Remedies for Environmental Protection: Civil, Criminal & Constitutional

Civil Procedure Code, 1908
Under the Civil Procedure Code of 1908, civil suits against the perpetrators of public nuisance were allowed. By the amendment of the Civil Procedure Code in 1976, the procedure was made easier for the general public to seek recourse in the civil courts. Section 91 of the Code now reads as follows: Public Nuisances and other wrongful acts affecting the public:-

(1) In the case of a public nuisance or other wrongful act affecting, or likely to affect, the public, a suit for a declaration and injunction on for such other relief as may be appropriate in the circumstances of the case, may be instituted,- (a) By the Advocate-General, or (b) With the leave of the court, by two or more persons, even though no special damage has been caused to such persons by reason of such public nuisance or other wrongful act.

(2) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to limit or otherwise affect any right of suit which may exist independently of its provision. Prior to the amendment in 1976 such suits were allowed only with the sanction of the Advocate General. Thus a modification was brought about to the standing requirement which had been an obstacle in civil actions against environmental degradation. This is an important instance of early relaxation of procedural rules in the wider context of developing Indian public interest litigation.

Indian Penal Code, 1860

Introduction Environmental crime refers to the violation of laws intended to protect the environment and human health. These laws govern air and water quality and dictate the ways in which the disposal of waste and hazardous materials can legally take place. Individuals or corporations can be found guilty of environmental crimes.

Public Nuisance under the Indian Penal Code focuses on the operation of the law of nuisance through specific statutory provisions in the Civil and Criminal Codes of India. The Indian penal Code of 1860 contains elaborate provisions defining the crime of public nuisance in its various aspects and instances and prescribes punishments. Chapter XIV of the Indian Penal Code deals with offences affecting public health, safety, convenience, decency and morals. While Section 268 defines Public Nuisance, there are two specific sections dealing with the fouling of water (Section 277) and making the atmosphere noxious to health (section 278) which could be used against perpetrators of water and air pollution.

Section 425: whoever with intent to cause, or knowing that he is likely to cause, wrongful loss or damage to the public or to any person, causes the destruction of any property, or any such change in any property or in the situation thereof as destroys or demises its value or utility or affects injuriously, commits “mischief”.

Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
The Indian Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 has a significant chapter on maintenance of public order and tranquility, which falls into four parts. Part A deals with unlawful assemblies (Section 129-132), Part B with public nuisance (Sections 133-143), Part C with urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger (Section 144), and part D with disputes as to immovable property (Sections 145- 148). Most relevant in our present context is Section 133, which has been resorted to as an effective remedy to abate public nuisance in instances of environmental harm. This provision empowers a District Magistrate to pas conditional orders for the removal of nuisances. This section is supplemented with ancillary provisions, contained in Sections 134 to 143 of the Code, to constitute a comprehensive procedure tackling public nuisance. Section 144 of the Code has to be seen as a significant provision conferring wide powers upon the Magistrate to deal with urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger and tranquillity. This magisterial power has been exercised only for the purpose of preventing public disorder arising out of public unrest or riot situations. The potential of this provision is vast, but it does not appear to have been utilised effectively in cases of environmental harm. The provisions in the old Indian law, which have a bearing on the environment, have hardly been used in the past. The consciousness to protect the environment was not as strong then, as it is today. Unless there was awareness on the part of the people to approach the authorities neither the government nor the courts would have had the opportunity to make use of the statutory provisions. The important role played by the judicial activism of the eighties made its impact felt mire in the area of the environmental protection than in any other field. Municipal council, Ratlam v. Vardhichand18 is a signpost. The Supreme Court identified the responsibilities of local bodies towards the protection of environment and developed the law of public nuisance in the Code of Criminal procedure as a potent instrument for enforcement of their duties.

Duty of the State (Part IV) Part IV of the Constitution of India contains the directive principles of State policy. These directives are the active obligations of the State; they are policy prescriptions for the guidance of the Government. Article 37 of Part IV of the Constitution limits the application of the directive principles by declaring that these principles shall not be enforceable by any Court. Therefore, if a directive is not followed by the State, its implementation cannot be secured through judicial proceedings. On the other hand, these principles are fundamental in the governance of the country and it is the duty of the state to apply these principles during the process of law-making.

Part IV - Directive Principles of State Policy Article 48A. Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country. The parliament had considerable debate over the wording of the draft Article 48- A. Several amendments were moved in both the houses of the Parliament. H.M. Seervai has correctly pointed out: Article 48-A reflects an increasing awareness of people all over the word of the need to preserve the environment from pollution, especially in urban areas. Smoke, industrial waste, deleterious exhaust fumes from motor cars and other combustion engines are injurious to the health and well-being of the people and foul the atmosphere. The preservation of forests and their renewal by afforestation has long been recognised in India as of great importance both with reference to rainfall and to prevent erosion of the soil by depriving it of forests which protect it.

Part III - Fundamental Rights Article 21. Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. Article 32. Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part (1) the right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed. (2) The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part. It was the Maneka Gandhi case that heralded the new era of judicial thought. The court started recognising several unarticulated liberties that were implied by Article 21 and during this process the Supreme Court interpreted, after some hesitation the right to life and personal liberty to include the right to wholesome environment. The conflict between development needs and environmental protection has been the most controversial issue before the courts in decide in environmental matters. Incidentally the Dehradun Quarries case that paved the way for right to wholesome environment has also focused on this continuing conflict.

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