, coastal zone, wildlife protection and biological diversity because the environment as a whole is integrated with many aspects and to improve it, all of it is supposed to be taken into consideration.

Apart from these extensive legislations, there are many laws implemented in India for the welfare of the environment. Here’s a list of them:

  1. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

  1. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980

  1. Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991

  1. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002

  1. Coastal Regulation Zone Notification

Important case laws that led to the development of the environment:

  1. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India- Vehicular Pollution Case; Supreme Court of India

 Mc Mehta- an environmentalist filed a writ petition in the supreme court asking it to pass orders that will reduce vehicular pollution in Delhi.

The supreme court under this case highlighted the importance of protecting the environment which is also underlined in article 51 A of the Indian constitution. Further, a committee was set up to reduce vehicular pollution.

  1. Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar & Ors.; Supreme Court of India

According to the petitioner of this case, even though parliament enacted the water prevention act, the state pollution control board failed to take the necessary steps to prevent water pollution.

The main issue challenged in the court is whether the river Bokaro in the state of Jharkhand is polluted by the discharge of the iron & steel company.

“The Earth is a fine place and worth fighting for.”

—Ernest Hemingway

  1. Almitra H. Patel & Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. ; National Green  Tribunal

A PIL in the supreme court under article 32 of the Indian constitution had been filed by Mrs Almira H Patel. The main reason to do so was to seek urgent and speedy improvement in solid waste and garbage management practices adopted by municipalities.

After this issue came to light, the national green tribunal asked all the states and union territories to implement solid management rules, in 2016 with sincerity.

  1. Samir Mehta v/s Union of India 

Samir Mehta reported to the tribunal about marine pollution by filling out an application. A ship that carried fuel, diesel and coal and this led to massive spillage and a thick layer of oil was formed on the surface sea.

This incident caused major damage to the marine ecosystem and after investigating it, the tribunal held there was negligence from the respondent and hence they are liable to pay compensation of rupees 100 crores for the same.

Conclusion

The main purpose of this article was to give a brief idea about laws that aim to guarantee environmental protection to the citizens of India. Environmental laws build a sense of sincerity in citizens as well as state-led organisations.

“The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”

-Nathaniel Branden


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