Role of PIL in Environment Protection

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) means litigation filed in a court of law for the protection of “Public Interest”, such as
So, any matter where the interest of public at large is affected can be redressed by filling a Public Interest Litigation in a court of law.

The expression ‘Public Interest Litigation’ has been borrowed from American jurisprudence, where it was designed to provide legal representation to previously unrepresented groups like the poor, the racial minorities, unorganized consumers, citizens who were passionate about the environmental issues, etc. The Indian PIL was upgraded version of the American’s PIL. In India, the first PIL was filed in the year 1976 Mumbai kamgar sabha v. M/S Abdulbhai Faizullabhai and others {1976 (3) SCC 832}. The seed of PIL was sown by justice krishna Iyer through this landmark judgement. Soon there after, with the efforts of justice Bhagwati, the concept of PIL has evolved and developed to a great – extent. He is in-fact known as the Champion of PIL in India.

The other historical PIL is the one filed for prisoner’s right Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar that focused on the inhuman conditions of prisoner and under trial prisoner’s. Many has regarded this case as the First PIL in India as well. It was filled by kapila Hingroni and was signed by the prisoner’s of the Bihar jail and the case was filed in the supreme Court of India before the bench headed by justice P.N. Bhagwati. The petition was filed under the name of a prisoner, hussainara khatoon, and the case hear in supreme Court. In this case the attention of the court was drawn to the incredible situation of the under trial prisoner’s in Bihar who had been detained pending trial for periods far in excess of the maximum sentence for the offence they were charged with. So In this case, supreme Court decided that prisoner’s should receive free legal aid and fast hearings. As a result, 40,000 prisoner’s were released from jail.

It was held that the speedy trial and speedy justice is a fundamental right enshrined under the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Thereafter many similar cases have been registered in the supreme Court by way of PIL.

Before 1980s the judiciary and the Supreme Court of India entertained litigation only from parties affected directly or indirectly by the defendant. But now a person who is not directly involved in the case may brings matters of Public Interest to the court. A new era of the OIL. Movement was heralded by justice P.N. Bhagwati jn the case of S. Gupta vs. Union of India AIR 1981.

  • In this Case it was held that “Public Interest Litigation” can be directly filed by an individual or group of people NGOs in the Supreme Court or High Court of India under Article 32 and 226 respectively.
  • The person who is filing the petition must not have any personal interest in the litigation, this petition is accepted by Court only if there is interest of large public involved.
  • However, the Court itself can also take cognizance of such cases, which can be taken up under public Interest litigation.
  • PIL differs from ordinary Litigation. It does not involve the enforcement of the rights of one person against other person. Rather, this type of litigation is filed to provide justice to the deprived sections of the society.

As we have know Article 21 states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according procedure established by law. The scope of Article 21 of Indian Constitution has been considerably expanded by Indian Supreme Court which has interpreted the right to life mean the right to live a civilized life and it also includes the right to clean environment. So, the right to live guaranteed by Article 32 also includes the right of enjoyment of pollution free water and air, for full enjoyment of life. A healthy environment is an important aspect of life, not just got citizen but also for other animals in the planet. Violation, therefore, of the right to a healthy environment is potentially a violation of the essential right to life.

Articles 21,48A and 51(g) of the Indian Constitution take measure to guard the right to healthy environment. Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution has been used time to time and again to raise the issue of environmental protection PIL has proved to be an effective tool. Even 95% action takes place in the Court of law to protect the environment is through PIL. MC mehta has filed a number of PIL in the supreme Court relating to the different aspect of environment protection. Some of the landmark judgment arising out of PILs filed by him are :-

  • The oleum gas leak case
  • The Delhi vehicle Pollution case
  • The Child Labour case
  • The Gamma rays case
  • The ganga pollution case.

1.) Rural litigation and entitlement kendra Vs. State of U.P. AIR 1985 SC 652
This is an important case of PIL and well known as Doon Valley case. The dispute arose due to over mining in hilly areas. In this case RLEK and a group of citizens wrote a letter to the Supreme Court against the progressive mining which affected the Mussoorie tree and forest cover and accelerated soil erosions resulting in land slides and blockage of ground water.
The Court held Closure of all mines and reforestation of Valley

2.) MC mehta vs. Union of India 1987:-
The victims of the gas leak were heard and successful in claiming damages by the means of PIL where the gas leaked from the plant of shriram foods and fertilizer industries caused injuries to several person. The supreme Court repeatedly made it clear that right to life under Article 21 of Indian Constitution includes right to pollution free air and water.

3.) MC Mehta vs. Union of India, 1991 Delhi Vehicular pollution Case:-
Union territory of Delhi has s total population of 96 lakhs. Out of this population approximately 90 lakh people resides in urban areas. This petition was filed by M.C. Mehta requesting the Court to pass appropriate orders for the reduction of vehicular pollution in Delhi. Supreme Court directed the Central government to take steps to spread information and knowledge relating to environment through audio visual media and also passed direction to introduce environment as a compulsory subject in educational institutions. It was held to be the duty of government to see that air did not become contaminated due to vehicular pollution. The apex Court again confirming the right to healthy environment is a basic human rights and stated that right to clean air also contained under Article 21 which refer to right to life.

4.) Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India and Ors. 1996 :-
In the instant case dispute arose over some tanneries in a state of Tamil Nadu. These tanneries were discharging pollutants in the river palar which was the main source of drinking water. The Supreme Court ordered the central government to constitutes an authority and confer on it all powers, necessary to deal with the situation. The supreme Court examining the report delivered it’s judgment making all efforts to maintain a harmony between environment and development. The Court admitted that these tanneries in India are the major foreign exchange earner and also provides employment to several thousands of people. But at the same time, it destroy the environment and posses a health hazard to everyone.

The Court delivering it’s judgment in favor of petitioners directed all the, tanneries to deposit a sum of Rs. 10000 as fine in the office of collector as fine. The court further directed the state of Tamil Nadu to award Mr. M.C. Mehta with a sum of Rs. 50000 as appreciation towards his efforts For protection of Environment. The court in this case also emphasize on the Constitution of Green Benches in India dealing specifically with matters relating to environment protection also for speedy and expeditious disposal of environmental cases.

5.) Aarey forest Case 2019 :-
Aarey colony. Popularly known as the green lung of Mumbai is a, suburban located in Goregaon. This lovely region has more than five lakh trees combining the Sanjay gandhi national park. While a project for a construction of a new car shed is on the way, a lot of trees are being to cut to give room for the said metro project. The law students had written a letter to C.J.I Ranjan Gogoi, urging him to direct the state government to stop cutting trees. The Supreme Court registered the letter as a PIL and took sup motu cognizance of the matter. The supreme Court directed the Maharashtra government not to cut any more trees at the Aarey forest in Mumbai. The Court made, it clear that if the trees can not be cut legally, it can not be done at all. Supreme Court order status Quo on cutting of trees for Mumbai metro car shed.

PIL has been used by the courts as an effective tool in dealing with cases involving environmental issues. The courts must ensure that the use of PIL for private interest should not be entertained because it defeats the very purpose of this concept. Serving the public at large is the most important characteristics of PIL. Also, it is the duty of every citizen to take care of thr environment and have compassion towards living creatures according to article 51(g) of the Constitution of India. PIL under Article 32 and Article 226 must be invoked whenever there is any breach of duty.

Aishwarya Says:

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