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Enforcing Environmental Laws: A Pathway to Sustainable Protection?

The Parliament enacted the Biological Diversity Act in the year 2002
12:00 AM Jun 08, 2024 IST | MUNEEB RASHID MALIK
enforcing environmental laws  a pathway to sustainable protection

“Article 21 of the Constitution of India protects not only the human rights but also casts an obligation on human beings to protect and preserve species becoming extinct, conservation and protection of environment is an inseparable part of right to life. The thrust of the doctrine of public trust is that certain common properties such as rivers, seashores, forests and the air are held by the Government in trusteeship for the free and unimpeded use of the general public. The resources like air, sea, waters and the forests have such a great importance to the people as a whole, that it would be totally unjustified to make them a subject of private ownership. The State, as a custodian of the natural resources, has a duty to maintain them not merely for the benefit of the public, but for the best interest of flora and fauna, wildlife and so on.” - Centre for Environmental Law, World Wide Fund-India v. Union of India, (2013) 8 SCC 234.




Why and when is the World Environment Day celebrated?



World Environment Day is celebrated on 5th June every year to engage the Governments and the organizations for addressing the environmental issues and for the preservation of the environment. The first important conference on the issues of environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden, in the year 1972, that stressed on the need to address the challenge of preserving and enhancing the human environment. In the same year, the General Assembly adopted a resolution and designated 5th June as World Environment Day for increasing environmental awareness around the world. The General Assembly also adopted a resolution for the creation of an agency on environmental issues known as the United Nations Environment Programme.




What is the theme for the World Environment Day, 2024?


The theme for World Environment Day, 2024 is “Land Restoration, Desertification, and Drought Resilience,” emphasizing the importance of restoring degraded land, combating desertification, and building resilience against drought. This year’s slogan is “Our Land, Our Future. We are #GenerationRestoration.” Saudi Arabia is hosting the global celebrations, highlighting their commitment to addressing these critical environmental challenges.


What is the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, and its objectives?

The Parliament enacted the Biological Diversity Act in the year 2002. The objectives of the Act are the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.


What are the Supreme Court’s observations on environmental conventions and laws?

The Supreme Court has time and again held that, for achieving the objectives of various Conventions including the Convention on Biological Diversity and also for proper implementation of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, etc., and the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, Biodiversity Act, Forest (Conservation) Act, etc. in the light of Articles 48-A and 51-A (g), the Government has laid down various policies and action plans such as the National Forest Policy, 1988, National Environment Policy, 2006, National Biodiversity Action Plan, 2008, National Action Plan on Climate Change, 2008, the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats, a Centrally-Sponsored Scheme framed in the year 2009 and Integrated Development of National Wildlife Action Plan, 2002-2016. Strict implementation of these plans and policies is the need of the hour as the rapid deterioration of the ecology due to human interference is aiding the rapid disappearance of several wild animal species. Poaching and the wildlife trade, habitat loss, human-animal conflict, epidemic, etc. are also some of the reasons which threaten and endanger some of the species.


What have the High Courts observed?

Many High Courts have also remarked that due to undesirable human interference with forces of nature, the calamities, which were a few years back considered to be un-scientific fiction or remote possibilities have turned into harsh realities and become nightmares in many parts of the world endangering human life and even posing a threat to the very existence of mankind if remedial measures are not taken. Therefore, sustainable development with an ecological balance is the only permissible way of life. There is an urgent need for creating widespread awareness and generating public commitment and support for the cause.


What is the National Green Tribunal?

The National Green Tribunal, which was established in the year 2010, under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources, has to put its best foot forward to provide speedy environmental justice and expeditiously dispose of cases relating to environmental protection, conservation of forests, and other natural resources.


What is biological diversity?

A resource on which families, nature, future generations, etc., are dependent upon is biological diversity and it includes all the organisms found on our planet i.e., plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain and the different ecosystems of which they form a part. It is a linkage between all the organisms which binds each one of them into an interdependent ecosystem and in which all of them have a role to play.


What is the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974?

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, was enacted to provide for the prevention and control of water pollution and the maintaining or restoring of wholesomeness of water. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has also been constituted under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. Its functions are to promote cleanliness of streams and wells in different areas of the States by prevention, control and abatement of water pollution, advise the Governments of Union Territories with respect to the suitability of any premises or location for carrying on any industry which is likely to pollute a stream or well, lay down standards for treatment of sewage effluents, evolve efficient methods for disposal of sewage effluents on land, develop reliable and economically viable methods of treatment of sewage, assess the quality of ambient water and inspect waste water treatment installations, to take steps for the prevention, control and abatement of water pollution.


Is hygienic environment a facet of right to a healthy life?

A hygienic environment is an integral facet of right to a healthy life and it would be impossible to live with human dignity without a humane and healthy environment. Environmental protection has now become a matter of grave concern for human existence. Promoting environmental protection implies maintenance of the environment as a whole comprising the man-made and the natural environment. There is a constitutional command on the Governments not only to ensure and safeguard the proper environment but also an imperative duty to take adequate measures to promote, protect, and improve both the man-made and the natural environment.


Does right to life, which is a fundamental right, also include the right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life?

The Supreme Court has time after time held that the right to life is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution and it includes the right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life. If anything endangers or impairs that quality of life in derogation of laws, a citizen has right to have recourse to Article 32 of the Constitution for removing the pollution of water or air which may be detrimental to the quality of life. A duty is cast upon the Government and the citizens to take steps for waste management so as to reduce its impact on human health. We have to make a substantial shift to an economy which fits the environment as well as the people. We have to understand as well as implement the environmental laws and make sincere efforts to protect our nature.


Is there a need for a strict implementation of environment laws and what are the solutions for protecting the environment?

The laws related to the environment are required to be strictly implemented as their non-implementation will lead to drastic and grave evil consequences on nature, which are irreversible and no slackness can be afforded or permitted on this front. Nature needs time to replenish and a collective effort is required to improve our environment so that our future generations can also live with nature and not with its fury. The Member States of the United Nations have already decided to make the decade (2021-2030) as UN Decade on Restoration of Ecosystems. Restoration can only be carried out by living in harmony with the environment and protecting our biodiversity. To escape from future pandemics, destruction of the forests for housing and mining, etc., needs to be replaced by employing sustainable pathways. It is our responsibility to address the impacts of COVID-19 and protect ourselves from such threats. For a sustainable future, we will require an effectual management of hazardous chemical wastes, strong and global caring of nature and biodiversity, facilitating the transition to carbon-neutral economies, etc. The tapping of natural resources for social development has to be done with great care and caution so that environment does not get affected severely. We have to keep in mind that the natural resources are permanent assets of mankind and cannot be exhausted by one generation only. We have to remember that the adherence to sustainable development principle is an essential condition for the maintenance of the symbiotic balance between the rights to environment as well as development. We need to act together to make this world a better place to live in and protect the environment for our future generations by recalling Article 51-A of the Constitution which states - it is the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.


Muneeb Rashid Malik is an Advocate practicing before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and he is the Legal Advisor to Kashmir Uzma. He tweets @muneebmalikrash.


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