India had an ancient tradition of paying constant attention to protection of
the environment. There are writings galore, to show that in ancient India every
individual had to practice the dharmato protect and worship nature. In India
the devices and rules for protecting the environment are discernible from
Environmentalism is not a fixed concept, but is always evolving influenced by
its context. This also applies to Indian environmentalism, which has developed
and changed throughout the years. There is a rapid evolution in the Indian
legislations after independence as the need and concern regarding environment
arose. From ancient environmental rules including Buddhism and Jainism to
medieval and then from British era to afterwards and the coming of modern
legislations on environmental laws in India, a great sense of concern has been
shown by the legislature and even the Indian judiciary showed a great concern
regarding the environment with its landmark judgments.
The environment has been defined as that outer physical and biological system in
which man and other organisms live as a whole. Human environment consists of
both physical environment and biological environment. Physical environment
covers land, water and air. Biological environment includes plants, animals and
‘Environment’ defined under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986,
‘Environment’ includes Water, air and land and the inter-relationship which
exists among and between, water, air, land, and human beings, other living
creatures, plants, microorganisms and property.
The term environment has been derived from the term ‘environ’, which means ‘to
surround’ Thus, etymologically environment means ‘surrounding conditions,
circumstances affecting people’s life.
‘Environment’ includes water, air and land and the inter-relationship which
exist among and between water, air, land and human beings, other living
creatures, plants, micro-organisms and property.
It includes the complex physical, chemical and biological factors surrounding an
organism or an ecological community. Such factors act and interact with various
species and organisms to affect their form, growth and survival. Any
unfavourable alteration of this environment is called environmental pollution.
Air, water, land, radiation and thermal are the common type of pollution.
Obviously, the “Environment” comprises all entities, living and non-living,
natural or man-made, external to oneself, and their interrelationships, which
provide value, now or perhaps in the future, to humankind. Environmental
concerns relate to their degradation through actions of humans.
The goals of the Environmental policy may be formulated in several ways - to
protect human health, ensure viability of wild life, preservation of historic
monuments, stopping further degradation of the environment etc.
Provision of Environmental Law In India
Apart from international laws, every country has enacted laws regarding
environment protection, pollution control etc. In India, there are several acts
for environment protection that says protection of environment is the duty of
Policy and Laws in Medieval India (1638-1800 AD)
To Mughal rulers, forest meant no more than woodlands where they could hunt.
The history of medieval India is dominated by Muslim Rulers where no note worthy
development of environmental jurisprudence took place except during the rule of
Mughal Emperor Akbar. During Akbar’s rule except rulers others are prohibited
from hunting or shikar. But no major initiatives took place during medieval
period to prevent environmental protection and conservation of natural resources
as the rulers were only interested in war, religion propagation and empire
building. Barring “royal trees” which enjoyed patronage from being cut except
upon a fee, there was no restriction on cutting of other trees, hunting animals,
etc. Forests during this period shrank steadily in size.
Laws in British India (1800-1947 AD)
• Shore Nuisance (Bombay and Kolaba) Act, 1853 imposed restrictions on the
fouling of seawater.
• Merchant Shipping Act of 1858 dealt with prevention of sea pollution by oil.
• The Fisheries Act, 1897
• The Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act of 1905
• Bombay Smoke Nuisance Act of 1912
• Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act, 1912
Laws after Independence (1947)
The Indian Constitution, as adopted in 1950, did not deal with that the subject
of environment or prevention and control of pollution as such (until 1976
Amendment). The post independent Indian approach was centered on economic
development and poverty alleviation and not on resource conservation.
The year 1972 was a landmark in the field of environment, when United Nations
Conference on the Human Environment was held at Stockholm (Sweden) from 5th to
16th June, in which "Declaration on the Human Environment" was adopted. This may
be considered as the beginning of environment movement in the world.
The Stockholm Declaration of 1972 was perhaps the first major attempt to
conserve and protect the human environment at the international level. The
preamble of it states, 'the need for a common outlook and for common principles
to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and
enhancement of the human environment.
As a consequence of this Declaration, the States were required to adopt
legislative measures to protect and improve the environment. Accordingly, Indian
Parliament inserted two Articles, i.e., 48A and 51A in the Constitution of India
In India a separate ministry namely The Department of Environment was
established in 1980 to ensure a healthy environment for the country.
The main acts for environment protection in India are as follows:-
1. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980
2. The Prevention of Air and Water Pollution, 1974, 1981 (The Central Pollution
Control Board) (CPCB) was constituted under this act.
3. The Air Prevention and Control of Pollution, 1981.
4. The Atomic Energy Act. 1982.
5. The Environmental Protection Act, 1986. (It came into force soon after the
Bhopal Gas Tragedy)
6. The Environmental Conservation Act. 1989.
7. The National Environmental Tribunal, 1995.
8. National Environmental Appellate Authority Act, 1997.
9. National Environment Management Act (NEMA), 1998
10. Handling and Management of Hazardous Waste Rule in 1989.
11. The Public Liability Insurance Act (Rules and Amendment), 1992.
12. The Biomedical Waste Management and Handling Rules, 1998.
13. The Environment (Siting for Industrial Projects) Rules, 1999.
14. The Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.
15. The Ozone Depleting Substance (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000.
16. The Biological Diversity Act 2002.
Environment And The Indian Constitution
The Indian Constitution is among the few in the world that contains specific
provisions on environmental protection.
Laws made by national, provincial and local government add to the rights and
responsibilities that are part of the constitution and the common law. These
laws also called legislations must comply with the constitution but they can
amend change the common hand.
Protection of Life and Personal Liberty is embodied in Article 21. It states,
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to
procedure established by law.”
The Indian Constitution guarantees the ‘right to equality’to all persons
without any discrimination. This indicates that any action of the ‘State’
relating to environment must not infringe upon the right to equality as
mentioned in the Article 14 of the Constitution. The Stockholm Declaration,
1972, also recognized this principle of equality in environmental
managementand it called up all the worlds’ nations to abide by this
In the Constitution of India it is clearly stated that it is the duty of the
state to ‘protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and
wildlife of the country’. It imposes a duty on every citizen ‘to protect and
improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and
Let us further examine the provisions in the Indian Constitution for the
protection of environment. The 42nd amendment to the constitution was brought
about in the year 1974 makes it the responsibility of the state government to
protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of
the country. The latter, under fundamental duties, makes it the fundamental duty
of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including
forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.
The Art 47 provides that “It is the duty of the state, to raise the level of
nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health, the state
shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for
medicinal purposes intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to
health. Art. 48A provides that the state shall endeavour to protect and improve
the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”
Art. 51A, included in the Constitution by the 42nd amendment Act, 1976 has the
provisions as fundamental duties, says that “It shall be the duty of every
citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including
forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living
creatures and to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the other spirit of
inquiry and reform, and to safeguard public property and to abjure
One of the most innovative parts of the Constitution is that the Writ
Jurisdiction is conferred on the Supreme Court under Article 32 and on all the
High Courts under Article 226. Under these provisions, the courts have the power
to issue any direction or orders or writs, including writs in the nature
ofhabeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo- warranto and certiorari, whichever
is appropriate. This has paved way for one of the most effective and dynamic
mechanisms for the protection of environment, that is, Public Interest
Role of Panchayat and Municipalities
The Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act 1992 and the Constitution
(Seventy –fourth Amendment) Act 1992 have given a Constitutional status to the
panchayats and the Municipalities respectively. Article 243-B provides or the
establishment of intermediate and district levels. Article 243-G authorises the
legislature of State to endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as
may be necessary to enable them to function as institution of self-government.
The Eleventh Schedule along with other matters contains following maters which
are directly or indirectly related to environment like, agriculture, soil
conservation, water management and watershed development; fisheries; social
forestry and farm forestry; minor forest produce; drinking water; health and
sanitation; and maintenance of community assets.
The matters which are related to environment in the twelfth Schedule may be
enumerated as follows:
Urban planning including town planning regulation of land use water supply;
public health, sanitation, conservancy and solid waste management, urban
forestry, protection of the environment and promotion of ecological aspects;
provision of urban amenities such as park grounds ; cremation grounds and
electric crematoriums; prevention of cruelty to animals regulation slaughter
houses and tanneries.
The right of a person to pollution free environment is a part of basic
jurisprudence of the land. Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees a
fundamental right to life and personal liberty. The Supreme Court has
interpreted the right to life and personal liberty to include the right to
wholesome environment.The Court through its various judgementshas held
that the mandate of right to life includes right to clean environment,
drinking-water and pollution-free atmosphere.
It was Mr. M.C Mehtawho revived the concept of environmental jurisprudence
in India through PIL. Others too had their silent but noteworthy roles to play.
Some of the landmark judgements having fair share in development of the
environmental jurisprudence in India are:
Narmada Bachao v/s Union of India
Way back in 1946, the then government of the Central Provinces and Berar and the
then government of Bombay requested the Central Waterways, Irrigation and
Navigation Commission to take up investigation on the Narmada river system for
basin wise development oftheriverwithfloodcontrol, irrigation, power and
extension of Navigation as the objectives in view. The matter was referred to a
tribunal in 1968 constituted under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956.
Based on the agreement between the Chief Ministers of 4 States [M.P, Maharashtra,
Rajasthan and Gujarat] the tribunal declared is award on 16thAugust 1978. In
order to meet the financial obligation, consultations started in 1978 with the
World Bank for obtaining a loan. In May 1985 the loan was sanctioned, and in
1987 the Ministry of Environment and Forest accorded Environmental
Clearance subject to certain conditions.
The Supreme Court observed that the Sardar Sarovar Project would make a positive
impact on the preservation of environment. The project has been long awaited by
the people of Gujarat to whom water will be available to the drought prone and
arid parts, this would help in effectively arresting ecological degradation
which was returning the make these areas inhabitable due to salinity ingress,
advancement of desert, ground water depletion, fluoride and nitrite
affected water and vanishing green cover. The ecology of water scarcity areas is
under stress and transfer of Narmada water to these areas will lead to
sustainable agriculture and spread of green cover.
There will also be
improvement of fodder availability, which will reduce pressure on bio-diversity
and vegetation. The SSP by generating clean eco-friendly hydropower will save
the air pollution which would otherwise take place by thermal general power of
similar capacity. Following the above analysis the Court thought it unfit to
interfere with the construction of the dam, as its advantages over took its
disadvantages. The construction of the dam was allowed subject to certain
conditions. Such interpretations of Article 21 by the Supreme Court have over
the years become the basis of environmental jurisprudence, and have been
instrumental in helping in the name of protection of India’s environment. Also
in addition to this there now exists a number of laws relating to environment,
enacted over the last few decades.
Taj Mahal Case
In Taj Mahal's case, the Supreme Court issued directions that coal and coke
based industries in Taj Trapezium (TTZ) which were damaging Taj should either
change over to natural gas or to be relocated outside TTZ. The court was
conscious that environmental changes are the inevitable consequences of
industrial development in our country, but at the same time the quality of
environment cannot be permitted to be damaged by polluting the air, water and
land to such an extent that it becomes a health hazard for the residents of the
area. Showing deep concern to the environment, the Court observed that ‘every
citizen has a right to fresh air and to live in pollution- free environment.
Again the Supreme Court directed to protect the plants planted around Taj by the
Forest Department as under:
“The Divisional Forest Officer, Agra is directed to take immediate steps for
seeing that water is supplied to the plants... The Union Government is directed
to release the funds immediately without waiting for receipt of the proposal
from the U.P. Government on the basis of the copy of the report. Funding may be
subsequently settled with the U.P. Government, but in any set of circumstances
for want of funds the officer is directed to see that plants do not wither
The apex Court gave various directions including banning the use of coal and
coke and directing the industries to switch over to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).
Ganges Pollution Case:
The Supreme Court of India reacting to the public interest litigations has
passed several judgments and a number of Orders against polluting industries
numbering more than fifty thousand in the Ganga basin. As a result of these
directions millions of people have been saved from the effects of air and water
pollution in Ganga basin covering 8 states in India.
Kamal Nath’s Case
The irony of this case is that a Public Interest Litigation was filed against
the family members of Kamal Nath, the Minister of Environment and Forests, Govt.
of India. The family members of the Minister own the Span motel in the State of
Himachal Pradesh. They diverted the Course of River Beas to beautify the motel.
The Supreme Court of India had directed the owners of the Motel to hand over the
forest land to the Govt. of Himachal Pradesh and further order the removal of
all sorts of encroachment spending the money from their own pocket.
M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, AIR 1987 SC 1086 (Popularly known as “Oleum
Gas Leak Case”) – The Supreme Court treated the right to live in pollution free
environment as a part of fundamental right to life under Art.21 of the
Constitution. The Supreme Court held that where an enterprise is engaged in a
hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm results to any one on
account of an accident in the operation of such hazardous and inherently
dangerous activity resulting in the escape of toxic gas the enterprise is
strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all those who are affected by the
accident and such a liability is not subject to any exception. The enterprise
must be absolutely liable to compensate for such harm and it should be no answer
to the enterprise to say that it had taken all reasonable care and that the harm
occurred without negligence on its part. Absolute liability is one tort where
fault need not be established. It is no-fault liability.
Further, the A.P. High Court in
T. Damodar Rao vs. S.O., Municipal Corporation,
Hyderabad, (AIR 1987 A.P. 171)laid down that right to live in healthy
environment was specially declared to be part of Art.21 to the Constitution.
In India, the concern for environmental protection has not only been raised to
the status of fundamental law of the land, but it is also wedded with human
rights approach and it is now well established that, it is the basic human right
of every individual to live in pollution free environment with full human
It is high time that the general public, public entities, state and central
government realize the damage, which our developmental process has made to the
For the success of the local government laws relating to the environment it is
essential to create a sense of civic consciousness and public hygiene in the use
of municipal services like roads, public places, drainage etc. Strict
enforcement of the provisions of law also is needed. Law is a strong medium to
compel the citizens to observe cleanliness and thereby to combat pollution.
Environmental protection laws in India need a new orientation in the modern
As Paul Bigelow Sears said, “How far must suffering and misery go before we see
that even in the day of vast cities and powerful machines, the good earth is our
mother and that if we destroy her, we destroy ourselves.”
 Section 2(a) of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986
 Collins, P.H. (1990) 62 Dictionary of Ecology and the Environment,
 National Environmental Tribunal Act 1995, Sec. 2(d)
 Preamble, The UN Conference of Human Environment (held in Stockholm,
 E.g. Indian Forest Act, 1927; the Factories Act, 1948; the Atomic Energy
Act, 1962; insecticide 1968.
 Article 14: The State shall not deny to any person equality before law and
equal protection of laws within the territory of India.
 he Stockholm Declaration, 1972, Principle I, ‘Man has the fundamental Right
to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a
quality that permits a life of dignity and well being’.
 Article 48 of the Indian Constitution, Refer to Directive principle of state
policy and Fundamental Duties
 Part IV of the Constitution of India.
 Part IVA of the Constitution of India
 Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun V. State of U.P., AIR
1988 SC 1037
 See for example, Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, AIR 1991 SC 420; M.C.
Mehta V. Union of India. AIR 2000 SC 1997
 1997 Magsaysay Award Winner for Public Service
 AIR 2000 SC 3751
 M.C.Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 734; see also M.C.Mehta v. Union
of India, AIR 1999 S.C. 3192.
 M.C.Mehta v. Union of India, (2001), 9 SCC 52
 AIR 1987 SC 1086
 W.P. 182/1996 Decided on 15th March 2002
 Ranchhodas, R., Thakore, D. K., & Singh, J. G. (2010). Liability for wrongs
committed by others (26th edition ed.).