Nexus of Environmental Law with Sustainable Living
When we see the word sustainable, nostalgia strikes. A seventh-grader
is seated in his class full of quiet students, religiously attending the social
science lecture. Some are waiting for the bell to ring, while some are looking
outside the window, not realizing that in every minute of that class, activity
is being carried out around the world which is going to result in the depletion
of our environment.
Many laws were enacted to make life possible and to raise public awareness of
the issues. They proved to be effective. We have to understand that development
is an essential part of life, and so is the environment, but in the furtherance
of one, we cannot ignore the other.
Balance plays a very important role here. In the Mahabharata, in the Bhishma
Parva, refers to the earth as an ever-yielding cow provided its resources
are developed and managed with balance and control:
If the earth is well looked after, it becomes the father, mother, child,
firmament, and heaven of all creatures.
We celebrate Earth Day (22 April), Environment Day (5 June), and many more, but
we need to use that enthusiasm, energy, and awareness in order to protect the
earth and environment and actually create an impact.
What is a Sustainable Environment and Way of Life?Sustainable living is a practical concept focused on reducing personal and
societal environmental impact by maximizing adjustments that mitigate climate
change and other negative environmental concerns. In a nutshell, sustainable
living is a strategy for reducing one's carbon footprint. That is, by
living sustainably, one uses the least amount of the earth's resources possible
while also attempting to reduce the environmental damage caused by their
The environment is defined in section 2(a) of the Environment Protection Act,
1986. Environment includes water, air, and land and the
inter-relationship that exists among and between water, air, and land and human
beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms, and property.
important to mention that in the case-law of Rural Litigation and Entitlement
Kendra vs. State of UP, 1985, which is also known as the Dehradun Mussoorie
Hills Quarrying Case, a petition was filed by rural litigation and entitlement
Kendra in the Supreme Court of India regarding the unauthorized limestone
quarries in the hills of Mussoorie. The Supreme Court observed that quarrying of
limestone causes soil erosion, which degrades the environment, and this case law
became the very first one where the term sustainable development” was
Natural resources should be used with the utmost care and we should keep in mind
that they don't exhaust in one generation only. Sustainable development is
different from a sustainable environment. In sustainable development, we try to
create a balance between urbanization and less exploitation of the environment,
whereas a sustainable environment is what the end result is that we have been
trying to achieve all this time.
It's not new that environmental problems have been dealt with recently or have
come to light in the 20th century only. In ancient India, traces can be found in
Indian history about environmental protection or the concerns of people in
general. People used to worship the gods of the respective animals, plants, and
trees at that time, and stringent punishment was given to those who cut trees.
Planting trees and taking care of animals were considered to be practices that
could open the gates of heaven. We can trace these today as well, as many gods
and goddesses have animals and plants associated with them.
In Medieval history, Muhatisabs were appointed to take care of pollution and to
see that any kind of dirt, garbage, or nuisance was not created in the markets,
roads, and neighborhoods. The Mughals gave India amazing gardens, which were a
source of pleasure in the 20th century, like the Mughal Gardens at Rashtrapati
Bhavan in Delhi.
Then came the post-independence era, which brought with it a lot of changes with
changing times. In India and all over the world, various measures have been
taken in order to protect our environment, as this has been a period of
urbanization, globalization, and technology.
Measures to Protect the Environment in the Indian ConstitutionSince the 1970s till date, a lot of provisions have been added and judgments
have been passed in order to protect the environment and to stop the practices
that are degrading it.
In Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the right to an environment free of
the danger of disease and infection is mentioned. The right to a healthy
environment is an important attribute of the right to live with human dignity.
In the case-law of Damodar Rao vs. S.O Municipal Corporation, 1987, the
Supreme Court of India held that polluting the environment is a violation of
one's right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In the year
1991, a PIL was filed against two companies for their actions of dumping factory
waste into the river water, which is used by the people living there, and the
action caused serious health issues.
The apex court, in the case of Subash Kumar vs. the State of Bihar, held
that the right to get pollution-free water and the air is a fundamental right
too, guaranteed under article 21 of the Indian Constitution. A similar judgment
was passed in Municipal Council, Ratlam vs Shri Vardhichand & Ors, in which it
was held that a pollution-free environment is an integral part of article 21.
Similarly, many more judgments have been passed in congruence with article 21.
Like in 2000, the supreme court of India in MC Mehta vs. Kamalnath & Ors.,
said that damages would be provided not only to compensate for the environmental
damage but also for the victims who suffered. Article 51A (g) of the Indian
Constitution states that:
It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the
natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have
compassion for living creatures.
This is a fundamental duty of every citizen living in the country.
The Indian constitution states in Article 48 (A):Protection and improvement of the environment and safeguarding of forests and
The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and safeguard
the forests and wildlife of the country.
This comes under the directive principles of state policy. It does not attract
judicial action, but violations of fundamental rights are punishable. The one of
interest here is article 21 of the Indian constitution. In 2014, in accordance
with the amendments made in the constitution, the apex court in its judgment
passed in Sher Singh vs State of Himachal Pradesh held that the state is under a
constitutional obligation to protect as well as improve the environment as per
Article 48 (A) and Article 51A (g).
Article 253 of the Indian constitution gives power to the parliament to make
laws. And by exercising this power, the Environment Protection Act of 1986 was
passed. The complete act is important from the perspective of the judiciary, but
some things which are very important and can be explained in less time are:
first, the act has the primary purpose of assuring environmental protection,
pollution prevention, and reduction, as well as the ability to take stern action
against violators. Second, it is a law that supersedes all other laws. This
implies that if an act is committed that might be prosecuted under various
statutes, including this Act, the EPA 1986 will take precedence. Third, the Act
compelled the country to take significant notice of environmental degradation.
In Vellore's Citizen Forum vs. UOI, 1996, which is also known as the
Tamil Nadu Tanneries Case, it was held that the polluter-pay principle is an
integral part of the constitution. In MC Mehta vs UOI & Ors., 1986, which is
also known as the Taj Trapezium Case, the honorable Supreme Court of India
directed the use of coal by industries and directed them to use compressed
natural gas. and said that clean fuel should be used by vehicles. A Bhurelal
Committee was also set up to set a time frame for switching over to CNG fuel, as
the court understands it is not an easy step and expert guidance is needed.
The list goes even longer when we talk about measures that are being taken by
international organizations in order to curb environmental degradation. In many
countries, environmental officers are appointed not only as ministers but also
at ground level. A protocol is a final convention, an agreement where the
parties accept the legal obligation. Many conventions and protocols have been
signed since the 1970s. For example, in 1985, the Vienna Convention was adopted
for the protection of the ozone layer. The Montreal Protocol was adopted in 1989
to reduce ozone depletion. A very important one, the Kyoto Protocol was signed
in 1997 for the sole purpose of climate change. The Basel Convention on the
Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste (1992)
The question that was raised in the title above was, is sustainable living
possible? The answer should be yes, but it will require ongoing efforts. The
path of greediness that we have chosen and depleted the resources by a large
amount needs to be reversed back. We have an advantage, the advantage of time.
We are at a time when things are still in our hands. It will be tough once we
reach a point where we are not even left with the resources to recreate them.
Judgments, amendments, and laws are all secondary; a citizen's duty towards his
environment should be first and foremost.
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