Earth has been described as ‘a jewel in space’ but that jewel is passing through various catastrophic problems such as lifeless rivers, land sterilized by humans, carbon dioxide and other gases in the air. This all is resulting in climate change, deserts expand, the deforestation, diminution of forest wealth, disorderly and rapid growth of cities, custom built slums, abject poverty and affluent life styles of world's one fifth population of the developed countries. It is said that the Black Sea is on the verge of a catastrophe as all life could disappear from it due to chemical poisoning. Our own Ganga, the cradle of India's civilisation has become one of the highly polluted rivers in the world threatening human lives around. Many beautiful rivers, which nourished and nurtured many human civilisations have become sewers, endangering the oceans. Alarmingly, deforestation is consuming reservoirs of centuries in a short time; soil erosion and peat depletion are exhausting reservoirs of millennia at a rapid pace.T Ramakrishna Rao vs Chairman, HUDA 1)
In the past, threat to environment was hardly an issue. However, the march of civilization led to the setting up of industries. To provide shelter to the burgeoning population, forests were cleared and water bodies were filled up. Deforestation led to the shrinking of the forest cover. Industries, which had provided employment to millions, discharged toxic gases and effluents, thus polluting air and water. The environment—air, water and greenery which had provided succor to the mankind, is under serious jeopardy. The existence of mankind is at stake. It is a worldwide phenomenon. These issues have been debated worldwide. The United Nations Organization has stepped in. Nations have taken note of the impending catastrophe. Deliberations continue about how to avert the disaster, which is imminent. Suggestions have been recommended accordingly. Today, hardly a day passes when we do not hear about the ill effects of global warming, greenhouse effect and desertification. In short, concern for the protection of the environment is high on the global agenda. State of West Bengal vs Sanjeevani Projects (P) Ltd2)
Environment and its protection is the subject assuming international dimensions. The world is shrinking. Any event in any part of the world having its impact on environment by way of pollution or protection has its ramifications in every other part of the world. The anxiety world over is displayed by including one or other aspect of environment in international conventions and conferences recognising the negative impact of the pollution of air, water and environment.T Ramakrishna Rao vs Chairman, HUDA 3)
The problem of environmental pollution is global in an increasingly small world and concerns all countries irrespective of their size, level of development or ideology. Notwithstanding political division of the world into national units, the oceanic world is an inter-connected whole; the winds that blow over the countries are also one. Pollution is capable of moving from continent to continent. If USSR carries out a nuclear test, the fall-out may be carried by the winds to any part of the world. Such fall-out or irresponsible disposal of radioactive waste from a remote energy plant in one country may turn out to have greater adverse effect on the neighbouring countries than the danger of full-fledged war. Informed public mind is already agitated over the polluting effect of the Gulf War. The common concern of the entire homosapien race is obsessed by the apprehension of acid rain, toxic effect on the seas and even on the atmosphere.MC Mehta vs Union of India4)
Norman Myers has rightly observed— “The fate of African environments is thus determined not only by local circumstances. It is influenced, in part at least, by the lifestyles of the developed world. These economic-ecological linkages between different members of the international community are little recognized to date, but they represent a significant factor for land-use patterns in Africa’s Savannahs.”
Ecologists are of the opinion that the most important ecological and social problem is the widespread disappearance all over the world of certain species of living organisms. Biologists forecast the extinction of animal and plant species on a scale that is incomparably greater than their extinction over the course of millions of years. Over half the species, which became extinct over the last 2000 years, did so after 1900. The International Association for the Protection of Nature and Natural Resources calculates that now, on average, one species or sub-species is lost every year. It is said that approximately 1000 birds and animal species are facing extinction at present. So it is, that the environmental question has become urgent and it has to be properly understood and squarely met by man. Nature and history, it has been said, are two component parts of the environment in which we live, move and prove ourselves., Sachidanand Pandey vs State of West Bengal5)
Environmental pollution is undoubtedly one of the biggest and most menacing hazards to human existence. In our country, the problem has been more acute during the last few years because of rapid industrialization, population growth, and urbanization, etc. After the Stockholm Conference in 1972, detailed plans were chalked out to tackle the problems of water pollution, air pollution and noise pollution, which were identified as the three most important branches of environmental pollution.Neelakandan Namboodiri vs State of Kerala6)
The Supreme Court of India has developed the concept of ‘right to healthy environment’ as part of the ‘right to life’ under Article 21 of our Constitution.
The Constitution of India has guaranteed certain fundamental rights, which include right to life. Life cannot be lived without the nature. The nature provides the air to breath, land to live, water to drink and flora fauna to sustain upon. A man has a right to breathe pure air; drink and use pure water and live in a clean land. Man is a civilized person. They live together. For their sustenance and better living, man has created cities. Municipal bodies manage the cities. Man has created law for better living and for protecting life. It is man who also creates hindrance to life and living by adopting various means polluting the air, water and the nature. Certain activities of some people offend the right of a man to live the life as the God had destined. They generate various kinds of environmental pollutions. In order to protect man from such pollution, there is a worldwide effort. Environmental laws are being enacted. Even provisions for environmental protection have been incorporated in various other municipal laws.State of West Bengal vs Sanjeevani Projects (P) Ltd7)
In MC Mehta vs Union of India8) Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that law alone cannot help in restoring a balance in biospheric disturbance. Nor can funds help effectively. The situation requires a clear perception and imaginative planning. It also requires sustained effort and result-oriented strategic action. Campaign for general awakening of the people using automobiles of different classifications and among the people inhabiting the capital is indispensable preliminary. All persons using automobiles should have a fair knowledge of the baneful effect on the community including those who use such vehicles on account of the emission from such vehicles. Until that is done in an effective way, the appropriate attitude would not develop and cooperation for reducing pollution would not emerge.
The Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June, 1972 stated—
“Man is both creature and moulder of his environment which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. In the long and tortuous evolution of the human race on this planet, a stage has been reached when, through rapid acceleration of science and technology, man has acquired the power to transform his environment in countless ways and on an unprecedented scale. Both aspects of man’s environment, the natural and the man-made, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights-even of life itself.”
Man has since realized the effect of environmental damage caused by pollutants on the atmosphere and its effect on the ozone layer, which threatens the very survival of life on our planet earth. Nations of the world, realizing the adverse effect, have deliberated on the issue at various International Forums, which includes Stockholm, Rio-de-Janeiro, Kyoto, Johannesburg and many others. These gathering of nations have taken various steps to protect the survival of the human race. Adverse effect of environmental pollution are now being felt, as evidenced, like global warming, recurring natural calamities and on health of people.
Adv. Sunil Sharma is a writer for about 25 years and has authored more than 40 books on Law.