Statutory Framework: Environmental Law


Statutory Framework: Environmental Law

India is a vast and extremely biologically diverse State and the Indian government has always had the desire to protect and preserve the environment. For that purpose, not only does the Constitution provide safeguards, but the desire to protect the environment can be seen in the numerous legislations that have been implemented by the Parliament. Besides the laws implemented by the Parliament, several judgments passed by the Court have also become part of the environmental jurisprudence as various principles of environmental law have been adopted and developed.

Constitutional Safeguards

The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution brought about a change as Articles 48A and 51A were inserted into the Constitution which cast a duty on both the State as well as the citizens to protect and improve the environment.  This meant that the State and citizens must work together to protect the environment and also make efforts to improve the current quality of the environment as every citizen should have the right to live a full life in a clean environment. Besides the Articles inserted by the 42ndAmendment one must also look at Articles 38 and 47 of the Indian Constitution which are under Directive Principles of State Policy herein after referred to as ’DPSP’ and deal with the State’s duty to promote the welfare of the people and improve the standard of living and health of the population.

Article 21 guarantees every person a fundamental right to life. In Francis Coralie Mullin v. The Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi[1], the Court observed that the right to live in an environment that is free from the danger of disease and infection is intrinsic to the right to life. The right to live in a healthy environment is an important characteristic of right to live with human dignity and a person should have more than mere animalistic existence.

The Supreme Court has also laid down in Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India[2] that the ‘Precautionary Principle’ and the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ (PPP) are indispensable aspects of ‘Sustainable Development’. These concepts are part of Environment Law of the country.

The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 enunciates these principles[3] and was passed to establish the NGT. Section 20 of the NGT Act provides that the tribunal while making any order, decision or award shall follow the principles of sustainable development, precautionary principle and polluters pay principle[4].

Statutory Safeguards

Besides the Constitution, several legislations have also been passed by the Indian Parliament that have been implemented and enforced at a national level. The Water Act, 1974 was passed for the purpose of prevention and control of water pollution and for maintaining and restoring the wholesomeness of water[5]. The Water Act can be seen as India’s first attempt to deal with an environmental issue through legislations.

After the Water Act, the Indian government remained extremely active and passed a series of environmental legislations like theForest (Conservation) Act, 1980, The Air Act, 1981, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.

The Indian government also amended existing laws such as the Indian Forest Act, 1927 in 1984, the Factories Act, 1948 in 1987 and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in 1991 to sharpen the environmental focus.  

The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 was passed to ensure the protection of forests as well as to check the rate of deforestation. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 was passed by the Indian Government in the wake of the Bhopal Gas disaster. A need was to felt to provide a comprehensive environmental law as the previous enactments all dealt with specific aspects. There needed to be an umbrella legislation designed to provide a framework for the Central Government and the Act helped harmonize the activities of various central and state authorities that had been established under previous laws. The Act also delegated wide powers to the executive to frame necessary rules and regulations.

Besides the legislations, several notifications and rules have also been made, like the Biomedical Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998, Recycled Plastics (Manufacture and Usage) Rules, 1999, Environment (Silting for Industrial Projects) Rules, 1999, the Solid Wastes (Management) Rules, 2016, Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016, E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 and the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2016.

[1] 1981 2 SCR 516

[2] 1996 5 SCC 647

[3], retrieved on 2015-09-26

[4], retrieved on 2015-09-26

[5],%201974%20relevant%20provisions.pdf, retrieved on 2015-09-26

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