Environmental law in India is almost entirely dependent on the interpretation of the judicial officer. There are two important legal consequences. On a cursory glance, it appears to interfere with legislative laws.
It seems to ignore the separate role of the three pillars of governance in the democracy – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. But in view of environmental protection, nothing is done immediately and if some solution is not done, then this method can prove to be disastrous for the environment.
We may have to bear the brunt in terms of loss of livelihood, health and species.
Nothing can be said about climate change, rising sea levels and many other negative consequences. In these circumstances, even when Parliament has been faced by the opposition from time to time, the judiciary has moved ahead and performed its role and the judiciary started showing seriousness since the seventies.
Since the nineties, the judiciary has shown complete activism to preserve the fragile ecology from the point of view of its environment, human and animal existence.
Better results of judicial intervention
Judicial intervention has played an important role in safeguarding the interests of the people and the environment, with the objective of playing an executive role in policy decisions in India. Especially in the situation when we are facing the fast growing population and fragile ecology is under tremendous pressure.
The intervention of the judiciary also becomes necessary because the government and its departments are not doing their work properly. Nor do they have any effective policy to approve industry and mining activities.
In this situation, granting environmental clearance becomes a task of much vigilance, and the judiciary’s onerous responsibility begins to appear.
These judicial laws have been enforced through public interest petitions by the apex court – the Supreme Court as well as various high courts of the country. Public interest petitions began in 1979 in the case of Husnara v. State of Bihar.
Forty thousand under trial prisoners were released in Bihar when the matter was resolved. The case started the practice of filing public interest petitions on various issues. These included petitions related to the environment.
In this sequence, we see the entire series of petitions filed by MC Mehta. He has filed all his petitions in the Supreme Court on environmental issues. The most famous petition of these was filed in 1998.
On this, the Supreme Court had ordered all diesel-operated buses in Delhi to be operated with compressed natural gas (CNG) to curb pollution. We can see the benefit of this decision.
Hon’ble Supreme Court of Oneman Army
The Supreme Court faced mining mafia in its own country alone. Questioned the sanctions granted to them. Expressed displeasure over corrupt administrative activity. And expressed concern over the crisis faced by human life.
The apex court took the help of some internationally known principles such as the Polluter Page Principal, Prevention Principal and Public Trust Doctor. The Polluter Page Principal was added to the statutory terminology of India at the time when the Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. Government of India was hearing the case.
In this case, the Supreme Court said, “We believe that any principle in this regard should be simple, viable and suited to the conditions of the country.” If an activity is dangerous, or of a nature that is dangerous in nature, then the person driving it will be responsible to compensate for the loss to someone else. Even if he has carried out this activity with full precaution. ‘
In the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v Government of India case, the apex court had made it mandatory to make an assessment of its impact on the environment before any commercial activity.
The apex court also gave a landmark verdict that it is the responsibility of the industrialist to prove that its activity is environmentally sound. By doing this the victim will no longer have to prove that any commercial / industrial activity is affecting his environment.
Public trust doctorin applied in the case of MC Mehta v. Kamal Nath. Kamal Nath was a minister at the center. He was allotted a motel on the banks of river Beas.
The natural flow of the river was being affected by the motel. The apex court quashed this allocation. At the same time, the owner of the motel ordered the company to compensate for the impact on the environment of that area.
Recently, while dealing with a public interest litigation, the apex court ruled that tiger conservation cannot be done at the cost of economic development.
This is a major setback to the government’s conservation efforts. Now NGOs and other human rights organizations can start thinking that they should get executive rights for such policy issues. The courts, including the Supreme Court, cannot replace the legislature or the executive.
In some cases it may seem like it, but it can have a serious impact on the democratic voice. Legally, the court is carrying out all the legislative and executive obligations associated with the government’s policy decisions.