Emerging issues relating to Environmental changes in India and the World

Environmental issues

Environmental issues imply the harmful effects of human activity on the environment. Over the last few decades, there has been an immense increase in the exploitation of the earth due to which environmental degradation has been happening at an alarming rate. As a result of our haphazard actions, there has been a steep rise in the incidents of natural disasters over these years in the form of cyclones, tsunamis, flash floods, etc.

Environmental issues in India and the World:

There are a number of environmental issues that have grabbed the attention of the people in the last few decades. Some of them are as follows:

Pollution: This includes air, water, and soil and land pollution. It has been the result of industrialization, littering, mining, deforestation, construction and agricultural activities.

Climate change: Due to environmental changes, there has been a melting of polar ice, change of seasons, development of new diseases and a drastic change in the general climatic situation. Hurricanes, floods, droughts, etc. are the outcomes of climate change.

Global Warming: The greenhouse effect is caused when there is an increase in greenhouse gases and the temperatures rise. It has resulted in the rise in ocean levels and the melting of polar ice caps.

Deforestation: It is common knowledge that trees create oxygen and help in managing temperature and precipitation. Many forest species are in danger due to human activities.

Genetic engineering: This is the process of altering the genetic makeup of an organism using biotechnology. Genetically engineered crops can prove to be a threat, as animals can ingest these harmful chemicals, and in turn, pass it on to humans.

Overpopulation: This is the most important environmental concerns, and is the main cause of all the other environmental issues across the globe. If the population goes beyond unsustainable levels, it is surely going to lead to a deficiency in assets and natural resources.

Biodiversity loss: The main cause of this is the destruction of habitats which is a direct result of deforestation, reckless human activity, pollution as well as global warming.

Public health concerns: Due to the different kinds of pollution, humans are facing health concerns and many new diseases have sprung up, which were unheard of earlier.

Depletion of the ozone layer: The Ozone layer is a layer of protection around the Earth that protects it from the harmful rays of the sun. Its depletion has been a direct result of increased usage of CFCs and other pollution.

Reckless mining: Mining involves the extraction of minerals from the core of the Earth. Many harmful chemicals are also brought out along with the minerals, which can be the causes of air, water, and soil pollution.

Depletion of natural resources: Over-consumption of fossil fuels can lead to global warming, an increase in the sea levels as well as the melting of the polar ice caps. This would also ultimately lead to a depletion in the finite supply of these resources, which would prove to be nothing less than a catastrophe to mankind.

Nuclear issues: Radioactive waste is an environmental concern as it contains a radioactive substance that is a by-product of nuclear power generation. It can have a devastating effect on the lives of the people, plants, animals as well as the surrounding environment, in case it is not disposed of properly.

Household and industrial waste: This is caused due to the overutilization of assets and the formation of plastic.

Loss of endangered species: Another negative impact of overpopulation and loss of habitats is the loss of various biomes.

Medical waste: This implies any kind of waste produced in large quantities by healthcare centres and is considered to be bio-hazardous in nature.

Role of Indian Judiciary in environment protection:

The role played by the judiciary in India in the protection of the environment has been more prominent in respect of the implementation of policies. The ability to invoke the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as well as the High Courts under Article 32 and Article 226of the Constitutionrespectively, is a remarkable step towards environmental protection.

Further, under Article 142 of the Constitution, to provide good justice, the judiciary has relied upon expert bodies such as the Central Pollution Control Board and the NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) for the purpose of studying the situation and thereafter, submitting their reports to the courts. For instance, in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India(1996 AIR 1446), the Court had appointed NEERI as an expert body to study the situation of groundwater soil pollution.

The Indian judiciary has been performing its role in environmental protection with the help of the following instruments:

Tort law and common law:

The Indian law of torts is based on the English common law. In the context of issues related to the environment, 4 categories of common law are relevant- nuisance, trespass, negligence and strict liability. To these, the Supreme Court has added a new category on the basis of ‘absolute liability’. To provide a general penal law for India, the Indian Penal Code was introduced in the year 1860. There are many provisions in the IPC that are related to environmental issues such as- Section 269, 290, 272, 275, 284, 285, 286, 336, 337, 277, 432, etc.

Liberal interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India:

Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees ‘right to life’ and in the context of the environment, it has been given a wide interpretation over the years. Mostly, cases taken up by means of PIL are based on Article 21.

T. Damodhar Rao and Ors. vs. The Special OfficerMunicipal Corporation of Hyderabad and Ors.(AIR 1987 AP 171), was one of the early cases in the context of the environment. In this, a PIL was filed by the residents of Hyderabad against the Municipal Corporation and the Urban Development Authority of Hyderabad to develop an area as a recreational park and that LIC or Income tax department should not be allowed to use it as a residential area.

In L.K.Koolwal v. State of Rajasthan and Ors (AIR 1988 Raj 2), a writ had been filed for the preservation of the environment as well as sanitation in Jaipur.

In Subhash Kumar v. the State of Bihar (1991 AIR 420), a PIL was filed for ensuring the enjoyment of pollution-free air as well as water.

Public Interest Litigation (PIL):

Initially, due to the narrow concept of locus standi, the courts were not accessible to the poor and ignorant sections of society. But, this concept was relaxed in the Judges’ Transfer case. In order to solve the issue of access to justice, the courts shifted from “traditional individualism of locus standi to the community orientation of the concept of PIL.

In the cases of M.C. Mehta, a number of writ petitions by way of PILs were filed and raised many questions relating to the true ambit of Article 21 and 32 of the Constitution relating to the environment. A few of his landmark cases include the Ganga Pollution case, the Delhi Sewage Treatment Plant case, the Taj Mahal case, the Vehicular Pollution case, Environmental Awareness, and Education case, Dust Pollution case, Groundwater pollution case, etc.

Development of environmental principles:

Many principles have been developed and applied over a period of time by the Indian judiciary in the context of the environment. They are:

  • Precautionary principle
  • Polluter pays principle
  • Sustainable development and inter-generational equity
  • Doctrine of public trust

In Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996 5 SCR 241), the Apex Court first talked about the ‘precautionary principle’, in which pollution caused by 900 tanneries was being dealt with.

The ‘polluter pays principle’ was first applied by the Supreme Court in Indian Council forEnviro Legal Action v. Union of India and Ors (1996 AIR 1446), wherein the court ordered that villagers need to be monetarily compensated for the loss done to them through soil pollution and other activities.

The terms ‘inter-generational equity’ as well as ‘sustainable development’ were developed internationally in 1972 and 1987 respectively. The Supreme Court of India first used the term ‘sustainable development’ in Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India([2000] 10 SCC 664) and observed that sustainable development implies the extent to which development can take place which can be sustained by ecology or nature.

Doctrine of public trust:

This is based on the principle that certain natural resources such as water, air, sea and forests have a great importance for people and it is not justified to make them a subject of private ownership. This principle was observed by the Supreme Court in M.C.Mehta v. Kamal Nath (1997 1 SCC 388). This case was related to the construction of a motel on the bank of river Beas and its bed resulting in environmental degradation.

Environment Tribunals:

The National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995 was passed for cases related to the environment. Its main purpose was to provide for strict liability for damage that arose out of accidents caused by the handling of hazardous substances.

The National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) was set up under the National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997 for hearing appeals for matters related to the restriction of areas in which certain industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out, subject to the safeguards mentioned in the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

With the passing of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, all the earlier Acts have become defunct. The NGT Act, 2010 provides for:

  • Providing for effective as well as expeditious disposal of cases with respect to the protection of the environment, conservation of forests and other natural resources
  • Enforcement of any legal right with respect to the environment
  • Providing relief and compensation for damages caused to persons and property
  • Establishment of a special fast-track court for speedy disposal of environment cases

An important change that was incorporated in this Act was the creation of benches of NGT on a circuit basis in order to make them mobile and allow the green benches to hear cases at places within their jurisdiction but beyond their original location.

Significant judgments of National Green Tribunal:

Save Mon Region Federation and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. (MANU/GT/0150/2016)

The environmental clearance granted to a hydro project was suspended. This project was situated near a wintering site for a bird namely Black-necked Crane that is a Schedule I species as per the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and also features in the “Threatened Birds of India”. The said area was also a home to various other endangered species- the snow leopard, red panda, etc.

Shree Nath Sharma vs. Union of India and Ors. (2019 NGT)

The Principal Bench of NGT directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to prepare models for States and UTs for compilation of information with respect to specific thematic areas, which would help in the preparation of District Environmental Plans that would eventually help in the preparation of the country’s environment plan.

Shailesh Singh vs. State of Haryana and Ors. (2019 NGT)

It was observed by the Principal Bench of the NGT that “Industrial development cannot be done on the graves of human beings and should not be at the cost of air and water quality”.

Saloni Singh and Anr. vs. Union of India and Ors. (2019 NGT)

It was held by the NGT that major railway stations having the potential to cause pollution are not beyond the environmental laws of the land.

Samit Mehta vs. Union of India and Ors. (MANU/GT/0150/2016)

The “polluter-pays” principle was invoked in this case. It was held that the case involved matters of public importance and environmental jurisprudence.

Srinagar Bandh AapdaSangharshSamiti and Anr. vs. Alaknanda Hydro Power Co. Ltd. and Ors. (MANU/GT/0101/2016)

In the above case, the principle of “no-fault liability” was invoked. In this case, the NGT has directly relied on the “polluter-pays” principle and held that a private entity is liable to pay compensation.

Conclusion:

In the wake of the above-mentioned challenges that face the world and our country today, it is imperative that stricter laws are enacted by the Legislature and implemented by the Judiciary in order that they have a deterrent effect on the offenders. Implementation of laws is of prime importance, as without proper execution, all laws are mere words with no meaning. It is high time that the environment and natural resources are preserved, so that our future generations are also able to enjoy their benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the main environmental issues faced by India and the world during the present times?

There are a number of environmental issues that have grabbed the attention of the people in the last few decades. Some of them are as follows:

Pollution: This includes air, water, and soil and land pollution. It has been the result of industrialization, littering, mining, deforestation, construction and agricultural activities.

Climate change: Due to environmental changes, there has been melting of polar ice, change of seasons, development of new diseases and a drastic change in the general climatic situation. Hurricanes, floods, droughts, etc. are the outcomes of climate change.

Global Warming: The greenhouse effect is caused when there is an increase in greenhouse gases and the temperatures rise. It has resulted in the rise in ocean levels and the melting of polar ice caps.

Deforestation: It is common knowledge that trees create oxygen and help in managing temperature and precipitation. Many forest species are in danger due to human activities.

Genetic engineering: This is the process of altering the genetic makeup of an organism using biotechnology. Genetically engineered crops can prove to be a threat, as animals can ingest these harmful chemicals, and in turn, pass it on to humans.

Overpopulation: This is the most important environmental concerns, and is the main cause of all the other environmental issues across the globe. If the population goes beyond unsustainable levels, it is surely going to lead to deficiency in assets and natural resources.

Biodiversity loss: The main cause of this is destruction of habitats which is a direct result of deforestation, reckless human activity, pollution as well as global warming.

Public health concerns: Due to the different kinds of pollution, humans are facing health concerns and many new diseases have sprung up, which were unheard of earlier.

Depletion of ozone layer: The Ozone layer is a layer of protection around the Earth that protects it from the harmful rays of the sun. Its depletion has been a direct result of increased usage of CFCs and other pollution.

Reckless mining: Mining involves the extraction of minerals from the core of the Earth. Many harmful chemicals are also brought out along with the minerals, which can be the causes of air, water and soil pollution.

Depletion of natural resources: Over-consumption of fossil fuels can lead to global warming, increase in the sea levels as well as melting of the polar ice caps. This would also ultimately lead to a depletion in the finite supply of these resources, which would prove to be nothing less than a catastrophe to mankind.

Nuclear issues: Radioactive waste is an environmental concern as it contains radioactive substance that is a by-product of nuclear power generation. It can have a devastating effect on the lives of the people, plants, animals as well as the surrounding environment, in case it is not disposed of properly.

Household and industrial waste: This is caused due to the overutilization of assets and formation of plastic.

Loss of endangered species: Another negative impact of overpopulation and loss of habitats is the loss of various biomes.

Medical waste: This implies any kind of waste produced in large quantity by healthcare centres and is considered to be bio-hazardous in nature.

What is the role played by the Indian Judiciary in environmental protection?

The role played by the judiciary in India in the protection of the environment has been more prominent in respect of implementation of policies. The ability to invoke the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as well as the High Courts under Article 32 and Article 226of the Constitutionrespectively, is a remarkable step towards environmental protection.

Further, under Article 142 of the Constitution, to provide good justice, the judiciary has relied upon expert bodies such as Central Pollution Control Board and the NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) for the purpose of studying the situation and thereafter, submitting their reports to the courts. For instance, in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, the Court had appointed NEERI as an expert body to study the situation of groundwater soil pollution.

What are the instruments through which the Indian Judiciary has been performing this role?

The Indian judiciary has been performing its role in environmental protection with the help of the following instruments:

  • Tort law and common law:The Indian law of torts is based on the English common law. In the context of issues related to environment, 4 categories of common law are relevant- nuisance, trespass, negligence and strict liability. To these, Supreme Court has added a new category on the basis of ‘absolute liability’. To provide a general penal law for India, the Indian Penal Code was introduced in the year 1860. There are many provisions in the IPC that are related to environmental issues such as- Section 269, 290, 272, 275, 284, 285, 286, 336, 337, 277, 432, etc.
  • Liberal interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India: Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees ‘right to life’ and in the context of the environment, it has been given a wide interpretation over the years. Mostly, cases taken up by means of PIL are based on Article 21.
  • Public interest litigation (PIL): Initially, due to the narrow concept of locus standi, the courts were not accessible to the poor and ignorant sections of society. But, this concept was relaxed in the Judges’ Transfer case. In order to solve the issue of access to justice, the courts shifted from “traditional individualism of locus standi to the community orientation of the concept of PIL.
  • Development of environmental principles: Many principles have been developed and applied over a period of time by the Indian judiciary in the context of the environment. They are:

a. Precautionary principle

b. Polluter pays principle

c. Sustainable development and inter-generational equity

d. Doctrine of public trust

  • Doctrine of public trust: This is based on the principle that certain natural resources such as water, air, sea, and forests have great importance for people and it is not justified to make them a subject of private ownership. This principle was observed by the Supreme Court in M.C.Mehta v. Kamal Nath. This case was related to the construction of a motel on the bank of river Beas and its bed resulting in environmental degradation.

Have any Environment Tribunals been established for environmental protection?

The National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995 was passed for cases related to the environment. Its main purpose was to provide for strict liability for damage that arose out of accidents caused by a handling of hazardous substances.

The National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) was set up under the National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997 for hearing appeals for matters related to restriction of areas in which certain industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out, subject to the safeguards mentioned in the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

With the passing of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, all the earlier Acts have become defunct. The NGT Act, 2010 provides for:

  • Providing for effective as well as expeditious disposal of cases with respect to protection of environment, conservation of forests and other natural resources
  • Enforcement of any legal right with respect to the environment
  • Providing relief and compensation for damages caused to persons and property
  • Establishment of a special fast-track court for speedy disposal of environment cases

An important change that was incorporated in this Act was creation of benches of NGT on a circuit basis in order to make them mobile and allow the green benches to hear cases at places within their jurisdiction but beyond their original location.

What are the some of the landmark judgments of the National Green Tribunal?

Some of the important judgments of the NGT are as follows:

Save Mon Region Federation and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. (MANU/GT/0150/2016)

The environmental clearance granted to a hydro project was suspended. This project was situated near a wintering site for a bird namely Black-necked Crane that is a Schedule I species as per the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and also features in the “Threatened Birds of India”. The said area was also a home to various other endangered species- the snow leopard, red panda, etc.

Shree Nath Sharma vs. Union of India and Ors. (2019 NGT)

The Principal Bench of NGT directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to prepare models for States and UTs for compilation of information with respect to specific thematic areas, which would help in the preparation of District Environmental Plans that would eventually help in preparation of the country’s environment plan.

Shailesh Singh v. State of Haryana and Ors. (2019 NGT)

It was observed by the Principal Bench of the NGT that “Industrial development cannot be done on the graves of human beings and should not be at the cost of air and water quality”.

Saloni Singh and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors. (2019 NGT)

It was held by the NGT that major railway stations having the potential to cause pollution are not beyond the environmental laws of the land.

Samit Mehta v. Union of India and Ors. (MANU/GT/0150/2016)

The “polluter-pays” principle was invoked in this case. It was held that the case involved matters of public importance and environmental jurisprudence.

Srinagar Bandh AapdaSangharshSamiti and Anr. v. Alaknanda Hydro Power Co. Ltd. and Ors. (MANU/GT/0101/2016)

In the above case, the principle of “no-fault liability” was invoked. In this case, the NGT has directly relied on the “polluter-pays” principle and held that a private entity is liable to pay compensation.

Edited by Shikhar Shrivastava

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

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Aastha Ummat, currently a practicing advocate in the Punjab & Haryana High Court. She is a University gold medalist in LLB from Punjab University, Chandigarh. An MBA, she is an ex-banker with Citibank, having over 6 years of experience. She is an Economics (Hons) graduate from the renowned Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. Her areas of interest are Family Law, Criminal Law, Contract Law, Taxation Law, Banking Law, Constitutional Law, and Property Law. With her varied and enriching experience in a wide variety of fields, she is able to provide new dimensions to any particular subject. During her LLB, she has participated in various Moot Court Competitions and has also been a key member in organizing the Law Fest of the Punjab University.