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Environmental Jurisprudence In India: A Journey Towards Attaining Eco-Centric Ideals

Environmental jurisprudence in India has been on a transformative journey towards embracing eco-centric ideals. The Indian judiciary has emerged as a significant player in shaping environmental regulations, often displaying proactive stance towards environmental activism. Scholars have highlighted the judiciary's pivotal role in driving environmental law jurisprudence in the country.

This shift towards eco-centric values is essential in reconciling competing forms of environmentalism and promoting ecocentric approaches to biodiversity law and policy. Moreover, establishing institutions like National Green Tribunal has further contributed to the evolution of environmental jurisprudence in India, enhancing access to justice in environmental matters.

The development of a distinct environmental jurisprudence in India is closely intertwined with the dynamic nature of the country's democratic polity. As the judiciary continues to play a crucial role in environmental governance, there is a growing emphasis on incorporating eco-centric principles into legal frameworks. This transition towards eco-centricity signifies a departure from anthropocentric perspectives, aiming to position humans within the broader context of earth. Organic farming practices in India, rooted in traditional agricultural wisdom, also reflect the country's inclination towards eco-centric management approaches.

In light of the increasing recognition of the interdependence between humans and nature, there is a call for a paradigm shift towards eco-centric international law. This shift not only redefines the relationship between humans and the environment but also necessitates the incorporation of eco-centric values into legal systems to address environmental challenges effectively. By embracing eco-centric ideals, India's environmental jurisprudence is poised to navigate towards a more sustainable and harmonious coexistence between human activities and the natural world.

Research Questions:
  1. How has environmental jurisprudence in India progressed over time towards incorporating eco-centric ideals?
  2. What are the effects of eco-centric principles on the formulation and implementation of environmental laws and policies in India?

Literature Review
  1. Ravindra Kumar Verma:
    Environmental Jurisprudence in India (Is People's Attitude Under Its Purview)?: India's environmental jurisprudence journey, marked by legislative reforms and judicial activism, addresses challenges through laws like the Water and Air Acts. Landmark cases like M.C. Mehta v. Union of India enforce environmental laws, with commitments to global agreements like the UNFCCC and initiatives like National Action Plan on Climate Change.[1]
  2. Debadyuti Banerjee:
    Environmental jurisprudence in India: A look at initiatives of the Supreme Court of India and their success at meeting needs of enviro-social justice: Legislative amendments like the 46th Amendment to the Indian Constitution and the Environment Protection Act 1986 have integrated environmental protection principles. The judiciary, especially Supreme Court, creatively interprets laws and employs innovative tools like spot visit and Expert Committees to enforce regulations, potentially advancing environmental jurisprudence.[2]
  3. Satish C. Shastri:
    Environmental ethics anthropocentric to eco-centric approach: The 1972 Stockholm Conference initially focused on human protection, but subsequent events, such as the 1992 Earth Summit, emphasized the importance of biodiversity conservation. Documents like Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biological Diversity underscore this shift, recognizing the intrinsic value of all components of the environment. Judicial pronouncements also reflect this philosophy, emphasizing the preservation of biodiversity for the survival of future generations.[3]
  4. Sudha Shortria:
    Environmental justice: Is the National Green Tribunal of India effective?
    This article explores NGT, established by the National Green Tribunal Act 2010. The NGT acts as a specialized environmental court, handling cases on environmental protection, forest conservation, and environmental rights enforcement. It operates as a multidisciplinary body, ensuring swift resolution of environmental cases while emphasizing innovative legal approaches and impartiality.[4]

Development Of Environmental Law In India:

The evolution of environmental law in India towards embracing eco-centric ideals has seen remarkable progress. In India, Courts have been crucial in influencing environmental laws and promoting environmental advocacy. The founding of bodies like National Green Tribunal has also improved the course of environmental jurisprudence in India by increasing access to justice in environmental matters. The evolution of Environmental Law in India can be divided into two distinct phases:
  1. Pre-1972 Development: Before 1972, India relied mainly on a combination of tort laws, criminal laws, regulations concerning water and forests, and specialized legislation to address environmental protection issues. Progress in Indian Environmental Law during this period was relatively limited.
  2. Post-1972 Development: This phase coincided with the aftermath of Stockholm Conference, which marked a significant milestone in International Environmental Law. The Stockholm Conference raised global awareness about environmental protection concerns, including in India.
Stockholm Declaration of 1972 on Human Environment emerged as a pivotal outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment and Development. Similar to 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this declaration held paramount importance in the realm of environmental law. Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then-Prime Minister of India, participated in the Stockholm Conference, which had a profound impact on her. This led to swift improvements in India's environmental policies following the conference.

42nd Amendment to Indian Constitution brought about significant changes, particularly in realm of environmental law. It introduced shared responsibility between state and its citizens for environmental protection. Article 48-A[5] was added to Directive Principles of State Policy, entrusting the state with duty to safeguard and enhance the environment, as well as protect forests and wildlife.[6]"

Article 51-A[7] imposed ten fundamental duties on citizens, including the obligation to protect and improve natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife. Additionally, Article 47[8] mandated the state to improve public health standards and limit the use of intoxicating substances. One of initial measures initiated by Supreme Court was inclusion of the entitlement to a pollution-free environment, encompassing both air and water, as an integral facet of the right to life enshrined in Article 21[9]. This expansion of rights was achieved through the Court's adoption of a balanced approach to constitutional interpretation in the landmark case of Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar.[10]

In India, Supreme Court has incorporated principle of sustainable development, recognizing its importance within context of India's developing economy. This led to integration of customary international law into Indian environmental jurisprudence. This approach resonates with ecocentrism, which advocates for prioritizing well-being of the entire ecosystem over narrow human interests, thereby emphasizing interconnectedness of ecological health and economic prosperity.

Through directives, analyses, and restrictions, the Court aimed to ensure that every individual could enjoy a clean environment as a fundamental right essential for sustaining life.

Relationship Between Environment And Jurisprudence

Jurisprudence forms the theoretical bedrock of environmental law, underpinning its principles and interpretation. Concepts like justice, equity, and rights shape environmental legislation, policy, and judicial decisions. Foundational principles such as the precautionary principle and sustainable development stem from jurisprudential theories, guiding environmental regulation. Debates on the role of law in environmental crises and human rights' relationship with environmental protection shape legal evolution. Judicial activism often relies on jurisprudential reasoning to promote environmental justice. In sum, jurisprudence provides the intellectual framework for environmental law, driving its development, interpretation, and enforcement towards environmental protection and sustainability.

Transition To Eco-Centric Values

What is meant by an Eco-centric approach?
"Eco-centric ideals" "in environmental law summarize principles that prioritize preservation, conservation, and sustainability of ecosystems and natural environment. Unlike anthropocentric perspectives, which often prioritize human interests over all else, eco-centric ideals acknowledge the intrinsic value of nature independent of its utility to humans. This perspective advocates for a holistic approach to environmental management, recognizing the interconnectedness of all living beings and ecosystems.

It emphasizes importance of biodiversity conservation, acknowledging fundamental role of species diversity in maintaining ecosystem stability and resilience. Moreover, eco-centric ideals promote inter-generational equity, stressing the responsibility of current generations to safeguard natural resources for benefit of future generations. Sustainable development lies at core of eco-centric approaches, emphasizing the need to balance environmental, social, and economic considerations to achieve long-term ecological sustainability.

The precautionary principle, a key tenet of eco-centric ideals, underscores the importance of taking precautionary action in the face of environmental uncertainty or potential harm. Overall, eco-centric ideals in environmental law advocate for a paradigm shift towards recognizing and preserving the intrinsic value of nature while fostering sustainable coexistence between human societies and the natural world."

"The shift towards eco-centric values within India's environmental legal system represents a significant departure from conventional anthropocentric viewpoints. This transition involves a repositioning of humans within broader framework of the Earth, acknowledging interconnectedness of all living beings and ecosystems. This evolution is crucial for harmonizing diverse environmental ideologies and advancing ecocentric strategies in biodiversity law and policy formulation. Additionally, India's adoption of organic farming practices, deeply rooted in indigenous agricultural knowledge, underscores the nation's inclination towards eco-centric approaches to resource management and sustainability.

Importance of Eco-centric Ideals:
Here are some key reasons why eco-centric ideals are important in environmental jurisprudence:
  • Holistic Approach: Eco-centric ideals encourage a holistic approach to environmental protection that goes beyond human-centric perspectives. This means considering the well-being of entire ecosystems, including non-human species and natural resources, in legal decision-making processes.
  • Sustainability and Biodiversity Conservation: Eco-centric principles in environmental law prioritize long-term sustainability over short-term gains by recognizing the finite nature of resources and the importance of preserving ecological balance. This approach emphasizes biodiversity conservation, including safeguarding habitats, protecting endangered species, and promoting ecosystem resilience against threats like habitat destruction and climate change.
  • Prevention of Ecological Harm: They prioritize the prevention of ecological harm rather than merely reacting to environmental damage after it has occurred. This proactive approach involves setting strict regulations, conducting thorough environmental impact assessments, and promoting sustainable practices to minimize negative impacts on ecosystems.
  • Recognition of Rights of Nature: Eco-centric ideals advocate for recognizing the intrinsic rights of nature, including rivers, forests, and other natural entities, to exist, thrive, and evolve. This perspective challenges traditional legal paradigms that view nature solely as property or a resource to be exploited for human benefit.
Overall, these ideals are essential in environmental jurisprudence as they promote a more ethical, inclusive, and sustainable approach to environmental protection.

Role Of National Green Tribunal

The National Green Tribunal is a specialised court in India that was founded in 2010 and whose duties include upholding laws and resolving environmental disputes. It advances ecocentric principles in policymaking and improves environmental justice accessibility by incorporating technical expertise into its decision-making process. Acknowledging scientific uncertainties, it guarantees strong environmental outcomes and contributes to India's ecological balance efforts. By interpreting and upholding environmental laws, it influences national policy and jurisprudence. Its diverse composition allows it to approach complicated scientific problems objectively and promotes fair decisions based on expert testimony. By providing an effective forum for resolving conflicts and encouraging adherence to environmental regulations, it guarantees access to environmental justice.[11]

Few Notable Interpretations By Judicial Intervention Of NGT:
  • Vikrant Tongad vs. Union of India[12]: In this case, NGT imposed a ban on the use of plastic bags and directed authorities to take strict action against violators. The tribunal emphasized the need to curb plastic pollution to safeguard the environment.
  • Okhla Bird Sanctuary Case[13]: The NGT intervened to protect the Okhla Bird Sanctuary in Delhi from encroachment and pollution. It directed authorities to take measures to preserve the sanctuary's ecological balance and ensure the welfare of migratory birds.
  • Bellandur Lake Pollution Case[14]: Untreated sewage and industrial discharges severely contaminated Bellandur Lake in Bengaluru. NGT intervened to remediate the pollution. The judgment underlined the necessity of efficient waste management and pollution control measures by ordering authorities to immediately clean up the lake and stop additional contamination.
  • Yamuna Pollution Case: NGT has been actively involved in addressing pollution in the Yamuna River. It has issued several directives to control industrial effluents, sewage discharge, and illegal encroachments along the riverbanks to improve water quality and protect the river's ecosystem.
  • Vardhaman Kaushik vs. Union of India[15]: NGT intervened to address the issue of air pollution caused by burning crop residues in states like Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. It directed authorities to implement measures to control stubble burning and promote alternative methods for managing crop residues.
  • Sterlite Copper Plant Case[16]: NGT ordered the closure of the Sterlite Copper plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, following protests and allegations of environmental violations. The tribunal's intervention led to the shutdown of the plant to prevent further environmental damage and protect public health.
In summary, NGT plays a pivotal role in advancing environmental jurisprudence in India by interpreting and enforcing environmental laws, resolving environmental disputes, promoting access to environmental justice, and contributing to development of legal principles governing environmental protection and conservation.[17]

Although India has made considerable strides in developing its environmental jurisprudence, the enforcement of environmental laws and regulations continues to face significant challenges. Issues such as environmental crime, the need for corporate environmental innovation, and public protests present obstacles to the effective implementation of environmental policies.

However, amidst these challenges, there are opportunities to bolster environmental jurisprudence further. This can be achieved by promoting eco-centric leadership, raising public awareness about environmental issues, and encouraging adoption of sustainable practices. In essence, the evolution of environmental jurisprudence in India towards embracing eco-centric ideals signifies a notable shift in legal frameworks and decision-making processes. By prioritizing eco-centric principles, India's environmental jurisprudence has the potential to address environmental challenges more effectively and foster a sustainable relationship between humans and the environment.

"To sum up, India's path towards achieving ecocentric principles in its environmental law represents an immense changes in way laws are framed and decisions are made. Through legislative reforms, judicial activism, and establishment of institutions like NGT, India has made progress in addressing environmental concerns and advancing sustainable development goals.

Going forward, it is crucial that India keeps up its attempts to adopt ecocentric principles in environmental law. India can tackle urgent environmental issues and create pathways for a future that is more resilient and ecologically balanced by advocating for inclusive and sustainable methods of environmental preservation. In the end, India's environmental jurisprudence's shift towards eco-centricity is a reflection of the country's dedication to protecting the environment for both current and future generations."

Articles & Journals:
  1. Verma, R. K. (2019, December). Environmental Jurisprudence in India (Is People's Attitude Under Its Purview?).
  3. Shrotria, Sudha. (2015). Environmental justice: is the national green tribunal of India effective. Environmental Law Review, 17(3), 169-188.
  4. Debadyuti Banerjee (2008). Environmental jurisprudence in India: A look at initiatives of the Supreme Court of India and their success at meeting needs of enviro-social justice
  5. Sayoni. (2019, March 12). NGT issues notices on plea to halt road through Corbett. Factly.
  1. Art 48-A; (1950) The Constitution of India
  2. Art 51-A; (1950) The Constitution of India
  3. Art 47; (1950) The Constitution of India
  4. Art 21; (1950) The Constitution of India
Case Laws:
  • Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991) 1 SCC 598
  • Vikrant Tongad vs. Union of India, OA No. 21/2015 (NGT)
  • Okhla Bird Sanctuary Case, (2013) 1 SCC 531
  • Bellandur Lake Pollution Case, OA No. 27/2014 (NGT)
  • Vardhaman Kaushik vs. Union of India, OA No. 17/2015 (NGT)
  • Sterlite Copper Plant Case, OA No. 53/2019 (NGT)
  1. Verma, R. K. (2019, December). Environmental Jurisprudence in India (Is People's Attitude Under Its Purview?).
  2. Debadyuti Banerjee (2008). Environmental jurisprudence in India: A look at initiatives of the Supreme Court of India and their success at meeting needs of enviro-social justice
  4. Shrotria, Sudha. (2015). Environmental justice: is the national green tribunal of india effective. Environmental Law Review, 17(3), 169-188.
  5. Art 48-A; (1950) The Constitution of India
  6. Lloyd Law college. (2022, November 4). Environmental law: Definition, history, principles, examples. Evolution of Environmental Law.
  7. Art 51-A; (1950) The Constitution of India
  8. Art 47; (1950) The Constitution of India
  9. Art 21; (1950) The Constitution of India
  10. Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991) 1 SCC 598
  11. National Green Tribunal: A new beginning for environmental cases?. Centre for Science and Environment. (n.d.).
  12. Vikrant Tongad vs. Union of India, OA No. 21/2015 (NGT)
  13. Okhla Bird Sanctuary Case, (2013) 1 SCC 531
  14. Bellandur Lake Pollution Case, OA No. 27/2014 (NGT)
  15. Vardhaman Kaushik vs. Union of India, OA No. 17/2015 (NGT)
  16. Sterlite Copper Plant Case, OA No. 53/2019 (NGT)
  17. Sayoni. (2019, March 12). NGT issues notices on plea to halt road through Corbett. Factly.

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