The Constitution of India casts a fundamental duty upon its citizens to protect and improve the natural environment and wildlife of the country under Article 51-A. The State is under a similar obligation to conserve all natural resources, forests, and wildlife under Article 48 of the Constitution of India.
Despite these and several other provisions and legislation, the growth of environmental jurisprudence in India has been rather slow, more so because of the procedural difficulties and inaction in enforcing the existing laws. In recent years, the Courts of India have taken a pro-active approach in developing the environmental jurisprudence in India by issuing directions and orders to violators as well as to the government to implement the existing environmental laws in the country.
Environment protection is the need of the hour. Despite the ever-rising air pollution levels in most cities of the world, the Government and the public often fail to realize the gravity of the issue. Right to a healthy environment is a part of every citizen’s right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Following are some of the enforceable laws and principles that every Indian citizen should know and abide by in order to save the most precious gift to mankind—the earth.
- Prohibition on the use of Loudspeakers
Noise pollution is a big nuisance to civilian life. The indiscriminate use of loudspeakers is a cause of trouble for students who want to study and adults who want to work during the day and also disrupts the sleep patterns of people if used during the night.Legally, it is impermissible to use loudspeakers without obtaining due permissions from the district administration. It is also impermissible to use them at night except when used inside close premises.Fact- The State Government may grant permission to use loudspeakers when they are being used for cultural/ religious purposes but such usage should not exceed 15 days. This exception explains the rampant use of loudspeakers by temples and mosques.
- The Principle of Absolute Liability
This principle of tort law was adopted by the Supreme Court of India in the Oleum Gas Leak case. This principle is an extension of the English doctrine of strict liability which was introduced in the case of Rylands v. Fletcher. Under this doctrine, any enterprise which is involved in a hazardous activity that has the potential to cause harm to the environment and people, shall be absolutely liable to pay damages to everyone who has been harmed irrespective of any exception that the enterprise may claim (despite reasonable care on the part of the enterprise), in case harm is caused. Moreover, the compensation to be paid is directly proportional to the profits/ size of the Company. This principle was also applied by the Court in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case.
- Discharge of environmental pollutants in excess of standards prescribed
Section 7 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 prohibits any person from emitting or discharging pollutants in excess of the limits prescribed by the Government.Moreover, Section 8 of the Act makes it a must to comply with all safeguards and procedures prescribed by the Government while dealing with any hazardous substance.Failure to comply with these and other provisions of the Environment Protection Act is punishable with imprisonment up to five years or a fine up to five lakh rupees or both. If this contravention continues then an additional fine of up to five thousand rupees per day may be levied on violators.
- Polluter Pays Principle
First introduced in 1972 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, this principle has been adopted by the Indian Courts in several cases to make the polluter pay not just compensation to the victims who suffer injuries/ harm due to environmental degradation but to also compensate for the loss caused to the environment.The main problem while implementing this principle is the absence of an identifiable polluter in such cases. There is ambiguity in law to decide who should be held responsible for a particular act of pollution. This is because in most cases, it is seen that there is a long chain of authorities certifying a particular action that leads to pollution.
- Use of horns, firecrackers, construction equipment at night
The Government mostly classifies a 100-meter strip around hospitals, educational buildings and courts as silence zones due to the excessive sensitivity of the nature of activity in such areas. According to the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2010, it is completely impermissible to blow horns and to burst crackers in such areas. Moreover, blowing horns and bursting of crackers in residential areas is also impermissible during the night hours.
- Restricting emission of pollutants from automobiles
The State Boards formed under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 have the power to give instructions to the authorities responsible for registration of motor vehicles to ensure that that the standards for emission of air pollutants from automobiles prescribed by the Government are complied with.
Author: Monisha Purwar
- Prohibition on the use of Loudspeakers