Environment plays an important role in day to day human life as well as in the development of the society at large. As the environmental problem went beyond political and geographical limits, its control became impossible with International Co-operation. With this objective, the United Nations Conference on Human Environment was held at Stockholm in June, 1972 to take steps for preservation of Natural resources and Control of Environmental Pollution. India, being one of its participant in the Conference, and with the intention to implement the decisions taken therein, enacted three Major Acts, namely, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to provide for Preservation and Control of Pollution and improvement of Environment.
Causes of Pollution
For last few years there is tremendous advancement in industrialisation which has threatened the purity of environment. Urbanisation, Industrialisation, Poverty, Population, Vehicular release of oxides, discharge of effluents into atmosphere and deforestation are some other main causes of environmental Pollution. It affects directly mental as well as the physical health of human beings, plants and animals, making their survival difficult due to change in physical, chemical and biological conditions of the environment, thus have a direct impact on human rights.
According to Hindu Religion ‘Trees’, ‘River’ and ‘Animals’ are treated as sacred and thus being worshiped. Where as the Holy Quran say that “Allah is the owner of nature, which includes water, land, air and all material things and are to be preserved for the benefit of future generations, in the condition in which inherited. Human being is accountable to Allah for what they do with natural resources. From this point of view also it becomes essential to maintain cleanliness of the environment.
Steps taken/efforts made.-
The water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, The Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 provide for the establishment of Pollution Control Boards for prevention and Control of Water pollution & Air Pollution respectively.
The Boards (Central, State or joint Boards) Conferred with blanket powers in prevention and control of pollution, including power to declare pollution control area, powers to give instructions, Restrictions on use of industrial plants, furnishing of informations, power to make application to court for restraining pollution, power of entry and search, power to obtain information and power to take samples etc. The important amongst the powers of Central Govt. is the power to direct the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or process or the stoppage or regulation of supply of electricity, water or any other services.
Similar powers are conferred on the Central Govt. for preservation and improvement of environment, under the Environment Protection Act. It is a comprehensive law, concerning all the areas of Pollution, including Air Pollution, Water Pollution, Noise Pollution etc, which are not covered by the Water Act and Air Act.
Penalty provided in the Act.-
The above three Acts provide for heavy penalties for failure to comply with the directions issued or the rules under the Act or for contravention of provisions of Acts. The Penalty includes fine and imprisonment which may extend to six years and additional fine of Rupees five thousands per day if the failure continues after conviction and if it is continued beyond a period of one year after conviction, the penalty increases to Rs 10,000/-per day and imprisonment no less than 2 year but may extend to 7 years. For some offences the penalty varies from 3 month’s imprisonment to six years imprisonment and fine which may extend to 10,000/-
Cognizance by the Court.-
The Court can take cognizance of an offence under the Act only on a complaint made by Board or any officer authorised in this behalf by it or any person who has given notice of not less than 60 days, in the manner prescribed of alleged offence, and of his intention to make a complaint to the Board or officer authorised as aforesaid.
It may be in place to mention here that Judiciary has played a significant role in the prevention and control of environmental Pollution by widening the scope of domestic law to incorporate the international principles viz, Polluter pays principle, Doctrine of sustainable development and precautionary principle, laid down in the Stockholm Conference. The Supreme Court has enlarged the scope of the right of life and personal liberty to include right to live in Pollution free, clean and healthy environment.
Case M.C. Mehta v/s U.O.I. AIR 1987 SC 1086 took a step forward and held that read with remedies under Art. 32 including issuance of directions for enforcement of fundamental rights, the right to live contains the right to claim compensation for the victims of pollution hazards.
In Charan Lal Sahu v/s U.O.I. AIR 1990 SC 1480, Supreme Court expressly held that right to life, liberty, pollution free air and water is guaranteed by the Constitution under Arts. 21, 48-A and 51-A(g). It is the duty of the state to take effective steps to protect the guaranteed Constitutional rights.
In a very significant judgement the Supreme Court in Indian Council for legal Action Vs. U.O.I. AIR 1996 SC 1446 in a PIL filed by NGO reiterated the absolute liability principle evolved in M.C. Mehta Vs. U.O.I., AIR 1987 SC 1086, and ruled that, once the activity carried on is hazardous or inherently dangerous, the person carrying on such activity is liable to make good the loss caused to any other person by his activity irrespective of the fact whether he took reasonable care while carrying the activity. Hence the polluting industries are liable to compensate the victims of environmental pollution.
The Supreme Court in many cases, diluted the doctrine of locus standi, through PIL and issued directions to stop the activity or to pay the compensation and interpreted the provisions to include right to live in clean and healthy environment in Art. 21 of the Constitution.
Whether the present laws are sufficient to take environmental problems?
The Environmental Pollution rate at present has crossed the dead line-The Vehicular pollution in mega cities has exceeded the limits. The cracking of fires and the loud speakers caused the threat to life of old people and small babies. The industrial pollution has reached the height. It goes on increasing day by day.
This shows that present laws including judicial efforts are not sufficiently effective to take the present environmental problems. The Acts requires amendments so as to make the procedure simple and the Boards/authorities created for implementing these laws independent and effective. For instance provision of 60 days notice for taking cognizance by courts is not justified and requires to be deleted.
Similarly some time limit should be fixed for the Boards/ Authorities to make use of their powers of entry/inspection, order closure, stoppage of electricity/ water supply etc frequently.
Though the judiciary has developed the environmental jurisprudence, still the remedy under the Higher Courts is not easily accessible from the point of view of the distance as well as the heavy court fee and fee of the Advocate.
Therefore, it may be strongly suggested that the environmental laws should be amended in the following effect.-
(a) Section 49 of the Water Act, section 43 of the Air Act and section 19 of the Environmental Protection Act, should be deleted so that any person can make a complaint in the court without giving a notice of 60 days.
(b) The pollution Control Board should be given sufficient autonomy so that they can act independently.
(c) The Pollution Control Boards should be brought under an obligation to act within a particular period, against the polluters without fail.
(d) An independent body may be created to supervise the Boards in prevention and Control of Pollution and protection of healthy environment.
(e) The awareness about the environmental pollution and the laws should be wide spread with realization of serious effect of Pollution on human life.
(f) The powers similar of the Supreme Court under Art. 32(2) should be conferred on some other Courts within territory so that there will be easy access to justice.