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INDIAN JUDICIAL SYSTEM’S ROLE IN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

What of thee I dig out, let that quickly grow over, let me not hit thy vitals or thy heart”

                                                                                                                             —  “Atharva Veda”

INTRODUCTION

The rise of civilization caused man to become more materialistic. Urbanization and industrialization increased quickly and unchecked, which put the environment at risk.[1] Other types of water, air, noise pollution, and climate change happen as a result of the depletion of the natural energy forces. The level of life quality or human lives is dramatically reduced as a result of all these changes. “A person has the right to live in a healthy environment under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution”, but this Fundamental Right is most often violated due to these rapid changes.[2]   Due to the lack of business growth and political unrest in India during the post-independence era, the protection of the environment was not a top priority. However, environmentalism became a precedent only after the tragedy of Bhopal Gas. Following this incident, the scope of environmental regulation in the country expands, and judicial activity rises as well.[3] Although there have been numerous legislative attempts to give more power to man’s important right to reside in a safe environment, as well as the correlating responsibility of the state and citizens to make sure environmental conservation and protection, the article focuses on examining the measures taken by the judicial branch to advance this goal.  The judiciary has developed definite doctrines to provide an effective remedy in cases of breach of statutory and constitutional mandates, as well as the establishment of specific judicial bodies for addressing environmental issues, like the National Green Tribunal.

ROLE OF INDIA’s JUDICIARY IN PROVIDING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

Through its rulings, principles, and doctrines, the judiciary plays an important part in advancing nature conservation, restoration, and governance, as well as honouring the rule of the law and working to ensure a middle ground between environmental, socioeconomic, and developmental problems. The judiciary also engages in judicial activism, which entails going above and beyond what is required of it to improve society and the environment.[4]

Environmental court proceedings in India are also characterized by PILs, or public interest litigations, which are an outcome of the judiciary’s loosening of the locus standi provisions. It has been decided that in cases involving the environment, “Article 32 and Article 226 of the Indian Constitution” permit a direct approach to the Supreme Court and the High Courts.[5]

The doctrines developed by the courts have significantly influenced Indian environmental law. Article 253[6] of the Indian Constitution describes the procedure for implementing decisions made at international treaties and meetings into the judicial framework. Significant stepping stones on India’s path to environmental law have been the development and adoption of the legal principles for environmental protection.

  • Public Trust Doctrine

 As the state is the vanguard of natural resources, the state is required by law to protect them. In “M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath[7],” the Supreme Court applied the “public trust doctrine” to a dispute involving the environment for the first time in India. The Supreme Court explained that the “public trust doctrine” is based on the notion that some resources, like air, inland waters, and forests, are so crucial to the community in its entirety that transferring them to private ownership would be utterly unreasonable.

  • Precautionary Principle

According to the precautionary principle, if a scientific investigation indicates a risk, society must safeguard the public from any harm. A PIL was filed in “M.C. Mehta v. Union of India” [8]to protect the Taj Mahal’s white colour from turning yellow marble as a result of acid rain and other air pollutants brought on by industries that were constructed too close to monuments. The “Precautionary Principle,” established by the Supreme Court in this case, states that production-related enterprises should not only take precautions to protect the environment but also foresee potential problems and take preventative measures.

  • Polluter Pays Principle

The case of “Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. UOI” [9]was concerned with the release of untreated pollutants that made the land unsuitable for cultivation. The Supreme Court established a new doctrine of “Polluter Pays” in this historic decision. This doctrine seeks to make the polluter responsible for both the expense of undoing environmental damage and the victims’ compensation.

  • Principle of “Absolute Liability”

The welfare of the children who were born with congenital defects as a direct consequence of the MIC gas explosion from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal was at stake in the case “Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India,” [10]which involved the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. This case gave rise to the principle of absolute liability, which states that when a business performs dangerous work and any harm results from hazardous chemical leaks or improper work management, the business is accountable to every person affected by it and must make whatever payments the courts order as compensation.

  • The doctrine of Sustainable Development

In “Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India,” [11]the Supreme Court ruled that sustainable development is the only viable alternative to the conventional wisdom that growth and ecosystems are mutually exclusive. Addressing current requirements without jeopardizing those of future generations is a requirement of sustainable development. The goal of sustainable development is to balance development and the environment.

ROLE OF THE NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL (NGT)

It is a specific body established under the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 to dispose of environmental protection and the preservation of forest areas and other natural resources cases effectively and quickly. The NGT has resolved over 10,000 cases involving nature and the environment since it was founded, and it works quickly to resolve cases so that the climate is not harmed in any way. NGT operates under the theory of Natural Justice and its primary goal is to expeditiously resolve cases involving environmental violations, take immediate action to protect natural resources, uphold basic civil rights related to ecological rights, and lessen the workload of High courts and the Supreme Court[12].

SUGGESTIONS

Following a thorough examination of the judiciary’s role in environmental protection and preservation, the judicial branch can enhance the effectiveness of its work to achieve greater environmental progress.

  • Creating non-governmental organizations that focus on taking pro bono PIL cases for the poor.
  • In cases of dispute or issue, giving equal weight to the environment and development.
  • Any law has no meaning unless it is effectively and successfully implemented, and public awareness is a critical condition for effective implementation. As a result, proper awareness must exist.

CONCLUSION

To sum up, it can be seen that the judiciary has contributed significantly to environmental protection and sustainability, despite some gaps and limitations, and will continue to do so through the further regressive implementation of current regulations as well as the development of more environmentally sustainable guiding principles.

Author(s) Name: Vidhi Shah (SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai)

References:

[1] Dr Ch. Venkateswarlu, ‘Role of the Judiciary in Environment Protection in India’ (2013) 3(10) Asian Journal of Research in Social Sciences and Humanities <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/358489999_Role_of_the_Judiciary_in_Environment_Protection_in_India> accessed 18 November 2022

[2] Ananya Mittal, ‘Role of Judiciary in Protecting and Preserving the Environment’ (2021) 4(3) IJLMH <https://www.ijlmh.com/paper/role-of-judiciary-in-protecting-and-preserving-the-environment/> accessed 18 November 2022

[3] Chandra Shekhar, ‘Role of Indian Judiciary in Environmental Protection’ (2020) <https://youtu.be/lNHUjvJ3HfQ> accessed 18 November 2022

[4] Ananya Mittal (n 2)

[5] Justice Hima Kohli, ‘Environmental Policy in India and the Role of Judiciary in Imparting Environmental Justice’ (Slide Share, 17 July 2011) <https://www.slideshare.net/RamanaStudypoint/environmental-policy-in-india-and-the-role-of-judiciary-in-imparting-environmental-justice-by-justice-hima-kohli-8619337> accessed 18 November 2022

[6] Constitution of India 1950, art 253

[7] M.C. Mehta v Kamal Nath (1996) 1 SCC 38

[8] M.C. Mehta v Union of India (1997) 2 SCC 353

[9] Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v UOI (1996) AIR SC 2718

[10] Union Carbide Corporation v Union of India (1988) AIR SC 1531

[11] Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum (n 9)

[12]Ananya Mittal (n 2)