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The General Principles Of Environmental Law

Introduction To Environmental Law:

The importance of nature and clean and green environment has been emphasized since time immemorial. Be it the holy texts across religions or age-old human practices, they have all emphasized sustainable lifestyles and moderation. With our greed for development and material prosperity getting the better of us, we have recklessly exploited the natural resources around us without really caring for the environment. Activities like ' deforestation, water and air pollution, and overexploitation of natural resources have brought us to the brink of disaster.

Environment Means That The Surrounding External Conditions Influencing:

  • Development Or Growth Of People,
  • Animals Or Plants,
  • Living Or Working Conditions Etc.

Environment Includes:
  1. Temperature
  2. Wind
  3. Electricity Etc.

Justice P.N. Bhagwati observed that: "the term refers to the condition within an around an organism, which affects the behavior, growth and development or life process, directly or indirectly."

According to Alan Gilpin, "From a scientific point of view environment is taken to mean everything that is physically external to the organism; organism includes human beings."
  • "Environment includes land, water, and air and the inter-relationship which exists among and between water, air and land and human beings and other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms and property." [section 2(a) of EP Act, 1986].

History of Indian Environmental Law:

  • India has an ancient tradition of protecting the environment. Most ancient texts teach us that it is the Dharma of each individual in any society to protect nature. This is why people have always worshipped the objects of nature. In the ancient time, the people are used to have food like fruits which are ripped. They were not used to plug it and eat, those fruits which are dropped by itself, they consume it.
  • Trees, water, land and animals have an important mentioned in our ancient texts. The forest area used to worshipped by the people like "Van-Devata", the water/river used to worshipped like "Jal Devata", and also "Vayu Devata". In the ancient time, people used to have food for one time and used to take a bath for three times. Manusmriti mentions about the optimum use of the resources of nature and also prescribes different punishment for causing injury to plants.
  • In Hinduism, we have found that Vedas, Upanishads and other ancient scriptures of Hindu religion have given great importance to trees, plants and wildlife and also to their value to human beings. In Islam, there is a close harmony between man and nature. The Holy Koran mentions the significance of purity of water and there is also a brief that Allah or God is the owner of the land, mankind is the trustee and living creatures are considered to be the beneficiaries.
  • In ancient time, philosophers like Chanakya emphasized on the importance of environment protection. In his jurisprudence, the state was required to maintain forests, fines were imposed for cutting trees and damaging forests, forests reserves were for wild animals and they would be killed or bound in places outside the reserve forests when harmful.
  • The Constitution of India paved the way for developing for environmental jurisprudence in India. Constitutional Amendments like 42nd amendment incorporated provisions which would emphasize upon the duty of the state as well as its citizens to protect the environment.

General Principles of Environmental Law:

  1. Sustainable Development:
    • In India, there has been rapid environmental degradation due to the over exploitation of natural resources triggered by urbanization, industrialization and population explosion. There is therefore a great need for protecting the environment and ensuring development in a sustainable manner. To resolve the problem of environmental degradation, the experts worldwide have come up with a doctrine called sustainable development, which essentially advocates harmony between development and environment protection.
    • The concept of sustainable development is not a new concept. In order to strike a balance between environment and development, the concept of sustainable development refers to development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising on the needs of our future generations to be able to meet their needs.
  2. Precautionary Principle:
    • Origin of concept: 1992 Earth Summit: Declaration on Environment and Development.
    • Principle 15, advocating the widespread international application of the precautionary principle. "In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by states according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."
    • The Supreme Court of India, in Vellore Citizens Forum Case, developed the following three concepts for the precautionary principle:
      • Environmental measures must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation
      • Lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures.
      • Onus of proof is on the actor to show that his action is benign.
  3. Public Trust Doctrine:
    • M.C.Mehta v. Kamal Nath and Others
    • Span Motels Pvt. Ltd. was a private company held by the owner of Span Resorts, had floated an ambitious project called Span Club.
    • Mr. Kamal Nath (the then Minister of Environment and Forests) had a direct contact with the owner of Span Motels. He leased out 27.12 bighas of land to the Company for their project.
    • Due to this permission given, led to the encroachment of Beas river and due to the pressure from construction work of the project, the river changed its course which led to washing away of the adjoining lawns.
    • The Owners used bulldozers and earthmovers which led to a change of course of the Beas river. This was done to protect the motel from floods due to the river in future.
    • The Public Trust Doctrine primarily rests on the principle that certain resources like air, water, sea and the forests have such a great importance to people as a whole that it would be wholly unjustified to make them a subject of private ownership.
  4. Doctrine Of Sustainable Development:
    • Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of UP:
      • A Public Interest Litigation was filed under Article 32 for the violation of Article 21. It was the first case of its kind in the country involving the environmental and ecological balance.
      • The Doon Valley was considered to be rich in minerals after which extensive mining activities were conducted by the government. The mines also dug deep into the hillsides, an illegal practice that resulted in cave-ins and slumping.
      • As a result, the hillsides destroyed the vegetation and landslides killed many villagers and ruined their homes, cattle, and agricultural lands their only means of livelihood.
      • The State of Uttar Pradesh failed to regulate mining as required by existing mining laws. Illegal extension of leases and destructive practices continued and corrupt and ineffective state practices were conducted in breach of existing mining safety rules.
      • These malpractices lead the petitioner to file a writ petition before the Supreme Court of India in 1983. In response, Supreme Court took action and ordered vegetation.
      • In 1988, the Supreme Court concluded that continued mining destroyed the vegetation and violated Forest Conservation Act.

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