Role of Public Interest Litigation in Environmental Protection

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Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is a legal mechanism that empowers citizens to raise their voices against environmental degradation and seek relief from the judiciary. PIL in environmental law has played a significant role in shaping laws and policies in India. In this article, we will discuss the role of PIL in environmental protection in India, relevant laws, and landmark judgments.

The Legal Framework for Environmental Protection in India

The Constitution of India recognizes the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental right under Article 21, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. The Constitution also places a duty on the State to protect and improve the environment under Article 48A and 51A(g).

Several laws and regulations have been enacted to regulate and control environmental degradation in India. The most significant of these laws include:

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974: This Act provides for the prevention and control of water pollution by regulating the discharge of pollutants into water bodies.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981: This Act provides for the prevention, control, and abatement of air pollution by regulating the emissions of pollutants from industries, vehicles, and other sources.

The Environmental Protection Act, 1986: This Act provides for the protection and improvement of the environment and the prevention of hazards to human beings, other living creatures, plants, and property. It also establishes the Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Boards to regulate and control pollution.

The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980: This Act provides for the conservation of forests and prohibits the diversion of forest lands for non-forest purposes without the prior approval of the Central Government.

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: This Act provides for the protection of wild animals and plants and regulates hunting, poaching, and trade in wildlife and their products.

Role of Public Interest Litigation in Environmental Protection

Public Interest Litigation is a legal mechanism that allows any person, organization, or group to approach the court on behalf of the public or for the protection of public interest. PIL in environmental law has been instrumental in promoting environmental protection and conservation in India.

PIL can be filed against both public and private entities who are violating environmental laws or causing harm to the environment. PIL is often used to address issues related to environmental protection, pollution control, conservation of natural resources, and sustainable development.

PIL helps to promote transparency and accountability in governance by holding public authorities responsible for their actions or inactions regarding environmental protection. PIL in environmental law has also helped to create awareness among citizens about environmental issues and their rights. It has empowered people to take action against environmental violations and seek redressal from the judiciary.

Illustrations of PIL in Environmental Protection

The Supreme Court of India has passed several landmark judgments of environmental law in response to PILs filed by environmental activists and groups. These judgments have resulted in the ban of hazardous industries, the closure of polluting factories, and the implementation of various pollution control measures.

The Supreme Court, in the case of Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. Union of India, issued a warning to industries that discharge dangerous substances like Oleum and H acid. The court stated that such pollution is a violation of the right to a safe and healthy environment and, ultimately, the right to life.

Similarly, in the case of M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court declared that vehicular emissions causing air pollution in Delhi constitute a violation of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. The court directed all commercial vehicles operating in Delhi to switch to CNG fuel mode to safeguard the health of the public.

Moreover, in Church of God (Full Gospel) in India vs. KKR Majestic Colony Welfare Association, the Supreme Court ruled that noise pollution amounts to a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.

In the landmark case of Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court allowed a public-spirited social organization to represent the residents of Vellore to protect their health. In this case, the tanneries located around the Palar River in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, were found to be discharging toxic chemicals into the river, endangering the health of the residents. As a result, the Court ordered the tanneries to close their businesses.

Conclusion

Public Interest Litigation in environmental law has played a significant role in promoting environmental protection and conservation in India. PIL has empowered citizens to take action against environmental violations and seek relief from the judiciary. PIL has also helped to create awareness among citizens about environmental issues and their rights.

The landmark judgments passed by the Supreme Court in response to PILs have led to the establishment of various institutions, the adoption of new environmental laws and regulations, and the implementation of pollution control measures. 


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