Introduction to Environment and Environmental Law

Share & spread the love


Environment is an essential element in the lives of humans. Destruction of environment can affect the livelihood of the people. Environmental laws are essential to protect the environment from exploitation of man-made activities. It ensures and provides guidelines to the people on conducting activities that might harm the environment. The laws are amended according to the problems faced by the country. Environment laws are not constant, they are evolving concept. The legislation and judiciary has contributed and shown great concern regarding environmental laws by passing important legislations and landmark judgements respectively. Before looking into the legislations enacted under environmental laws, let us try to understand the meaning of environment.

Meaning of Environment

The term environment is derived from a French word ‘Environia” which means to surround. In other words environment can be defined as the sum total of all the living and non-living things and their effects that influence human life.

In layman’s words, environment refers to the physical elements. It includes the land, water and air. It is the living ecosystem that maintains the existence of human life. Destruction of the environment can lead to various calamities. In order to prevent such disaster or calamities, laws are implemented to protect the environment for the livelihood of present and future generations

Environmental Protection Act, 1986:- Section 2(a) states that environment includes water, air and land and the inter-relationship which exists among and between water, air and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants and property.

Environmental Issues Faced in India

The main environmental issues faced in India are pollutions namely air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, disposing chemical waste improperly, leakage of harmful gases, etc. are just few among the environmental problems.

Pollutions refer to imbalance caused in the environment through the actions of humans. This imbalance can lead to health-related issues which can affect the future generations. It is caused by man-made activities. It is necessary to protect the environment because the present generations are mere care-takers of the future generations. It is their responsibility to give the earth to the future in a proper and healthy manner. Let us try to understand the different types of pollution and their effects on the environment.

Air Pollution:

“Air pollution is the release of pollutants such as gases, particles, biological molecules, etc. in to the air that is harmful to human health and the environment.” In other words, it refers to the contamination of air by harmful gases, dust and smoke which affect biotic and abiotic things. It is necessary to maintain the correct amount of gases present in the atmosphere such as 78% of nitrogen, 21% of oxygen and the remaining is other gases. When there is an increase of other gases in the atmosphere it can result in global warming, ozone layer depletion, cancer diseases, breathing issues, skin problems, acid rains, asthma, etc.

For example: Delhi is the existing example of air pollution. It causes a new weather in Delhi know as smog which is a mixture of smoke (emitted from vehicles, factories and other sources) and fog. It causes serious health issues for the people living there.

Noise/Sound Pollution

Noise pollution refers to that unwanted sound that interferes with a person’s peaceful existence. India is a developing country. Movement of people and goods for such economic and urban development is necessary. As a result, there is immense noise produced by the trains, buses, vehicles, trucks, airplanes, huge rallies for various reasons, etc. In residential areas we can see loud music played by residents. High noises levels can lead to cardiovascular and permanent hear impairment. It can even cause change in the behavioural aspect of a person. It can cause stress, lack of sleep, and other harmful effects on the health of an individual. Moreover, this earth not only belongs to humans. Loud noises can frighten animals as well; it can cause sudden heart attacks to such animals.

Water Pollution

Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies with man-made affluents, chemicals, waste, etc. Such disposal is harmful for humans and the living organisms in such water-bodies. There are instances of where the court has stopped an industry from functioning due to improper disposable of waste in the locality. The effect of water pollution often leads to death, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, tuberculosis, etc. Three-fourth of the Earth is covered with water. But less than 1% of the earth’s freshwater is accessible to us.

Land Pollution

This pollution is on-process and the effects such pollution will be evident at an unexpected situation. The land is abused and deteriorating constantly. This is caused by the solid wastes, untreated chemical affluents, etc. In other words, it is the degradation or destruction of the soil and groundwater.

Evolution of Environmental Laws

Pre-Independence Era Environmental Law

The necessity of environmental hygiene is seen from the historical evidences of Indus valley civilisation where there is ventilated houses, proper drainage systems, etc. This continues till the current era. But proper legislations were established during the British era i.e. 1800-1947 AD. The following are the legislations:-

  1. Shore Nuisance (Bombay and Kolaba) Act, 1853
  2. Merchant Shipping act, 1858
  3. Offences that pollute the environment were included in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and it was punishable under Chapter XIV of the code.
  4. The Fisheries Act, 1897
  5. The Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act, 1905
  6. The Bombay Smoke Nuisance Act, 1912
  7. Wild Birds and animals Protection Act, 1912
  8. Indian Forest Act, 1927

Post-independence Era Environmental Law

When India got independence from British Rule, India formed its own constitution by 1950 but The leaders of the country gave more priority to the economic development and elimination of poverty in the country. As a result, the constitution did not deal much about the environmental aspects. It was only in 1972, during a United Nations Conference on Human Environment held at Stockholm led to adoption of various measures to preserve the environment and prevent pollution. Accordingly, Indian Parliament inserted two Articles, i.e., 48A and 51A in the Constitution of India in 1976.

  • Article 48 A states that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.
  • Article 51A: This article mentions the Fundamental Duties that should be followed by the citizens. It also mentions to protect and improve the natural environment including forest, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.
  • Apart from these two articles, Article 21 of the constitution includes the right to clean and healthy environment.

The National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning was set up in 1972 which was later evolved into Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in 1985.

The various legislations that came post-independence are as follows-

  • The Prevention of Air and Water Pollution, 1974, 1981. It was in this act that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was constituted.
  • The Forest Conservation Act, 1980. It was enacted by the Central govt to provide conservation of forests and matters connected with deforestation
  • The Air Prevention and Control of Pollution, 1981.
  •  The Environmental Protection Act, 1986. It came into force soon after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
  •  The Environmental Conservation Act. 1989.
  • The National Environmental Tribunal, 1995.
  • National Environmental Appellate Authority Act, 1997.
  • National Environment Management Act (NEMA), 1998
  • Handling and Management of Hazardous Waste Rule in 1989.
  • The Public Liability Insurance Act (Rules and Amendment), 1992

Case Laws That Shaped Environmental Laws

  1. Chipko Movement, 1973:

A major impact of the Chipko movement or the Chipko andolan was that it prompted the Union government to amend the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and introduced the Forest Conservation Act 1980, which says forest land cannot be used for non-forest purpose.

  • M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors.

(AIR 1987 SC 1086) Writ Petition (Civil) No. 12739 of 1985

Shriram Food Fertilizer Case/ Oleum Gas Leak Case

This case deals with the leakage of oleum gas leaks on 4th and 6th of December, 1985. This came immediately after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case where many people died. As a result, there was a need to develop a new rule under Strict Liability without exceptions. This came to be known as Absolute Liability. This case led to the formation of Environment Protection Act, 1986.

  • M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors.

(AIR 1997 SC 734) Writ Petition (Civil) No. 13381 of 1984

Taj Trapezium Case

The Supreme Court instructed the coal and coke industries that surrounded Taj Mahal should take alternative measures or else they should shift their industries to some other place. This measure was taken as a result of change in colour of India’s famous tourist destination, Taj Mahal. At the same time the quality of air, water and land started being harmful for the residents of the area. It was essential to protect the rights of people enshrined in Article 21.

  • M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors.

(AIR 1988 SC 1037) Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3727 of 1985

Ganga Pollution Case/ Kanpur Leather Tanneries Case

In 1985, M.C. Mehta filed a writ petition in the form of mandamus to prevent leather tanneries from disposing of the domestic and industrial waste and effluents in the Ganga River. The Supreme court stated that Article 51-A of the Constitution of India imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife. The Court also stated the importance of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (the Water Act). This act was passed to prevent and control water pollution and maintaining water quality. This act established central and stated boards and conferred them with power and functions relating to the control and prevention of water pollution. 

  • Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India

Writ Petition No. 967 of 1989

Ground Water Pollution Case

A PIL was filed under Article 32 for the violation of Article 21. Various protests occurred over the presence of industries causing large scale environmental pollution and endangering the lives of the villagers who resided in the vicinity of the industries. The SC initiated instant action and ordered Central Govt to constitute strict measures against the said industries. It upheld the doctrine of Absolute Liability stating that the polluted environment must be restored to pollution free for the healthy living by utilising anti-pollution scientific appliances. The industries were liable for monetary damages for restoration of the environment.

  • Vellore Citizen’s Welfare Forum v. Union of India

(AIR 1996 SC 2715) Writ Petition (Civil) No. 914 of 1991

Tamil Nadu Tanneries Case

The petition was filed against the excessive pollution caused by the tanneries and other industries in the State of Tamil Nadu in the River Palar. This river is the main source of drinking and bathing water for the surrounding people. The Supreme Court directed that all attempts should be taken to improve the situation and guided all the Tanneries to submit a  Rs.10,000 as fine in the Collector’s office. The Court additionally coordinated the State of Tamil Nadu to grant M. C. Mehta with an entirety of Rs. 50,000 as gratefulness towards his endeavours for the security of the Environment.

For Important Case Laws of Environmental Law, Click Here.

For more articles on Environmental Law, Click Here.

For law notes, Click Here.

Author Details: Silpa Ann Koshy (Kristu Jayanti College of Law)

Attention all law students!

Are you tired of missing out on internship, job opportunities and law notes?

Well, fear no more! Join our WhatsApp Groups (Click Here) and Telegram Channel (Click Here) and get instant notifications.

With 12,000 students already on board, you don't want to be left behind. Join now to be a part of the coolest legal community around!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.