Introduction ‘Pollution’ is the dark reality hidden under the garb of development. This proposition is true, especially for developing countries. Causes of pollution are both natural and man-made. Drought, flood, earthquake, cyclone, epidemics are the natural causes, man has no control over them. There are four main man-made causes – population growth, poverty, urbanisation and industrialisation. The earth… Read More »

Introduction ‘Pollution’ is the dark reality hidden under the garb of development. This proposition is true, especially for developing countries. Causes of pollution are both natural and man-made. Drought, flood, earthquake, cyclone, epidemics are the natural causes, man has no control over them. There are four main man-made causes – population growth, poverty, urbanisation and industrialisation. The earth is finite and the world population is infinite. Every new face consumes lots...


‘Pollution’ is the dark reality hidden under the garb of development. This proposition is true, especially for developing countries. Causes of pollution are both natural and man-made. Drought, flood, earthquake, cyclone, epidemics are the natural causes, man has no control over them. There are four main man-made causes – population growth, poverty, urbanisation and industrialisation.

The earth is finite and the world population is infinite. Every new face consumes lots of natural and non-natural products, which are also ultimately provided after exploiting natural resources. The world’s population has almost five-fold in this century which is inversely proportional to the shrink in natural resources.

Increasing population also results in poverty, housing problems, shortage of food, unsanitary conditions, loss of nutritious food. All these cumulatively affect the quality of life which is implicit in the right to life in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. For example, if we want to increase food production, pesticides will be used which may yield more production but cause chemical pollution of land, water, air and hazardous waste.

Rapid and unplanned urbanisation had also contributed to environmental pollution and degradation of the human environment. Now more than the one-fifth population of the nation lives in urban areas. Slums are a major problem of big cities and significant contributors to environmental degradation.

Before moving on to the concept of industrialisation which is a necessary condition for development and is also the cause behind pollution it is pertinent to understand pollution clearly.

The term “ pollution” is derived from the transitive verb “ pollute”, which, according to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1977), means:

  1. to make foul or unclean, dirty;
  2. to pollute the air with smoke;
  3. to make impure or morally unclean, defile, desecrate to the soil.

According to Halsbury’s Laws of England, Pollution means the direct or indirect discharge by a man of substances or energy into the aquatic environment resulting in a hazard to human health, harm to living resources and aquatic ecosystem, damage to amenities or interference with other legitimate uses of water.

According to the Indian Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 section 2(c) states that ‘environmental pollution’ means the presence in the environment of any environmental pollutant. The word ‘pollutant’ is defined in section 2 (b) ‘environmental pollutant’ means any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such concentration as may be, or tend to be, injurious to the environment.

Industrialisation as a Major cause of Pollution

An industry is an axis to gear up the economy of modern society – known as the indispensable motor of growth and development. On the other side, it has been identified as a major source of environmental degradation and pollution. Therefore, “development without destruction” and “sustainable development” are the crying needs of the day.

The problem we face is how to strike a balance between the benefits of a rising standard of living, and its cost in terms of deterioration of the physical environment and quality of life. In the past the danger of polluting air, water and land were not fully recognised, but now there is no doubt that it is a matter of great concern.

Famous “Minamata disease” in Japan (1956), Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984), Hiroshima bombing of 1945, Three Miles Island incident of the US (1979), Chernobyl Atomic Reactor accident in 1986 have shown that industrialisation has posed a serious threat not only to human beings but also to animals, aquatic life and vegetation cover. On one hand, industrialisation has helped us to raise the standard and quality of life, on the other, it has deteriorated the environment. Thus, pollutants enter the environment through human activity. “Acid rain” is one of the worst possible forms of pollution which is a result of industrialisation.

Industries degrade the environment and pollute it in the following ways:

  1. use of natural resources by industries, as it destroys nature and affects the natural environment. Cotton, textile, paper, iron, coal, oil, fodder, plywood, soap, sugar, tobacco, food processing, packaging, rayon, rubber, etc. all need natural products as raw material. Thus, the increasing needs of industries have resulted in overexploitation and stress on natural resources.
  2. Residues of industries known as effluents are released in water and land without any treatment which pollutes the water and land, affecting aquatic life and underground water.
  3. Fossil fuel used by industries like coal, kerosene, diesel, and atomic energy also pollutes the air in the form of smoke and radioactive particles.
  4. Noise is also a major by-product of industries and industrial products cause noise pollution.
  5. Industrial wastes – particularly hazardous waste and radioactive waste – have also become a major environmental pollution problem.

In M.C Mehta v. Union of India, (1997), yellowing of Taj Mahal at Agra was found to be due to foundries, chemical, and hazardous industries and an oil refinery. The sulphur dioxide emitted by the Mathura Refinery combined with oxygen and the aid of moisture in the atmosphere forms sulphuric acid called acid rain affecting the marble of the Taj Mahal. Therefore, the Supreme Court issued orders for shifting of 292 industries from the Taj trapezium or to close them.

Thus it is now evident that the darkest and harsh reality of development both in developed and developing countries is environmental pollution. Industrialisation has led to air, water, land, noise pollution. Besides these, the Chernobyl incident, Three Mile Island incident and Hiroshima-Nagasaki incident have caused radioactive pollution. Exposure to x-ray radiation and atomic reactor plants is a big health hazard as it causes somatic and genetic changes.

Indian Scenario

We read hundreds of air quality reports, get enraged about delayed flights due to lack of visibility, see foreign cricketers wearing masks while playing in our country; but are we only recipients of news or does something worse come our way? We are with pollution now, where we used to be with cigarette smoking during the 60s in terms of seriousness. During the ’60s in developed countries, youngsters and teenagers were smoking rampantly along with their parents. We were allowed to smoke in flights and it was a lifestyle choice rather than a vice. Then came along studies that showed adverse health effects and diseases found through decades of research; proving it to be a carcinogen.

The youngsters growing up in developing countries like India seem to be going through that hellish phase again, but this time it is not the 6 inches deadly stick, but the 6-foot carbon-emitting vehicle and unchecked industrial pollution, all being justified by hiding under the veil of ‘ necessary evil for development’ in our third-world nation.

The Indian parliament has passed appropriate legislation to tackle the problem of environmental pollution from time to time. Some legislations are the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. The main aim and object of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 is “to maintain or restore the wholesomeness of water and to prevent, control and abate water pollution”.

Many leading cases on which the apex court has given verdict emphasize on the ill-effects of development on the human environment. Some cases are:

  1. The industries which made the water of the holy river Ganga and a river in the South ( Chennai) toxic were found to be tanneries. In M.C Mehta v. Union of India 1988 ( known as the Ganga pollution case), tanneries used to discharge untreated effluents in the river’s water and near Kanpur, the water of the river Ganga was found highly toxic. In the other case, the Palar river of the State of Tamil Nadu ( South) became highly polluted because tanneries were discharging chemicals used in treating the leather which resulted in the non-availability of potable water. Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of industries or to shift them from the territory of the state of Delhi as their untreated effluent and sludge was polluting the holy river Yamuna.
  2. In Subhas Kumar v. State of Bihar AIR 1991, the Court held that the right to life includes, the right to enjoy unpolluted air and water. If anything endangers or impairs the quality of life, a person has a right to move the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.
  3. In Vellore Citizen’s Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996), a writ petition was filed by way of public interest litigation because pollution was caused by the enormous discharge of effluent by the tanneries in the State of Tamil Nadu into agricultural fields. The Supreme Court held that each industry is very important for the development of the country but at the same time, they can not be allowed to destroy the ecology or degrade the environment. Justice Kuldeep Singh delivered that ‘sustainable development’ has to be adopted as a balancing concept between ecology and development. He further included that the ‘precautionary principle’ and polluter pays principle are integral parts of sustainable development.

Noise pollution has been identified as a slow killer. It is a gift of modern industrial civilization which is invading the environment in threatening proportion and is an invisible and insidious form of pollution.

GATT And Environment

International disputes related to environmental issues are particularly conspicuous in the context of international trade, which was governed mainly by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (“GATT”) and now is governed by the World Trade Organisation (“WTO”). The GATT, however, did not squarely address environmental issues as they were not a serious concern at the time of its establishment.

Environmental issues also were not, as such, a subject of negotiations during the Uruguay Round. Nevertheless, several WTO instruments have reflected some environmental considerations. The interrelationship between trade and environmental concerns has been empathetically recognised in the preambular language of the Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organisation (“WTO Agreement”) as follows:

[The WTO Members’] relations in the field of trade and economic endeavour should be conducted with a view to… allowing for the optimal use of world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, seeking both to protect and preserve the environment and to enhance the means for doing so in a manner consistent with their respective needs and concerns at different levels of economic development.

This recognition of broad environmental objectives in the preamble of the WTO Agreement reflects substantial development towards incorporating environmental aspects into the newly institutionalised international economic organisation, which could not have been envisaged even in the Draft Final Act Embodying the Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations.

Member governments have notified GATT of some 300 environmental regulations and standards. These cover domestic scales and involve a restriction on hazardous products, environmental packing, marketing and labelling requirements, waste disposal regulations and requirements.

Stockholm Conference, 1972

The first international conference on the human environment was held in Stockholm, Capital of Sweden ( 5-16 June 1972) where more than 107 States participated. The then Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, was the first head of the state to address the conference. At the end of the conference, 26 principles were agreed upon and declared by the participating States. These principles are known as Magna Carta on Human Environment. The Stockholm Declaration (1972) was the first holistic approach to deal with the problems of the environment.

The conference adopted an action plan relating to natural resources, human settlement, human health, territorial ecosystem, environment and development, ocean, energy, wildlife, natural disaster, transboundary pollution, nuclear energy, wildlife, natural disaster, transboundary pollution, nuclear energy and means of mass destruction. It also declares that there is a need for international law relating to liability and compensation for the victims of pollution and other environmental damage. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was also created by the UN General Assembly on 15 December 1972 to promote environmental law and address major environmental issues.

Earth Summit: The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 1992

The Rio de Janeiro Conference is known as the “Earth Summit”. It has proclaimed 27 principles. It reaffirmed the Stockholm Declaration of 1972. The main objective of the conference was to establish a new and equitable global partnership through the creation of new levels of cooperation among States, key sectors of societies and people…international agreements which respect the interest of all and protect the integrity of the global environment and development system, recognising the integral and interdependent nature of the earth, our home.


  1. Less use of private vehicles and more use of public transport shall help in controlling pollution.
  2. Use of electric vehicles and solar energy are environment-friendly techniques of controlling pollution.
  3. Throwing garbage in dustbins instead of littering roads can control land pollution.
  4. People should boycott plastic usage to protect our rivers and should educate others about this overlooked matter.
  5. Industrial plants and tanneries should treat wastes properly before disposal.
  6. Efficient treatment plants should be installed in factories.
  7. Factories dealing with hazardous substances and radioactive substances should take necessary precautions to prevent their escape.


The above discussion amply proves that environmental pollution is a big hazard and threatening the very existence of mankind. It also tends to destroy the gifts of nature so kindly bestowed on mankind. Looking to threatening proportions of environmental pollution, various measures have been adopted including myriad administrative and legal measures from time to time. The central Government and State Governments have passed various statutes to contain and control the problem of environmental pollution and ecological imbalances.

The government initiative is not enough, peoples should also participate in making this world a better place to live. Mass participation and education through mass media can be helpful. Industrial development is necessary for economic development but that should not be done at the cost of our environment.


  1. Prof. Satish C. Shastri, ‘ Environmental Law’, 2012.
  2. Dukgeun Ahn, Environmental Disputes in the GATT/ WTO: Before and After US –Shrimp Case, 20 MICH.J.INT’L.L.819 (1999). Available at:

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Updated On 29 Nov 2021 12:45 PM GMT
Debalina Chatterjee

Debalina Chatterjee

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