Environment Laws in India

Introduction: – For a safe and sound human life a safe and sound environment is an essential condition without it imagining human life is an impossible task. All the air we breathe in or all the water we use or all the resources we utilize from the earth are all part of the environment. From the beginning of the time human society is depend upon the environment and worshiped it. For example there are many sculptures where mentioned of worshiping plants and animals, doing yajnas and many other things to preserve and protecting of environment. As the time change the traditions regarding environment also change. Along with the time technology and economy also grew through which we are able to use all the environmental resources in a more efficient way to make our life more comfortable. But along with the increase in the facilities we face many problems which arise due to environmental issues. Such as global warming, air pollution, water pollution, endangered species and many more without which there will be nothing left for us to survive.

To preserve environment there are several laws are in place prior and after the independence of India. For an instance India has 200 laws for environment protection, e.-g. Indian Forests Act, 1865, Wild Birds and Animals protection Act, 1912, Explosive Substance Act, 1908, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Rules, 1982, The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (EPA), The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997, Factories Act, 1948 and its Amendment in 1987, Public Liability Insurance Act (PLIA), 1991, National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995 and many more.

The main effort to enacting laws for environment protection are started after the UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972) which is basis for all the framework laws relating with environment. For instance after this conference the constitution amendment act 42 passed which deals with the environment importance through Directive Principle Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) and Fundamental Rights and Duties.

But to saying that with all these laws and regulation our environment is protected is clearing exaggeration because we still face many problems related with environmental issues in the court of law. For instances Bopal Gas Tragedy, Shri Ram Oleum Gas Leakage, Yamuna River Case, Ganga River Case and many more. Its not that the law is inefficient but the implementing authority is unable to implement them properly and also there is very less public involvement in environment protection activities.

Development of Environment Law: – In India development of environment law can be divided in three parts. Firstly, the time period of vedic culture where people used to worship plants and animals along with other activities. There are many documents relating this that prove that there were law relating with protection of environment. For instances Manusmriti punishes for causing injury to plants, Kautilya, described penal actions against a person hurting a tree. The main principle behind all this is that human utilise environment resources but he has also duty to protect environment which we all know very well as sustainable development.

As per the second phase it involves second half of the 19 century, where the British were the one who developed these laws such as The Shore Nuisance Act, 1853, Indian Forests Act, 1865, Wild Birds and Animals protection Act, 1912, Explosive Substance Act, 1908, The Poison Act, 1919 etc. Further, in the constitution of India there were involves several provisions regarding environmental protection such as fundamental rights, DPSP, fundamental duties along with the other enacted laws. For instances, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act), 1974, Environment Protection Act, 1986, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act), 1981 etc.

The third phase of environmental development law related with the interpretation of laws by judiciary. In this phase the most important case is M.C. Mehta v. Union of India(1987) where the judiciary propounded principle of absolute liability.

Environmental laws implemented in India: – In India there are several laws are in force related with the protection of environment along with the provision of constitution, which are as following:

  1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
  2. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Rules, 1975
  3. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977
  4. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Rules, 1978
  5. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
  6. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Rules, 1982
  7. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
  8. The Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986
  9. Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989
  10. Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989
  11. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
  12. The Forest (Conservation) Rules, 1981
  13. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
  14. The Wildlife (Transactions and Taxidermy) Rules, 1973
  15. The Wildlife (Stock Declaration) Central Rules, 1973
  16. The Wildlife (Protection) Licensing (Additional Matters for Consideration) Rules, 1983
  17. The Wildlife (Protection) Rules, 1995
  18. The Wildlife (Specified Plants – Conditions for Possession by Licensee) Rules, 1995
  19. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991
  20. The Public Liability Insurance Rules, 1991
  21. The National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995
  22. The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997

As for the constitutional provision, Article 21 right to life and liberty involves a safe environment for human life, Article 48A states the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wild life of the country in DPSP and Article 51-A(g) it is duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life along with the three list mentioned under seventh schedule.

Conclusion: – As for the conclusion and suggestions:

  1. We have more than 200 Central and State legislations which deal with environmental issues. More legislation means more difficulties in enforcement. There is a need to have a comprehensive and an integrated law on environmental protection for meaningful enforcement.
  2. It is not enough to enact the legislations. A positive attitude on the part of everyone in society is essential for effective and efficient enforcement of these legislations.
  3. The powers vested to the Pollution Control Boards are not enough to prevent pollution. The Boards do not have power to punish the violators but can launch prosecution against them in the Courts which ultimately defeat the purpose and object of the Environmental Laws due to long delays in deciding the cases. Thus, it is imperatively necessary to give more powers to the Boards.
  4. The Environment Protection Laws have failed to bring about the desired results. Consequently, for the purpose of efficient and effective enforcement of these laws, it is necessary to set up the Environment Courts; with one Judge and two technical experts from the field of Environmental Science and Ecology. These Courts should be allowed to adopt summary proceedings for speedy disposal of the cases. To begin with we may have such Courts at the State and National levels that may later be extended to district level on need-based principle. In order to discourage prolonged litigation, the provisions should be confined to single appeal.
  5. There is a multiplicity of environment pollution control standards for the same type of industries. However, under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 now the power has been conferred upon the Central Government for laying down the standards for the quality of air, water and soil. It is hoped that this will ensure uniformity of standards through out the country.
  6. In order to enforce the environmental laws stringently, mere mis-description and technical flaws should be disregarded by the Courts. The creative role of judiciary has been significant and laudable. The jurisdiction of the Courts has been expanded by way of Public Interest Litigation. The Supreme Court of India has played a vital role in giving directions from time to time to the administrative authorities to take necessary steps for improving the environment.
  7. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 which provides for mandatory public liability insurance for installation and handling hazardous substance to provide minimum relief to the victims, is a welcome step in the right direction. Such an insurance apart from safeguarding the interests of victims of accident will also provide cover and enable the enterprise to meet its liability.
  8. What we need is social awareness from below, not laws from the above. No law works out smoothly unless the interaction is voluntary. In order to educate people about the environmental issues, there should be exhibition of slides in the regional languages at cinema houses and television free of cost. Further, as directed by the Supreme Court of India[1], Environment studies shall be made a compulsory subject at school and college levels in graded system so that there should be general growth of awareness.
  9. It needs to be appreciated that keeping in view the magnitude of finance required, a judicious mix of incentives, phasing and awareness creating, programmes about cost effective technologies is essential as the first prong of the strategy to control environment degradation.
  10. The traditional concept that development and ecology are opposed to each other, is no longer acceptable, since ‘sustainable development’ is the answer. The Supreme Court has accepted sustainable development as part of the laws of the land and has affirmed the ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘polluter pays principle’ are essential features of sustainable development.
  11. The tapping of natural resources must be done with requisite attention and care so that ecology and environment may not be affected in any serious way. A long-term planning must be undertaken by the Central Government in consultation with the State Governments to protect and improve the environment and to keep up the national wealth.
  12. Finally, protection of the environment and keeping ecological balance unaffected is a task which not only the government but also every individual, association and corporation must undertake. It is a social obligation and fundamental duty enshrined in Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution of India.


[1] M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1992 SC 382

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