Environment and the Law

lawsFrom time immemorial, man has been modest in his demands on the elements of the environment – taking only what is needed, and it left no scars on the surroundings: land, water and air. With aspirations of individuals flying high, and with number of families on the rise, need based removal of resources from the globe jumped levels to grabbing of even scarce materials to meet the greed of the adventurous. The realization that life on this planet will never be like what it was in the past, led most of the nations to the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment organized by the United Nations. In India also, the public awareness created by the Stockholm declaration and the judicial, legislative and public activism that followed, found the dawn of a succession of effective environment laws, including the inclusion of environmental protection as a fundamental right of the people.

An Act for Prevention and Control of Pollution of Water was enacted by Parliament in 1974 followed by the institution of the Central Pollution Control Board. Air pollution control Act was passed in 1981. The Forest Conservation Act in 1980 brought a change in the way the forest resources were utilized, through controls on felling, mining, damming and even on intrusion of tourists into sensitive forest areas. A comprehensive Environment (Protection) Act in 1986 has made the central government the guardian of the environment with authority to take all necessary measures. The central government also delegated some of its executive powers to other central authorities and to state governments and their agencies.

The law on wild life has undergone drastic changes in that, it did away with private trading in wild animals and articles, expanded the list of endangered species and involved the tribal people also in forest management. Since 1980s, in stages, Environmental Impact Assessment is made mandatory for major projects. Noise pollution, smoking, improper tanning, aquaculture, conversion of open spaces and wet lands for industries and construction etc. are now regulated. The National Green Tribunal established under NGT Act 2011 helps public to appeal against lax enforcement of environmental laws.

Leelakrishnan
Formerly, UGC Emeritus Fellow,
Cochin University of Science and Technology.
e-mail: drplkrishnan@yahoo.co.in