ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE BY JUSTICE B.N. KIRPAL
An Introduction to Indian environmental law... 1,Legislative Initiative.. 2The Statutory Framework.. 2
The Constitutional Framework.. 3,,ecent Noteworthy Initiatives. 4
Judicial initiative: The Role of Public Interest LItigation... 4,The Relaxation of the Rule of Locus Standi 5
The Constitution as Sounding Board: Article 21 and the Protection of Human Rights. 6
Development of Environmental Law Principles. 8,The Precautionary Principle 8
The “Polluter Pays” Principle 9,Sustainable Development and Inter-generational Equity. 9
Holistic Adjudication.. 11,Judicial Attitude to Policy. 11,The Right to Livelihood.. 12
The Doctrine of Public Trust. 12,Conclusion... 12
An Introduction to Indian environmental law
The development of Indian environmental law has happened, for the most part, over the last three decades, with a significant level of polarization around the latter half of this period. Therefore, a paper detailing “recent developments in India” would necessarily involve a thorough discussion of most relevant environmental issues and their consequences. The development of the law in this area has seen a considerable share of initiative by the Indian judiciary, particularly the higher judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Court of India, and the High Courts of the States. The paper will dwell on this aspect and its effect on the strength of the legal framework. Legislative schemes and initiatives have been created in most areas involving the environment, albeit with some degree of overlap. The role of the administration, although a critical factor in the success of any environmental management programme, has seen its share of problems of scale and definition. The essence of the existing law relating to the environment has developed through legislative and judicial initiative. Since the latter is responsible for the most recent developments, this paper will attempt to lay the foundation for understanding through a discussion of legislation and administrative rules, and then detail development of the law and environmental principles through the discussion of judicial decisions.
Legislative Initiative :The Statutory Framework
It is possible to suggest with conviction that the beginnings of Indian environmental law were sown at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in 1972, where India was a participant, leading to some sort of realization that a framework of laws was necessary to deal with environmental hazards that would result from the stage of development that India was entering in the 1970s. Prior to this phase, Indian environmental law mainly consisted of claims made against tortious actions such as nuisance or negligence. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974 gave the statute book its first real foundation for environmental protection. Other major enactments followed in 1980 (The Forest (Conservation) Act), 1981 (The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act), and 1986 (The Environment (Protection) Act).
The Constitutional Framework
The Forty-Second Amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1976 introduced principles of environmental protection in an explicit manner into the Constitution through Articles 48A and 51A(g). Article 48A, part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, obligated the State to protect and improve the environment. On the other hand, Article 51A(g) obligated citizens to undertake the same responsibilities. As far as legislative power was concerned, the Amendment also moved the subjects of “forests” and “protection of wild animals and birds” from the State List to the Concurrent List. The Stockholm conference is honoured by references in the Air Act and the Environment Act – a result of effective applications of Article 253 of the Constitution, which gives the Parliament (India’s central legislature) the power to make laws implementing India’s international obligations, as well as any decision made at an international conference, association or other body.
Recent Noteworthy Initiatives
The National Environment Appellate Authority Act (1997) was enacted to enable the Union Government to establish the National Environment Appellate Authority. The Authority is empowered to hear appeals against orders granting environmental clearance in designated areas where industrial activity is restricted under the Environment Act.
The National Environment Tribunal Act (1995) extends the principle of no-fault liability beyond the compensation limits prescribed under the Public Liability Insurance Act (1991). The Act deals with, inter alia, compensation related to accidents concerning toxic substances. The Tribunal set up under the Act has exclusive jurisdiction over claims of compensation in these circumstances.
Judicial initiative: Public Interest Litigation, Birth
Failure on the part of the governmental agencies to effectively enforce environmental laws and non-compliance with statutory norms by polluters resulted in an accelerated degradation of the environment. Most of the rivers and water bodies were polluted, and large-scale deforestation was carried out with impunity. There was also a rapid increase in casualties due to respiratory disorders caused by widespread air pollution.
Such large-scale environmental degradation and adverse effects on public health prompted environmentalists and residents of polluted areas, as well as non-governmental organizations, to approach the courts, particularly the higher judiciary, for suitable remedies.
The Relaxation of the Rule of Locus Standi
There is near complete academic agreement that the concerted involvement of the higher judiciary in India with the environment began with the relaxation of the rule of locus standi, and the departure from the “proof of injury” approach. The relaxation of the rule led to some important consequences, which were particularly pertinent to environmental matters. First, since it was possible that there could be several petitioners for the same set of facts dealing with an environmental hazard or disaster, the court was able to look at the matter from the point of view of an environmental problem to be solved, rather than a dispute between two parties. Second, the rule took care of the many interests that went unrepresented – for example, that of the common people who normally had no access to the higher judiciary. Also, the process brought into sharp focus the conflict of interest between the environment and development, and set the stage for a number of decisions that would deal with issues relating to this area in a more specific manner.
The relaxation of locus standi, in effect, created a new form of legal action, variously termed as public interest litigation and social action litigation. This form is usually more efficient in dealing with environmental cases, for the reason that these cases are concerned with the rights of the community rather than the individual. It is characterized by a non-adversarial approach, the participation of amicus curiae, the appointment of expert and monitoring committees by the court, and the issue of detailed interim orders in the form of continuous mandamus under Articles 32 and 226 by the Supreme Court of India and the High Courts of the States respectively.
Article 21 and the Protection of Human Rights
The judiciary, in their quest for innovate solutions to environmental matters within the framework of public interest litigation, looked to constitutional provisions to provide the court with the necessary jurisdiction to address specific issues. Furthermore, Article 142 afforded the Supreme Court considerable power to mould its decisions in order that complete justice could be done. As the Supreme Court is the final authority as far as matters of constitutional interpretation are concerned, it assumes a sort of primal position in the Indian environmental legal system. For example, the fundamental right contained in Article 21 is often cited as the violated right, albeit in a variety of ways.
In Francis Coralie Mullin v. The Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi, Bhagwati, J., speaking for the Supreme Court, stated that:
“We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter over the head and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings.”
In Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, the Court observed that:
“The right to live is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, and it includes the right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life. If anything endangers or impairs that quality of life in derogation of laws, a citizen has the right to have recourse to Article 32 of the Constitution…”
The Supreme Court, in its interpretation of Article 21, has facilitated the emergence of an environmental jurisprudence in India, while also strengthening human rights jurisprudence. There are numerous decisions wherein the right to a clean environment, drinking water, a pollution-free atmosphere, etc. have been given the status of inalienable human rights and, therefore, fundamental rights of Indian citizens.
In M.K. Sharma v. Bharat Electric Employees Union, the Court directed the Bharat Electric Company to comply with safety rules strictly to prevent hardship to the employees ensuing from harmful X-ray radiation. The Court did so under the ambit of Article 21, justifying the specific order on the reason that the radiation affected the life and liberty of the employees. In Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court based its five comprehensive interim orders on the judicial understanding that environmental rights were to be implied into the scope of Article 21.
Development of Environmental Law Principles
The Court has successfully isolated specific environmental law principles upon the interpretation of Indian statutes and the Constitution, combined with a liberal view towards ensuring social justice and the protection of human rights. The principles have often found reflection in the Constitution in some form, and are usually justified even when not explicitly mentioned in the concerned statute. There have also been occasions when the judiciary has prioritized the environment over development, when the situation demanded an immediate and specific policy structure.
Beginning with Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India, the Supreme Court has explicitly recognized the precautionary principle as a principle of Indian environmental law. More recently, in A.P. Pollution Control Board v. M.V. Nayudu, the Court discussed the development of the precautionary principle. Furthermore, in the Narmada case, the Court explained that “When there is a state of uncertainty due to the lack of data or material about the extent of damage or pollution likely to be caused, then, in order to maintain the ecology balance, the burden of proof that the said balance will be maintained must necessarily be on the industry or the unit which is likely to cause pollution.”
The “Polluter Pays” Principle
The Supreme Court has come to sustain a position where it calculates environmental damages not on the basis of a claim put forward by either party, but through an examination of the situation by the Court, keeping in mind factors such as the deterrent nature of the award. However, it held recently that the power under Article 32 to award damages, or even exemplary damages to compensate environmental harm, would not extend to the levy of a pollution fine. The “polluter pays” rule has also been recognized as a fundamental objective of government policy to prevent and control pollution.
Sustainable Development and Inter-generational Equity
What is meant by the phrase “sustainable development”? The definition which is used most often comes from the report of the Brundtland Commission, in which it was suggested that the phrase covered “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” However, different levels of societies have their own concept of sustainable development and the object that is to be achieved by it. For instance, for rich countries, sustainable development may mean steady reductions in wasteful levels of consumption of energy and other natural resources through improvements in efficiency, and through changes in life style, while in poorer countries, sustainable development would mean the commitment of resources toward continued improvement in living standards.
Sustainable development means that the richness of the earth’s biodiversity would be conserved for future generations by greatly slowing and, if possible, halting extinctions, habitat and ecosystem destruction, and also by not risking significant alternations of the global environment that might – by an increase in sea level or changing rainfall and vegetation patterns or increasing ultraviolet radiation – alter the opportunities available for future generations.
How has this phrase been understood in India? Perhaps the answer lies in the decision of the Supreme Court in Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India wherein it was observed that “Sustainable development means what type or extent of development can take place, which can be sustained by nature/ecology with or without mitigation.” In this context, development primarily meant material or economic progress.
Being a developing country, economic progress is essential; at the same time, care has to be taken of the environment. Thus, the question that squarely arises is: How can sustainable development, with economic progress and without environmental regression, be ensured within the Indian legal framework? This can be achieved through the implementation of good legislation.
The courts have attempted to provide a balanced view of priorities while deciding environmental matters. As India is a developing country, certain ecological sacrifices are deemed necessary, while keeping in mind the nature of the environment in that area, and its criticality to the community. This is in order that future generations may benefit from policies and laws that further environmental as well as developmental goals. This ethical mix is termed sustainable development, and has also been recognized by the Supreme Court in the Taj Trapezium case.
In State of Himachal Pradesh v. Ganesh Wood Products, the Supreme Court invalidated forest-based industry, recognizing the principle of inter-generational equity as being central to the conservation of forest resources and sustainable development.
The Supreme Court, in recent years, has been adopting a holistic approach towards environmental matters. This is usually done through detailed orders that are issued from time to time, while Committees appointed by the Court monitor the ground situation. The origin of this tendency may be seen in cases such as Ratlam and Olga Tellis.
Judicial Attitude to Policy
To a substantial extent, the courts have had to fill in the gaps and doubt left by the absence of a clear governmental policy. However, there have been occasions when the court has considered it appropriate to disregard the policy and proceed with a decision that better accommodates constitutional values. At other times, the Court has stated that it is not in the public interest to require the Court to delve into those areas that are the function of the executive.
The Right to Livelihood
In certain cases, the judiciary has to choose between the preservation of environmental resources in state, and the right of communities to extract value out of those resources. To facilitate this choice, the courts have evolved a right to livelihood for communities affected by new state-run conservation initiatives. A clear position on this issue is not immediately forthcoming, as the decision depends heavily upon the factual matrix of each dispute. The Court has also observed the environment-development debate, and stated that the most desirous position is a harmonious form of co-existence of these ends.
The Doctrine of Public Trust
To further justify and perhaps extract state initiative to conserve natural resources, the Court enunciated Professor Joseph Sax’s doctrine of public trust, obligating conservation by the state. In M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, the Court held that the state, as a trustee of all natural resources, was under a legal duty to protect them, and that the resources were meant for public use and could not be transferred to private ownership.
Thus, the arrangement of environmental management is composed of a harmonious blend of initiatives from the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. The higher judiciary plays a rather stalwart role owing to its unique position and power, and due to the circumstances of inefficiency within the executive and the existence of a skeletal legislative framework. The principles of Indian environmental law are resident in the judicial interpretation of laws and the Constitution, and encompass several internationally recognized principles, thereby providing some semblance of consistency between domestic and global environmental standards.
 With few exceptions such as Environment Impact Assessment (1994), Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (1991), and the Joint Forest Management Programme, the wealth of Indian environmental management stems from legislative and judicial actions. However, the Ministry of Environment and Forests is the nodal agency for virtually all environmental management processes set up by the legislature.
 This is in contrast to laws in countries such as England, which were sometimes a direct result of some mass environmental disaster; for example, the Clean Air Act of 1956 was the outcome of the deadly smog that killed over 4000 people in London in 1952. (The Act has since been replaced by the Clean Air Act of 1993). See Harish Salve, “Justice between Generations: Environment and Social Justice”, Supreme But Not Infallible: Essays in Honour of the Supreme Court of India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000, pp.360-380. Salve adds: “In the fullness of time, political upheavals brought home the realization that freedom can only survive if it honours basic human rights and is founded on principles of natural justice.”
 See the Preamble to the Act for a specific reference to the Stockholm conference.
 See the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act of 1976.
 For a detailed discussion on the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Indian Constitution in the context of the environment, see generally Shyam Divan and Armin Rosencranz, Environmental Law and Policy in India: Cases, Materials and Statutes, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, pp.45-46.
 Article 48A: “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.” For a discussion of the legislative debate behind the origin of the amended Article, see also ibid, p. 45, n.21.
 Article 51A(g): “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures;”
 The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution delineates legislative power between the Centre and the States. List I (the Union List) comprises subjects over which only the Centre shall legislate. List II (the State List) comprises subjects over which only the State shall legislate. List III (the Concurrent List) contains subjects over which both entities may legislate, subject to a preference for the Centre pursuant to the doctrine of “occupied field”.
 It has been pointed out that the Parliament has the power to legislate on virtually any subject in the State List by virtue of Entry 13 of the Union List, which covers participation in international conferences and the implementation of decisions made at the conferences. See supra n.5, p.47.
 See Section 19 of the Act.
 See Mumbai Kamgar Sabha v. Abdulbhai, AIR 1976 SC 1455; Fertilizer Corporation Kamgar Union v. Union of India, AIR 1981 SC 344.
 See supra n.2, p.367 and p.370; See also Bangalore Medical Trust v. B.S. Muddappa, (1991) 4 SCC 54.
 However, the taking up of interests by so-called third parties who were interested but not injured in the earlier strict sense also had its share of controversy. Some critics have claimed that public interest litigation has been misused by parties who were secretly interested in issues allied to the environmental matter, which were sometimes commercial in nature, thereby using the exalted platform explicitly created for the solution of environmental matters alone.
 See Upendra Baxi, “Taking suffering seriously: Social Action Litigation and the Supreme Court”, 29 International Commission of Jurists Review 37-49 (1982).
 See generally G.S.Tiwari, “Conservation of Biodiversity and Techniques of People’s Activism”, 43 Journal of the Indian Law Institute 191 (2001). See also Sheela Barse v. Union of India, AIR 1988 SC 2211. (per Venkatachaliah, J.)
 See for example T.N. Godavarman Thirumulkpad v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 1228; M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (Vehicular Pollution case), (1998) 8 SCC 648.
 Article 21: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”.
 AIR 1981 SC 746.
 AIR 1991 SC 420.
 1987 (1) SCALE 1049.
 For a discussion of the widening scope of fundamental rights, see Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597.
 AIR 1985 SC 652.
 See also T. Damodar Rao v. Municipal Corporation, Hyderabad, AIR 1987 AP 171; L.K. Koolwal v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 Raj 2.
 See for example M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1987) 4 SCC 463. The Court held: “ life, public health and ecology has priority over unemployment and loss of revenue problem.”
 AIR 1996 SC 2715.
 AIR 1999 SC 812.
 See also S. Jagannath v. Union of India (Shrimp Culture case), AIR 1997 SC 811.
 Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, AIR 2000 SC 3751.
 See also P. Leelakrishnan, “Environmental Law”, Annual Survey of Indian Law, Volume XXXVI, 2000, pp. 252-257.
 See also the explanation for the principle of absolute liability in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (Oleum Gas case), AIR 1987 SC 965, and its subsequent application in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, (1996) 3 SCC 212.
 See M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, AIR 2000 SC 1997.
 Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, “Policy Statement for Abatement of Pollution”, para 3.3, February 26, 1992.
 2000 (10) SCC 664 at p.727.
 M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 734. (per Kuldip Singh, J.).
 AIR 1996 SC 149.
 See also Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India (CRZ Notification case), (1996) 5 SCC 281. The Court noted that the principle would be violated if there were a substantial adverse ecological effect caused by industry.
 Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Vardhichand, AIR 1980 SC 1622.
 Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, AIR 1986 SC 180.
 See for example Sachidanand Pandey v. State of West Bengal (Calcutta Taj Hotel case), AIR 1987 SC 1109. The Court permitted the construction of a hotel near land belonging to the Calcutta Zoological Garden, stating that tourism was important to the economic progress of the country, thereby underlining the constant controversy between development and the environment.
 See supra n.28 at 3828.
 See Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, AIR 1986 SC 180.
 For decisions on either side, see supra n.22 and Animal and Environment Legal Defence Fund v. Union of India, JT 1997 (3) SC 298. The former returned a decision in favour of conservation, and the latter stated that conservation, though not secondary, must factor community livelihood and quality of life into ecologically oriented efforts. See also Banawasi Seva Ashram v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1992 SC 920.
 See Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, AIR 1995 SC 2252; Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, (1996) 5 SCC 281.
 (1997) 1 SCC 388.