THE INVOLVEMENT OF THE INDIAN JUDICIARY IN PROTECTING OUR ENVIRONMENT

Our environment sustains our lives. It has more than enough to cater to our needs, but since a considerable number of years, we have taken more than we have given to it. This is a statement which has become cliché, but it is true. And our environment has suffered for our ignorance.

At first glance, the sustainability (or “well-being”) of the environment and its connection with our law (which brings order to society) seems obscure. But it is easy to see the link once we know what to look for. Any life, human or not, cannot survive without a healthy environment.

In the context of Indian law, this is inherent in article 21 of the Constitution, which states that every person has the right to life and personal liberty. But this right is not limited to just survival. It guarantees to all people a life of dignity, well-being, good health and social and economic prosperity.

The term environment relates to our surroundings, and is the collection of all external conditions and influences which affect the life and growth of any living entity. In the years past, the Indian judiciary has actively take up cases which relate to the preservation of our environment, and even entertained legitimate PIL (Public Interest Litigation) suits to ensure that no person, group or establishment works to the detriment of the environment. Legislations have been passed, and there are many landmark cases on this subject.

For example, we have the Environmental Protection Act of 1986, which aims to preserve and improve the environment, and also mentions penalties for those who would harm it. We also have the provision of approaching either any of the High Courts or the Supreme Court under articles 226 and 32 of the Indian Constitution respectively, for enforcement of our inherent right to a clean and healthy environment – innately present within the sphere of article 21. Remedies under principle of Tort law are present for avail as well, for offences such as trespass, nuisance and negligence.

Some important judgements given by the Indian judiciary in this area are as follows:

  1. Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India[2] – in this infamous case, also known as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the Court held that if a business is by nature hazardous, and such activity causes harm to any person, or the environment, then the business must recompense each and every affected individual, and pay costs for damage to the environment.
  2. Vellore Citizen’s Welfare Forum v. Union of India[3] – the polluter pays principle, as the phrase suggests, means that whoever causes harm to the environment must pay for the damage caused, and ensure the repair and recovery of the environment. This principle is an essential aspect of sustainable development.
  3. Public trust doctrine – an idea developed by the Courts which means that the environment as a whole is the belonging of the people, and it cannot be owned or modified, changed or otherwise altered with just by some individuals. Private ownership of environment is thus out of the question. This was also discussed in the case of M. C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath and Others[4].

Most of us have heard of the term sustainable development. It simply means development done in such a manner which does not hinder or jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their needs.[5] This principle has been expounded in cases such as Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh[6], where the Court held that the environment is a permanent asset of mankind, and is not intended to be exhausted in one generation. In the Vellore case, the Supreme Court remarked that sustainable development is the way to eliminate poverty and improve the quality of human life.

There are many more aspects to environment – such as the right to a wholesome one, the right to water, and protection against public nuisance – all of which have been deliberated upon by the Indian judiciary before. Our Constitution is also unique in this aspect, as it contains specific provisions intended to guide the State to ensure the protection and preservation of the environment. These are mentioned under Part IV – Directive Principles of State Policy, of the same.[7] [8]

The Indian judiciary is active and prudent when it comes to matters of environment preservation and sustainable development, but the challenge still remains. A gigantic population, needs of the people, unequal access to basic resources and blithe disregard by the advantaged few pose risks to the environment. Vigilance is of the essence, so that future generations do not suffer.

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[2] AIR 1990 SC 273.

[3] AIR 1996 SCC 212.

[4] (1997) 1 SCC 388.

[5] The Brundtland Report, World Commission on Environment and Development.

[6] AIR 1987 SC 1037.

[7] See also, article 48 A, The Constitution of India: “Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life – the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.”

[8] See also, article 51 A (g), The Constitution of India: “Fundamental duties – It shall be the duty of every citizen of India… (g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.”

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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