“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed – Mahatma Gandhi”
Environment means all living organisms of the biosphere. Environment plays a vital role in human life as well as in the development of the society. Considering the meaning of the above statement by Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Environment’ includes social, cultural, economic, biological, physical and chemical factors of human life. Environment is regarded to be sacred since ancient days in the Indian culture and civilization. And it can be traced through many aspects and scriptures like Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Upanishads and Kautilya’s Arthashastra through times of Indus Valley Civilization, etc. According to ancient Hindu beliefs, the ‘Universe’ comprises of five basic elements namely Kshiti ( Earth), Apah (Water), Teja (Light), Marut (Air) and Vyoma (Space). These five elements are regarded as sacred. ‘Yagnavalkya Smriti’ prohibited the cutting of trees and prescribed punishments for such acts. ‘Trees’ on the earth are worshipped as God in ancient India. They have evolved the importance of environment in our lives.
Mainly, environment can be classified into two major categories i.e., Natural and Man-made environment. Natural environment such as air, water, soil, timber, wild life and living space are naturally gifted sources to the human life. Whereas man-made environment marks several changes to that gifted environment and makes human existence questionable to the future generations. The man-made damages to the environment include housing, urbanization, technological advancement, nuclear experiments, transportation, deforestation, smoke left behind by automobiles industries and other vehicular traffic. Effusions of gases like Carbon-monoxide, Hydro carbon, Sulphur-dioxide into the atmosphere and nuclear experiments in the course of technological advancement cause severe damage to the environment. Man has become the biggest enemy to the mankind.
India is the land of rivers and biological diversity. The pollution of water and air by humans leads to high environmental disrupt by damaging ecological systems. The process of economic growth and development, though vital for any nation’s progress, done at the cost of environmental degradation through industrialization and urbanization, transportation, burning of fossil fuels and deforestation has led to the emission of green house gases into the atmosphere. These gases absorb the heat of solar rays, which results in the warming of the atmosphere, seas and oceans leading to floods, droughts, severe storms, melting of ice at the poles, receding of glaciers and rise in sea water levels. Declining of biodiversity and wild life, deforestation, water pollution has been a concern for many since the beginning of the last century. Over the last few decades, protection and conservation of environment and biodiversity has gradually emerged as a way to deal with this concern. The issues which degrade the environment has brought for the environmental conservation and sustainable development forefront.
Due to large scale occurrence of environmental crisis, the global community has expressed major concern over environmental protection and environmental development. Except some serious endeavors significant developments have been taken place in the International scenario to protect and safeguard the environment. ‘United Nations Conference on Human Environment’ which was held in 1972 at Stockholm has drawn the attention of the world for the first time towards the environment and its protection. This Stockholm stated the aspect of ‘Magna Carta’ which means that economic and social development were necessary for ensuring healthy environment for man. Through this the two aspects which can be drawn in this regard, the former aspect was that the man has the fundamental right the freedom, equality in adequate conditions of life and the later aspect was that the man bears the solemn responsibility to protect and secure the environment for present and future generations.
‘The Earth Summit’ convened by UN General Assembly in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro has proclaimed in its declaration was to find an equitable balance between developed and developing countries. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which was held in 1992 has signed the conventions on biological diversity and climate change. ‘The World Summit on Sustainable Development’ which was held in 2002 introduced a new impetus to global action to fight poverty and protect environment. At the national level, Article 48(A) of the Indian Constitution imposes a constitutional obligation on the state to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. Article 51(A) (g) imposes a constitutional obligation on the citizens of India to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for all living creatures. India has also recognized the importance of environmental protection and adopted the Scheme in its Fourth Five Year Plan (1969-1974).
The Judiciary in India has safeguarded the interest of the Constitution through many of its decisions, orders and directions and fulfilled its obligations against those persons who cause environmental pollution and ecological imbalance. Cases like Ratlam Muncipalities Case, M C Mehta v. Union of India Case on Ganga Water Pollution, Bhopal Gas Disaster Case, S.Jagannath v. Union of India and some other decisions have secured the environment from degradation. In the case of Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court has declared that the right to life under Article 21 includes ‘Right to clean water and Air’. In the case of Virender Gaur v. State of Bihar, has held that there exists the constitutional right to healthy environment. In the case of Enviro-legal Action v. Union of India, the Supreme Court has established the precautionary principle i.e., ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ and Sustainable development. In the case of M C Mehta v. Kamal Nath, the Public Trust Doctrine has been evolved by the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court of India being one of the most active judiciaries in the World has enlarged the scope of a qualitative living by applying various issues of environmental protection. Apart from being environment friendly, the Supreme Court of India has given birth to various doctrines and principles have in turn been adopted and implemented throughout the country.
Initiation of Environmental movements throughout the world doesn’t bring any changes and it is not all about saving the environment. Environmental movement is about saving humans and human life. By considering a Kenyan Proverb : “You must treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It is loaned to you by your children.” One must contribute oneself by adopting several other methods in their daily lives such as using organic fertilizers, solar energy, renewable energy, avoiding the use of plastic, planting trees etc which can protect the environment. Every human must recognize their responsibility to safeguard and secure the ‘Environment’ which gave so much to the mankind. We also have laws to deal with air pollution, emission of greenhouse gases and use of ozone-depleting substances like the Water Act, the Air Act and the Environment Protection Act but the need is for their strict implementation by the government. We can opt to conclude by taking self oath in gifting the pollution free environment to the future generations and secure the mankind.
About the Author
Surya Sri is a final year student of NBM Law College, Visakhapatnam. She is determined to serve the nation and has an inclination towards Civil Services and is currently preparing for the same. She has pursued studies related to Human Rights and Criminology. She has keen interest in the fields of Public Policy and International affairs. She enjoys public speaking on social issues. Her other interests range from debating and researching on new aspects to interacting with people and being actively involved in community development. Her hobbies include listening to music, travelling and photography.