In the quest for development, man since time immemorial has been continuously
trespass upon the environment. In this process to manage the environment, to
achieve a higher standard of living, he has caused serious irreparable damage to
the environment. Several legislations have been enacted to pose a check on human
actions, which depleted the environment. Prior to the year 1980 there were
legislations about control of pollution but little had been done to really make
pollution control a priority item on the national agenda for none was willing to
bell the cat.
But the true savior has been the judiciary, which has time and again balanced
man's development with the environment. The courts have been successful in
developing certain initiatives, which have cumulated in making environmental law
problems the most significant problems arising before the courts in contemporary
India. The efforts of the courts have been noticed in international fora and
maybe deservedly considered the precursor of modern environmental law in India.
An attempt is made by my side to throw light on the Constitutional jurisprudence
developed by the supreme court on the environment in India and the most
important of all as to what extent judiciary has been successful in this matter.
In this attempt, the various judgments of Apex Court and High Courts have been
taken into consideration to provide a clear picture of judicial response towards
the protection of the environment in India.
Influence of Public interest litigation
PIL is more efficacious in environmental disputes because such disputes do not
concern protection of enforcement of individual rights, but are mainly concerned
with community rights. The traditional system of justice delivery, which is
adversarial in nature, is inadequately equipped to deal with such disputes, and
also to cope with a wide range of problems associated with inequality of means,
opportunities, and entitlements in society. As was observed by the apex court
in PUDR v. Union of India
Public Interest Litigation is brought before the court, not for the purpose of
enforcing the right of one individual against another as happens in the case of
ordinary litigation, but it is intended to promote and vindicate the public
interest which demands that violations of constitutional or legal rights of a
large number of people who are poor, ignorant, or in a socially or economically
disadvantaged position, should not go unnoticed and unredressed.
Environmental rights and principles evolved by the Supreme court
Right to livelihood
Environmental protection in general and conservation of biodiversity, in
particular, envisages conflict between the socio-economic interest of people
impinging on their right to wholesome environment and ecological balance, on the
one hand, and rights of livelihood of tribals or local inhabitants, on the
other. Conservation signifies sustainable use i.e. controlled, restricted, or
regulated use of natural resources. This, however, perforce affects the
livelihood patterns of local people, whose survival depends on various uses of
forest produce and wildlife. In order to keep them in harmony with the natural
environment and to also meet their survival needs, the courts have given
recognition to their right to livelihood.
Right to wholesome environment
heralded the era of rights jurisprudence symbolizing the
emergence of new and positive rights as aspects of fundamental rights. The
boundaries of the fundamental right to life and personal liberty guaranteed in
article 21 of the Indian Constitution were expanded to
include environmental protection. The Dehradun Quarrying case
 is a
precursor of this trend. The court, in this case, without explicitly
articulating this right, implicitly based its comprehensive interim orders on
the presupposition that article 21 (right to life) has
an environmental dimension.
Some of the later cases established the relationship much more clearly by
"Article 21 of the Constitution embraces the protection and preservation of
nature's gifts without which life cannot be enjoyed", and
that environmental degradation violates the fundamental right to life
In the Doon Valley case
, the Supreme Court reconciled the conflict
between development and conservation and reaffirmed that development is not
antithetical to environment and conservation. Both can co-exist with the
interplay of mutually supportive parameters which will determine the development
of public policy and law in India.
Thus, in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India
Supreme Court observed:
The court accepted that there is a need to have sustainable development. And
then in Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum case, the court held that:
the traditional concept that development and ecology are opposed to each other
is no longer acceptable". "Sustainable Development "
as a balancing
concept between ecology and development" is the answer.
In State of Himachal Pradesh v. Ganesh Wood Products
, the apex court
while discussing the relevance of environment, ecology and preservation of
forest wealth in the matter of location and regulation of industry stressed on
the significance of the concept of "sustainable development "
The court accepted that there is a need to have sustainable development. And
then in Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum case, the court held that "The
traditional concept that development and ecology are opposed to each other is no
longer acceptable". "Sustainable Development " as a balancing concept between
ecology and development" is the answer
Doctrine of public trust
This doctrine, based on Professor Joseph Sax's exposition, is the latest entry
into the Indian law pertaining to the conservation of forest resources. In M.C.
Mehta v. Kamalnath
, the apex court held that the state as a trustee of
all-natural resources is under a legal duty to protect them and that the
resources are meant for public use and cannot be converted into private
ownership. It is submitted that this doctrine can also be extended to arrest
depletion of forest wealth because degraded resource may deprive local
inhabitants and tribals of their life-support base.
The steps taken by the judiciary has introduced transparency on the issue of
clearance of projects and environmental impact assessment. The constitution has
maintain the balance between the environment and it's a development by
initiating the various principles such as Polluters Pay Principle (PPP) in
Indian Environmental Jurisprudence thereby linking right to clean and
unpolluted environment with right to live under Article 21.
The Indian Constitution provides various ways and means to protect
the environment not only for the people but also from the people. There is no
question that India is still developing and it needs to confront the problems of
development but the awareness for the protection of the environment at the same
time has been the key point of efforts made by India.
The awareness spread by the Indian judiciary has been the key factor and
wherever needed, the judiciary along with the help of legislature has taken
unusual and sometimes drastic measures to protect the environment. For example
in reminding the judiciary has sometimes intervened in the very basic affairs of
the other organs of the Indian Constitution. But at the same time the steps
taken by the Indian constitution remain remarkable as far as the environmental
laws are concerned.
- The case started in July 1983 as PIL under article 32 on the central
issue that illegal limestone mining in the Dehradun-Mussoorie region was
devastating the fragile ecosystem in the area, and by the time the court
pronounced its final judgment in August, 1988, it had passed at least five
comprehensive interim orders.
- T. Damodar Rao v. Municipal Corporation, Hyderabad, AIR 1987 AP 171
- M.C. Mehta v. Kamalnath, JT 1996(1) SC 467. The Public Trust Doctrine is
based on the legal principles of Roman and English Law, and has been
developed in modern law by Prof. Joseph L. Sax.