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Report No. 186

Judgments of the Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court of India has made immense contribution to environmental jurisprudence of our country. It has entertained quite a lot of genuine public interest litigation (PIL) cases or class-action cases under Article 2532 of the Constitution. So have the High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution. These Courts have issued various directions on a number of issues concerning environment as part of their overall writ jurisdiction and in that context they have developed a vast environmental jurisprudence. They have used Article 21 of the Constitution of India and expanded the meaning of the word 'life' in that Article as including a "right to a healthy environment".

We shall refer to some of the important decisions of the Supreme Court of India.

The first case of considerable importance is the one in Ratlam Municipality vs. VardhichandAIR 1980 SC 1622 where the Supreme Court gave directions for removal of open drains and prevention of public excretion by the nearby slum dwellers. The matter came up by way of a criminal appeal. The Court relied upon Article 47 which is in the Part IV of the Constitution relating to the Directive Principles.

That Article refers to 'improvement of public health'. In that judgment, the Supreme Court gave several directions to the Ratlam Municipality for maintenance of 'public health'. That judgment was followed in B.L. Wadhera vs. Union of India AIR 1996 SC 2969 and directions were issued to the Municipal Corporation of old Delhi and New Delhi, for removal of garbage etc.

Long before the Court enlarged its levels of scrutiny, the Supreme Court, in Sachidanand Pandey vs. State of West Bengal: AIR 1987 SC 1109, laid down rules which unfortunately sound like Wednesbury rules applied in administrative law. It said:

Whenever a problem of ecology is brought before the Court, the Court is bound to bear in mind Article 48A of the Constitution and Article 51A(g). When the Court is called upon to give effect to the Directive Principles and the fundamental duty, the Court is not to shrug its shoulders and say that priorities are a matter of policy and so it is a matter for the policy-making authority. The least that the Court may do is to examine whether appropriate considerations are borne in mind and irrelevancies excluded. In appropriate cases, the Court may go further but how much further must depend on the circumstances of the case. The Court may always give necessary directions."

This limited nature of scrutiny is no longer followed today by the Courts. Today the Courts appoint independent experts and test the claims of parties on the basis of the expert advice that is given to the Court.

The Court referred to the ancient civilization of our country in Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra vs. State of UP AIR 1987 359. There the exploitation of limestone from the Himalayas and its adverse effect on the ecology and environment came up for consideration. The Supreme Court stated: "Over thousands of years, man had been successfully exploiting the ecological system for his sustenance but with the growth of population, the demand for land has increased and forest growth has been and is being cut down and man has started encroaching upon Nature and its assets. Scientific developments have made it possible and convenient for man to approach the places which were hitherto beyond his ken.

The consequences of such interference with ecology and environment have now 27come to be realized. It is necessary that the Himalayas and the forest growth on the mountain range should be left uninterfered with so that there may be sufficient quantity of rain. The top soil may be preserved without being eroded and the natural setting of the area may remain intact. tapping of (natural) resources have to be done with requisite attention and care, so that ecology and environment may not be affected in any serious way, (and) there may not be any depletion of the water resources and long term planning must be undertaken to keep up the national wealth.

It has always to be remembered that these are permanent assets of mankind and are not intended to be exhausted in one generation Preservation of the environment and keeping the ecological balance unaffected is a task which not only Governments but also every citizen must undertake. It is a social obligation and let us remind every Indian citizen that it is his fundamental duty as enshrined in Article 51A(g) of the Constitution."

Proposal to Constitute Environment Courts Back

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