The article 'Judicial Contributions to Environmental Protection and Conservation' examines the significance and necessity of the environment, as well as environmental laws and their protection.

The article 'Judicial Contributions to Environmental Protection and Conservation' examines the significance and necessity of the environment, as well as environmental laws and their protection. The origin of the environmental pollution problem is not new. Different aspects of the issue of environmental protection and its management have taken a severe turn in the modern era. Today, the function of the judiciary in a country is contingent on its political system. In light of legislative and executive failures, the judiciary has played an essential role in defining environmental laws and policies.

In addition, it examines the judicial remedies available for environmental protection as well as the extraordinary principles and doctrines articulated by the Indian judiciary. In addition, it examines the constitutional aspects and new judicial tendencies in environmental protection. The proposed research will result in a more descriptive and comprehensive comprehension of environmental law and policy, as well as the Supreme Court's function in the context of the new emergent peril that must be effectively combated.


As civilization developed, man became more materialistic. For him, life was all about collecting more and more material possessions. The exploitation of natural resources followed this surge in scientific discovery and technological advancement. Rapid and unchecked industrialisation raised the possibility of environmental degradation. World War II and the subsequent industrial catastrophe caused widespread environmental destruction and pollution. It dawned on the populace that if this kept up, man's very survival was in jeopardy.

The existence, growth, and enhancement of mankind and all of its activities are all determined by the state of the environment, which includes things like water, air, soil, etc. The idea that the environment has to be preserved is not new. Many early cultures relied heavily on it. Nature, which encompasses the land, water, trees, and animals that are so vital to our survival, is mentioned often in ancient Indian writings as being everyone's responsibility.

New technologies, such as thermal power plants, atomic power plants, and so on, without enough natural assurance, also represent a threat to the environment, with consequences including climate change, acid rain, and other environmental woes. In addition, the Indian legislature has a history of adopting several measures rather than investigating and fixing the root causes of problems, which is the equivalent to put "old wine in a new bottle." For this reason, it's important to examine environmental safeguards in depth.

The higher judiciary's part in the development and oversight of policies to reduce pollution, preserve forests, and save endangered species has received a lot of attention in recent years. The absence of capacity-building within executive agencies and the pervasive lack of consistency in policy-making has contributed to many of these court interventions. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is one tool often used to address environmental issues, and it has both proponents and detractors.

What is Environment?

The Webster's Dictionary describes it as the “Aggregate of all the external conditions and influences affecting the life and development of an organism.”

Section 2(a) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 says the 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, micro-organisms and property.

What is meant by Environment Protection?

The field of environmental law is relatively young in the history of international law. The Indian government took environmental considerations into account in its planning as early as the IVth Five Year Plan (1969–1974), three years before the Stockholm conference. It was acknowledged that "nature and man are one" in the IV plan document for harmonious development.

Only after doing a thorough analysis of environmental concerns can such planning be carried out. In some cases, resource loss may have been avoided with a better project design that included environmental considerations earlier in the process. As a result, including environmental considerations in the development process is essential. To provide the government with expert advice, a national committee for environmental planning and coordination was established. The Committee's purview included environmental concerns.

The Indian judicial system has always recognised the importance of protecting citizens' access to safe and sanitary environments. Over a century has passed since the right was first acknowledged by the law and the courts in particular. As the sole real distinction between the pre-industrial and post-industrial eras, the right to a clean and healthy environment has become a basic right, the violation of which the Indian Constitution would not tolerate. The High Court and the Supreme Court of India recognised this privilege as a basic right in the late 1980s.

Before the 1980s, this was not a basic human right, but rather a legal entitlement protected by the courts under the Law of Torts, the Indian Penal Code, the Civil Procedure Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, and other statutes. Environmental rights are sometimes referred to as "third-generation rights" in the modern, developing field of law.

Need for the Protection of the Environment

India’s population and range of habitats make for a complex set of environmental issues. There is a lot of stress on the country's natural resources because of things like pollution, deforestation, water shortages, and biodiversity loss. Judiciary has a key function in this setting to guarantee environmental safety.

Indian judicial system has been crucial in defining environmental governance via its interpretation and enforcement of environmental legislation, resolution of disputes, protection of environmental rights, and other related activities. After India gained its independence, the country's focus shifted away from environmental conservation in favour of fostering economic growth and calming political unrest.

The establishment of markets and industries, as well as the creation of new employment opportunities, became priorities after independence. After the Bhopal gas disaster, however, environmental concerns shifted to the forefront. This event has led to a surge in judicial action and a broadening of environmental legislation in the nation.

People began to take environmental preservation seriously after 1986 when the first legislation of its kind was enacted. The Act's primary goal was to give legal effect to the recommendations made during the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. The Act acts as a barrier between nature and the expanding industrial and urban sectors. Two years after the Stockholm Conference in 1974, a key enactment was released, but not until 1986.

As a result of the conference's deliberations, the Indian Parliament has made significant amendments to environmental management policies. The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution includes environmental protection and sustainability in DPSP at this time. India has struggled with environmental pollution for quite some time. Therefore, the framers had previously inserted Articles 47, 48, and 48A in the Constitution.

The state is given several tasks under these articles, including the duty to safeguard the country's natural resources and preserve the natural environment. Since India signed the Stockholm Declaration in 1972, Article 51(1)(g) was introduced to the Constitution by Parliament. According to this article, people have a moral need to protect and enhance ecosystems including woods, lakes, rivers, and animals, and to treat them with kindness.

The Environmental (Protection) Act of 1986, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981, the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Act of 1972, the Biological Diversity Act of 2002, etc. were all passed by Parliament to safeguard the environment. Courts have relied heavily on these clauses to establish a constitutionally protected right to the environment as part of Article 21's guarantee of "life and personal liberty." Parliament passed statewide, all-encompassing environmental protection legislation and Acts of parliament.

Sustainable Environmental Governance and Indian Constitution

Statutory Provisions

  • There are both tort and statute law remedies available for environmental preservation in India. Tort remedies include trespassing, causing a nuisance, being held strictly liable, and being negligent. Citizens' suits, such as those filed under Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973, and actions filed under Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860 for acts of open annoyance are examples of statutory remedies.
  • Regulation of the discharge of pollutants into water bodies is governed by the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, which aims to reduce contamination in these systems.
  • The purpose of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, of 1981 is to limit the amount of pollution released into the atmosphere by factories, cars, and other sources.
  • The Environmental Protection Act of 1986 establishes a framework for reducing risks to people, animals, plants, and property from polluted environments. To further regulate and manage pollution, it also creates the Central Pollution Manage Board and State Pollution Control Boards.
  • The Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 ensures that forests are protected and that forest land cannot be used for non-forest uses without the permission of the Central Government.
  • The Wildlife Conservation Act of 1972 governs hunting, poaching, and commerce in wildlife and their products, and ensures the safety of wild animals and plants.

Tortious Liability

Damages: Damages given in the case of Shriram Gas Leak, which included an oleum gas leak that caused significant environmental harm to the people of Delhi, were found to be commensurate with the polluter's ability to pay by the Supreme Court. However, in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, he Apex Court disregarded this standard.

Injunction: The purpose of an injunction is to put a stop to further wrongdoing. Specific Relief Act, 1963, sections 37–42, regulate the issuance of a permanent injunction.

Nuisance: When anything like odour, air, noise, etc., interferes with a person's ability to enjoy themselves, we call it a nuisance. A nuisance, in Stephen's view, is any act that causes damage or distress to another person's property without constituting trespass.

There are two types of nuisance: A private nuisance is an obstruction of one's peace on their property and A public nuisance is an act that violates the rights of the public at large.

Trespass: It’s the willful or careless violation of another's personal or property rights without justification.

Trespassing requires two main elements, and they are:

1) There must have been an infringement of a person's privacy or property.

2) The infringement must be direct rather than indirect to be actionable.

Negligence: It implies a lack of caution beyond what a normal person would show under the same conditions.

Strict Liability: Blackburn J. stated in Rylands v. Fletcher, (1868) LR 3 HL 330, that whoever knowingly and intentionally brings onto his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to be mischief, if it escapes, must keep it as its peril, and if he does not do so is prima facie even though, he will be answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape. Cases involving environmental damage due to hazardous material leaking benefit greatly from the use of the strict responsibility theory.

Indian Constitution Provisions :

Article 47: It is the responsibility of the state to enhance public health and living conditions. Among the State's primary responsibilities is the promotion of public health and the enhancement of citizens' diets and living conditions. Specifically, the State shall work towards the elimination of alcohol and drug abuse, except for therapeutic use.

Specifically, Article 48A entails "Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife." The government must take all necessary measures to preserve and enhance environmental quality and to conserve the nation's forests and wildlife. In the Damodhar Rao v. Municipal Corporation Hyderabad, AIR 1987 AP 171 case, the court relied on Constitutional mandates under the provision

Article 51A (g) to safeguard and develop the natural environment, including woods, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for all living things;

Article 253: Laws enacted to implement international treaties. To implement any treaty, agreement, or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association, or other body, Parliament has the power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India despite the foregoing provisions of this Chapter.

The subject matter of legislation adopted by Parliament and State Legislatures:(1) Despite paragraphs (2) and (3), the Union List in the Seventh Schedule (hereafter referred to as the Union List) contains the unique legislative authority of the Parliament. List III of the Seventh Schedule (referred to in this Constitution as the Concurrent List) contains issues that may be legislated by both Parliament and the legislatures of the several states, notwithstanding paragraph (3). (4) Even though a subject is specifically reserved to the State List, Parliament nonetheless retains the authority to enact legislation on the subject for the whole Indian territory.

Rights granted in this Part and the Procedures for Enforcing Them to enforce rights granted by this Part, (1) the right to bring relevant procedures before the Supreme Court is guaranteed. For the enforcement of any of the rights granted in this Part, the Supreme Court may issue directions, orders, or writs like habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari, as the case may be. (3) Without prejudice to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clauses (1) and (2), Parliament may by law empower any other court to exercise within the limits of its jurisdiction all or any of the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clause (1) and (2). (4) Except as otherwise provided for in this Constitution, the right granted by this article must not be suspended.

Article 226: High Courts' Jurisdiction to Issue Specific Processes (1) Notwithstanding anything in Article 32, every High Court shall have the power to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases any Government, within the territories about which it exercises jurisdiction directions, orders, or writs, including writs like habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibitions, quo-warranto, and certiorari, or any of them, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and this Article. Even though the seat of such Government or authority or the residence of such person is not within the territories within which the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises for the exercise of such power, any High Court exercising jurisdiction about the territories within which the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises may exercise the power to issue directions, orders, or writs conferred by clause (1).

We are now living in a nuclear era. The environmental devastation produced by the dropping of nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by United States aircraft in the latter days of World War II in 1945 cannot be overlooked. Every new technological breakthrough and improvement also increases the potential for harm to human beings. As a result, there is a pressing and pressing need for the law to evolve in tandem with the needs of society and people. The issue of environmental preservation is no longer restricted to any one nation or area.

The Supreme Court’s Stance

Supreme Court of India enjoys widespread popular acclaim and is often held in higher esteem than the country's legislative and executive bodies. The Supreme Court has effectively dealt with the continuously expanding and evolving realm of technology and related fields. The creation of comprehensive Indian environmental legislation owes much to the action of the judiciary, which has led to several advances. Thus, the Supreme Court of India has stood tallest in the field of environmental justice administration, both among its peers in established and developing nations and among its younger counterparts throughout the world.

Indian Constitution protects the independence of the judiciary, making it less susceptible to pressure from the legislative and the administration. The remainder of the work is structured in five parts. In what follows, we'll examine what's already been written on Sustainable Development. Part 3 discusses the importance of the Indian courts in adapting legislation to the sustainable development concept, and Part 4 discusses a recent court ruling on the topic of environmental protection.

The last portion presents the conclusion and suggestions. The Indian Supreme Court agrees with sustainable development's emphasis on striking a fair balance between the needs of people, the planet, and the bottom line. Although not a new idea, the advent of global industrial and information societies in the twenty-first century has elevated it to new heights of importance. According to the Brundtland Report, the goal of sustainable development is to ensure that future generations are not deprived of the resources they will need to live well in the present.

The Supreme Court recognises the essential role that the 1972 Stockholm Conference and the United Nations Conference on Human Environment had in popularising the concept of sustainable development and incorporating it into Customary International Law. It has laid forth various principles of sustainable development, which include maintaining the environment and natural resources essential for continuing growth while achieving sustained economic and social advancement.

Role of Public Interest Litigation in Environmental Protection

Any private citizen, nonprofit organisation, or government agency may use a judicial forum known as "public interest litigation" to advocate for broader societal interests. The use of PIL in environmental law in India has greatly aided in the advancement of environmental preservation and safety. Both commercial and governmental organisations may be sued in public interest litigation (PIL) for environmental violations and damages. Environmental protection, pollution prevention, natural resource conservation, and long-term economic growth are only a few of the many common applications of PIL.

Holding public officials accountable for their acts or inactions on environmental protection, PIL serves to enhance openness and accountability in governance. Public interest litigation (PIL) in environmental law has also contributed to increasing public understanding of environmental challenges and their legal protections. It has enabled citizens to pursue legal action against environmental wrongdoings. The Ratlam Municipal Council v. Vardhichand, (1980) AIR 1622, ruling by the Supreme Court highlighted the importance of the rule of law's social justice component. It required government agencies, despite financial restrictions, to fulfil their duty to reduce public disturbance and clean up the environment. This ruling also established that the courts had a duty to hear PIL cases in the public interest.

Some Outstanding Principles and Doctrines Propounded by the Indian Judiciary

These doctrines and principles paved the way for the evolution of environmental protection.

Precautionary Principle: In the case of Vellore Citizens Forum v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2715, India's Supreme Court elaborated on three fundamental features of the precautionary principle. To begin, efforts to improve the environment should focus on identifying and resolving the factors that contribute to environmental deterioration. Second, delaying action because of doubts about the science behind it is unacceptable. Last but not least, whoever initiates an activity must prove that it is in no way harmful. When environmental damage is possible, these guidelines should be used to make decisions.

The Doctrine of Absolute Liability: The idea of unlimited responsibility was first established by the Supreme Court of India in the seminal case of Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India, 1990 AIR 273. The court ruled that an organization's liability for damages arising from accidents in the course of conducting fundamentally risky or hazardous activities is unlimited and total. There are no exceptions to this responsibility; the business must pay damages to everyone harmed by the incident. The ruling established a new standard, allowing for absolute culpability to be used in future environmental lawsuits.

Doctrine of Sustainable Development: The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) published a paper known as the Brundtland paper, which emphasised the importance of sustainable development. Sustainable development is progress that provides for the requirements of the present without reducing the standard of living for future generations.

The courts play a crucial role in ensuring that development and environmental preservation are both given enough consideration. Natural resources are enduring assets of humanity and should not be exhausted within one generation, the court said in Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of UP, 1985 AIR 652. In the case brought by the Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum, the Supreme Court acknowledged sustainable development as a method to reduce poverty and enhance the quality of life without exceeding ecological limits.

Public Trust Doctrine: Indian Supreme Court provided an in-depth explanation of three key aspects of the precautionary principle in the case of Vellore Citizens Forum. Resource Ownership and Control, Public Access and Use and Sustainability and Conservation are the three key principles.

Polluter Pays Principle: There has been a lot of support for the polluter-pays idea in recent years. When someone or anything causes pollution, they should expect to pay for fixing the problem and restoring the ecosystem. This notion is not based on placing blame, but on the premise that individuals responsible for environmental damage should also be responsible for fixing it. It fits in with the plan to fix the environment. In Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India upheld the polluter-pays concept as fundamental to eco-friendly growth.

Landmark Case Laws :

1. Victims may seek monetary compensation as part of judicial relief: The Supreme Court of India established two foundational legal doctrines in the landmark Delhi gas leak case (M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1987 AIR 1086). In the first place, it reaffirmed the court's authority to award monetary damages for violations of Article 21 and other basic rights. Second, it had a major effect on liability and compensation legislation in India by introducing the notion of "no-fault" responsibility (absolute liability) for businesses involved in hazardous operations.

2. Water Access as a Basic Human Right: The water right is one of India's basic rights, and it has developed via court precedent. The Supreme Court ruled in Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India and Ors., AIR 2000 SC 3751, that water is an inherent component of the right to life, human rights, a healthy environment, and sustainable development guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.

3. The Indian Supreme Court has recognised the right to a healthy environment in both direct and indirect methods. Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India and Others,1990 AIR 1480 also known as the Bhopal Case, was the first case to establish a link between environmental quality and the right to life. The Supreme Court has ruled that Article 21's protection of the right to life includes the right to exist in a healthful community.

4. .The Supreme Court of India held in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991) that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution protects the right to a healthy environment, including the right to clean water and air. The right to a healthy environment has been deemed fundamental by the Supreme Court. According to the petition for a writ of certiorari at hand, the West Bokaro Collieries and Tata Iron and Steel Co., 2005 (3) JCR 357 Jhr are responsible for contaminating River Bokaro by releasing slurry from their washeries into the waterway.

The petitioner further claims that the State of Bihar and SPCB haven't done enough to implement the provisions of the Water Act, of 1974 to prevent and control the adverse effects of water pollution. The petitioners' claims were refuted by the respondents, who said they had taken all necessary measures to avoid contamination. For the grounds stated by the respondents, the court agreed and denied the petition. The right to clean water is protected under Article 32, giving victims of water contamination legal remedies. However, PIL cannot be used by an individual or group to settle a score. The court must intervene to prevent such behaviour. The court then delved into the evidence and found that the petitioner had been buying the slurry from the respondents for years. The petitioner's need for slurry increased over time, but the respondents never agreed to provide any more. As a result, the petition was denied.

5. M. C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1988 SC 1037 (The Ganga Pollution Affair)

The Supreme Court of India made this observation in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) petition brought by Mr M. C. Mehta U/A 32 of the Indian Constitution, which alleged that the water of the River Ganga was extremely poisonous near Kanpur city due to the discharge of untreated effluents from tanneries in the vicinity. In addition, nine nallahs were emptying their contents into the river. In a similar vein, the river has been used to dispose of dead and partially burned remains. In addition, the city-wide water supply and sanitation standards fell short of what one would expect in a modern metropolis. Petitioner sought a writ, injunction, or directive prohibiting the State of U.P. from discharging industrial waste into the Ganges. According to the responses, the tanneries in the city of Kanpur lacked the resources (both financial and technical) to establish the necessary treatment facilities.

Ultimately, the Court ruled against them, saying, "The financial capacity of a tannery should be considered irrelevant while requiring them to establish primary treatment plants." Tanneries that are unable to install a primary treatment plant should be shut down for the same reason that a company that cannot pay its employees the minimum wage should not be allowed to operate.

The river water was discovered to have dangerously high levels of iron and manganese, exceeding the International Standards for Ionisation (ISI) limitations.

Tanneries that did not show up in court were forced to shut down and wait until they had installed pre-treatment machinery for trade effluents before they could reopen.

As a result, the court found the Kanpur Mahanagarpalika at fault and issued several orders for the PCA (Prevention, Control, and Abatement) of pollution in the River Ganga. These included but were not limited to, the following: expanding the diameter of sewers in worker colonies; building more latrines and urinals; prohibiting the disposal of human remains, including cremated remains, and ash from funeral ceremonies into the river. Treatment plants should be set up at manufacturing facilities like tanneries. To promote Participation in the "Keep the Village Clean Week."Slides on the value and quality of water will now be shown during intermissions in the theatre.

6. Indian Handicrafts Emporium v. Union of India, Appeal (civil) 7533 of 1997

In this case, it was at issue whether or not a ban on the international commerce of Indian ivory violates the Constitution. This case is similar to Ivory Traders and Manufacturers Association v. UOI in many respects. If you get a certificate from the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW), you may maintain possession of ivory but not sell it, since the Supreme Court has ruled that all trading in ivory is illegal under Chapter II-A. According to 19 (1) (g), such a limitation is acceptable.

Conclusion :

Significant progress has been made by the Indian Supreme Court in safeguarding the environment, forest ecosystems, and species within them. Given its limited authority, the court's influence in this field cannot be exaggerated. Indeed, we have sufficient environmental regulations; however, their implementation is the responsibility of administrative authorities; therefore, the most crucial requirement for environmental preservation is strong, corruption-free governance. A law cannot be effectively enforced unless people are aware of it; therefore, knowledge is a prerequisite for successful enforcement. Therefore, the public must be informed of the situation.

The loss of natural resources is irreplaceable, so Indian courts are especially cognizant and circumspect regarding the singular nature of environmental rights. Some recommendations should be considered. It is impossible to apply a law effectively and successfully without first increasing public awareness of its existence.


[1] Important Case Laws on Environmental Law, Available Here

[2] The Role of Indian Judiciary in the Protection of Environment in India, Available Here

[3] Role of Judiciary in Environmental Protection, Available Here

[4] Priya Bohra, Role of Judiciary in Environmental Protection, Available Here

[5] Role of Indian judiciary in protection of the environment, Available Here

[6] Aishwarya Agrawal, Role of Judiciary in Environment Protection, Available Here

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Sanjoli Verma

Sanjoli Verma

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