India’s efforts for Environmental protection12th February 2020
In the Directive Principles of State Policy, Article 48 says “The state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”; Article 51-A states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.”
India is one of the parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) treaty. Prior to the CBD, India had different laws to govern the environment. The Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972 protected the biodiversity. It was amended later multiple times. The 1988 National Forest Policy had conservation as its fundamental principle. In addition to these acts, the government passed the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act 1992 for control of biodiversity.
- Forest cover: As per India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2015, which was released in December 2015, the total forest cover of the country has increased by 3, 775 square kms in two years. As a result the total forest and tree cover has reached 79.42 million hectare, which is 24.16 percent of the total geographical area.
- Wildlife population: As per the estimate released by the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum in 2016, the number of wild tigers has gone up to 3,890, from the earlier 2010 estimate of 3200. It is a good sign since the population of tiger is a keystone species and considered as a better parameter to gauge the state of wildlife population.
- Pollution levels: Despite a series of measures, the quality of air and water pollution has been deteriorating due to various reasons. The reports suggesting that nearly 80% of India’s surface water is polluted and worsening air quality index are still the cause of concern and illustrate the need for strengthening of the existing policy measures in this regard.
- Administrative Efficiency: The performance of the administration has improved in recent years due to procedural reforms and deployment of technology on a large scale. As a result, the average time needed to give an environmental clearance has declined to 109 days over the last three years from the erstwhile 600 days.
The Court’s directions on environmental issues goes beyond the general questions of law, as is usually expected from the highest Court of a democratic country. The Supreme Court of India, in its order, includes executive actions and technical details of environmental actions to be implemented. Indeed, some critics of India’s Supreme Court describe the Court as the Lords of Green Bench or Garbage Supervisor. Supporters of India’s Supreme Court term these orders and the Indian bench as pioneering, both in terms of laying down new principles of law, and in delivering environmental justice.
The reasons for the increasing interjection of India’s Supreme Court in governance arenas are, experts claim, complex. A key factor has been the failure of government agencies and the state owned enterprises in discharging their Constitutional and Statutory duties. This has prompted civil society groups to file public interest complaints with the Courts, particularly the Supreme Court, for suitable remedies.
Public interest litigation and judicial activism on environmental issues extends beyond India’s Supreme Court. It includes the High Courts of individual states.
India’s judicial activism on environmental issues has, some suggest, delivered positive effects to the Indian experience. Proponents claim that the Supreme Court has, through intense judicial activism, become a symbol of hope for the people of India. As a result of judicial activism, India’s Supreme Court has delivered a new normative regime of rights and insisted that the Indian state cannot act arbitrarily but must act reasonably and in public interest on pain of its action being invalidated by judicial intervention.
India’s judicial activism on environmental issues has, others suggest, had adverse consequences. Public interest cases are repeatedly filed to block infrastructure projects aimed at solving environmental issues in India, such as but not limiting to water works, expressways, land acquisition for projects, and electricity power generation projects. The litigation routinely delays such projects, often for years, whilst rampant pollution continues in India, and tens of thousands die from the unintended effects of pollution. Even after a stay related to an infrastructure project is vacated, or a court order gives a green light to certain project, new issues become grounds for court notices and new public interest litigation.
Judicial activism in India has, in several key cases, found state-directed economic development ineffective and a failure, then interpreted laws and issued directives that encourage greater competition and free market to reduce environmental pollution. In other cases, the interpretations and directives have preserved industry protection, labour practices and highly polluting state-owned companies detrimental to environmental quality of India. Proactive measures should be taken to conserve the depleting environment.