Sustainable Development Laws in India

The problem of environmental pollution can be dated back to the evolution of life on Planet Earth. Science and technology, industrial growth, and exploitative resource consumption have brought about devastating environmental impacts in places across the world. Some important acts have been introduced in the Indian Legal system such as The National Green Tribunal Act 2010; The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; The Environment Protection Act, 1986; The Hazardous Waste Management Regulations, etc. However, these laws are facing a severe problem of implementation at the ground level, making many question the effectiveness and seriousness of environmental laws in the country. It was a while before the Constitution added the “right to live in a healthy environment” under Article 21 explicitly.

India is one of the few countries with elaborate provisions for the environment in the legal framework. The courts in India largely relied on Article 21 for applying the law to the decision making process on various perspectives and provisional duties related to the environment. Protection of the environment can give rise to many challenges in a developing country. Hence, administrative and legal strategies are extremely important to ensure environmental harmony. T Damodar Rao v Special Officer, Municipal Corporation of Hyderabadwas a landmark case for High Courts in India to take up responsibility in specific and concrete decision making. Despite severe penalties, environmental laws in certain places seem erratic in their implementation and ineffective at many levels of administrative mechanisms. Through the educational lens, roping in the University Grants Commission and making Environmental Science a mandatory subject for schools and universities, it is still inconclusive how effective this has been toward making progressive social change and awareness among the youth. There is a glaring question mark on whether enforcement of a specific individual right to a just and humane environment affords any flexibility in terms of balancing environmental values as opposed to other interests of economic growth or production value.

Many conflicting instances arise in terms of implementation and the feasibility of decisions when it comes to Environmental Law. With spaces of breach in human as well as natural spheres, coming up with a decision in favour of either can be difficult to understand the federal balance and perspective. The courts have also laid down that protection and improvement of the environment is mandated for all institutions across the country and is a right as well. India being a developing nation with interests in growth and burgeoning developmental ideologies, the mandates of Courts are envisioned in a development-oriented manner, where the concept of Sustainable Development arises. A relatively new concept for India to focus on in terms of resource utilisation is reducing our collective carbon footprint and pollution levels. Sustainable development law is found at the intersection of three primary fields of law: international economic law, international environmental law and international social law. It refers to an emerging substantive body of legal instruments, norms and treaties, supported by distinctive procedural elements. This is incorporated on the justification that future generations may benefit from policies and laws that advocate environmental protection as well as developmental goals. This has recently been recognised by the Supreme Court in the M.C. Mehta (Taj Trapezium Matter) v. Union of India case.

 Photo by Guus Baggermans on Unsplash

The question of advocacy by the administrative, legislative and judiciary arises again. How relevant is the novel concept of implementing the law on a social, moral and ethical ground? The Indian Legal System is yet to address the loopholes in the Environmental Law in the State, with an increasing pressure of population, accessibility and resource consumption. Looking at different areas of environmental conservation, protection and preservation, the law remains an inaccessible space for many till date. What then, can be done for the public to access law as a regulatory and decision making body?

A notable action that could be taken is:

Making the system more accommodating and approachable- Making it easier to read and understand the law provisions and statutes regarding Environmental Law for the general population and better mechanisms for efficiency as well as transparency within (courts) and outside (public spaces) the systems of administrative, legislature and judiciary can go a long way. Law is generally regarded as a Utopian system of action. Making it a more approachable and public-friendly system would allow it to work on an easier transition for the public. Systems such as Public Interest Litigations are focused on allowing people to issue and procure information from within the legal system on the matter of interest at hand. The Law is trying to focus on easier access for appeals and better capabilities of integrating the public interest within judgements and cases.

Let’s hope that the move towards this positive transition helps Environmental Law gain recognition as an independent and just body in India.


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Ayesha Mehrotra is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective and a passionate environmentalist. Through her writing on this platform, she hopes to encourage all generations to understand the importance of equality, liberty, justice and happiness.

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