Environmental Laws and Procedures in India

Published on 29/05/2011

  Environmental Laws and procedures in India

By Dr. Yashpal Singh

Updated 23/1/18

Public health, safety, convenience, decency and morals was covered under the Indian Penal code of 1860 and the term “Public Nuisance” defined under section 268 to include all acts and omissions likely to adversely impact public welfare . Fouling water of public springs or reservoirs was a punishable offence under section 277 and making the atmosphere noxious to health was covered as a punishable offence under section 228. (I.P.C.1860). Section 133 and 144 of The code of Criminal Procedure, India, 1973 as amended had provided for powers to the district Administration to order the removal of the nuisance including danger to public health and property. ( I.P.C.1860; Cr.P.C.1973)

India currently has a number of enactments aimed at promoting a clean and healthy environment. Some of these being the:

  1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 initiated the setting up of a regime for control of Pollution in India in the form of Central and the State Pollution Control Boards and Committees. The Act, the objective of which was to control Pollution and maintain the wholesomeness of water also established a system of restraining pollutants from being discharged into rivers lakes, wells or land on (Section 24) ,obtaining consents to establish and operate (Section 25/26) and fixing standards. It also gave powers to regulatory agencies to issue directions which could include directions for closure of any activity, operation or process and/or the suspension of water and power supply (Section 33A) and punitive provisions (Section 44; imprisonment from 18 to 72 months and with fine.)
    The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 introduced procedures for control of Air Pollution and setting up of ambient air quality and emission standards. The Boards and the Committees constituted to implement the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 were also empowered to administer the provisions of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981. Provisions for preventing discharge of emissions beyond the prescribed standards (Section 22) and for availing of consent to establish and operate were introduced (Section 21). The Boards were given powers to issue directions which could include directions for suspension of water and power supplies (Section 31) and punitive provisions were prescribed as similar to those in the Water( Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was a Central Act of Parliament passed in 1974, which provided for Water Pollution Control and also established the State (Water Prevention and Control of Pollution) Boards, subsequently renamed as the Pollution Control Boards. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 and the Environment Protection Act 1986 followed. These were also Central Acts of Parliament. While the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 was to be adopted by the State legislative Assemblies, the then existing State Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Boards were entrusted with the responsibilities of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 and the Central Government with the responsibilities of the E.P. Act 1986. The Central Government could delegate certain functions under the E.P. Act 1986 to the State Pollution Control Boards, the State Government or any other agency as prescribed.

The Water Act 1974, as the Water (Prevention and Control  of  Pollution)  Act  1974  is  also known, had amongst others the following provision:

  • That no effluents, beyond the prescribed standards, shall be discharged by any person into any stream, sewer, well or on land (Section 24, Water Act 1974).
  • That no effluents would be discharged into any stream, sewer, well or land without the consent of the State Pollution Control Board.(Section 25 / 26 Water Act 1974)

Similar provisions were also introduced through the Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act 1981wherein it was provided that:

  • No person operating any industrial plant in any air pollution control area shall discharge   or   cause   or   permit   to   be discharged the emission of any air pollutant in excess of the standards laid down by the State Board.(Section 22, Air Act 1981)
  • No person shall without the previous consent of the State Pollution Board, establish or operate an industrial plant  in  an  air  pollution prevention control area. (Section 21, Air Act 1981)

In the early days of implementation of the Water Act 1974 and the Air Act 1981, or immediately before the promulgation of the said Acts, many new development projects and industries had come up without adequate pollution control measures and the major problem before them was that they were  not  aware  of  the  environmental implications and responsibilities while planning for the project. It was also generally observed that most financial viability assessments were undertaken without including the costs for pollution control. This was a severe impediment in Industrial growth and an administrative blockage. Industry wanted to run the plant, recover funds and then invest in pollution control – the Board could not permit this. It was then that the concept of availing a No Objection Certificate was introduced by the Boards – primarily to advise industries on their responsibilities for pollution control, make them provide for it before commissioning and assess the financial viability of their projects accordingly.  The N.O.C. was also meant to enable the regulators, facilitators, bankers, etc understand  the  project  in  its  complete perspective and minimise the risks involved in clearing environmentally unsound proposals.

Establishment of an Industrial Plant was covered under the provisions of N.O.C. as above.

While the Air Act had already prescribed for a consent to establish, it was through the amendment of 1988 that specific legal provisions were made in the  Water  Act  to  legalize N.O.C. by prescribing that:

No person shall without the previous consent of the State Board (Section 26 / 26 of Water Act)

a)   Establish or take any steps to establish any industry, operation or process, or any treatment  and disposal system  or  an extension or addition there to which is likely to discharge sewage or trade effluents into a stream or well or sewer or an land or

b)   Bring into use any new or altered outlet for the discharge of sewage or

c)  Begin to make any new discharge of sewage

These provisions require that the concerned persons (Industries, local bodies, developers etc.) make  an  application  for  Consent  to  Establish and Consent to Operate to the State Pollution Control Boards as provided in Section 21 of the Air Act 1981 and Sections 25 / 26 of the Water Act 1974.

The Board after making due enquiries, grants or refuses consents within a period of 04 months as specified. Consents are normally granted with conditions for specified validity periods by the State Pollution Control Boards. These conditions are binding as per law and have to be complied with.

Any person aggrieved by an order (order of consent) of the Board passed under section 25 / 26 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 or Section 21 of the Air (Prevention and Control of  Pollution)  Act  1981  can  prefer  an  appeal within 30 days under Section 28 of the Water Act and Section 31 of the Air Act respectively. Appeals under Section 25/26 of the Water Act lie with the National Green Tribunal. In case of orders of the Board passed under section 21 of the Air Act, the appeal lies with the Appellate Authority created under section 31 of the Air Act and appeals against the orders of the Appellate Authority would lie with the National Green Tribunal. In order to be within the period of limitation it is advisable to remember this deadline of 30 days.

Section 27 of the Water Act also enables the State Boards to review on their own or in an implied way, on a request made to it, the consent orders and consent conditions and make necessary variations after giving proper opportunity to be heard. The Air Act does not enable the Board on this account. The Board can however as per section 26, review the conditions and make variations after giving proper opportunity of hearing.

Orders under section 33A of the Water Act and section 31 A of the Air Act and orders cancelling a consent or revising the consent conditions can only be passed by the State Boards after according proper opportunity of hearing as prescribed in law. Judiciary is very particular on this and therefore Industry is advised to avail this opportunity of Natural Justice. Industry is also advised to ensure that proper compliance of procedures for sampling and notice have been adhered to before the Board inspects a premises or collects samples. This will help the Industries to seek Judicial redressal in case of grievances.

The Pollution Control Boards have powers to make application to courts for restraining apprehended pollution of water in streams or wells (Section 33 of the Water Act 1974) and the powers to issue directions (Section 33A of the Water Act 1974) which may include directions to close any industry   or process and the stoppage or regulation of the supply of electricity, water or any other service. Penalties and procedures have been prescribed and in so far as non-compliance to Section 24 / 25 / 26 / 33A of the Water Act and compliance to conditions of consent to establish or operate, are concerned, the Act provides for imprisonment for a term which may not be less than 18 months but which may extend to six years and with fine. Continued offence invites further penalties. (Section 42, 43 and 44 of Water Act).

With reference to non – compliance of provisions of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act  1981,  the  Boards  have  powers  to  make application  to  courts  for  restraining  persons from  causing  air  pollution  (22A  of  Air  Act). Penalties  for  non  –  compliance  of  Consent provisions  and  conditions  (CTE;  CTO),  not ensuring  compliance  to  prescribed  standards and not complying with directions of the Board have also been prescribed in the Air Act of 1981 and   non   –   compliance   is   punishable   with imprisonment  for  a  term  extending  from  18 months to 6 years and with fine. (Section 37 of the Air Act). Repeated offence invites penalties that are more stringent. The Boards also have the   power   to   issue   directions   for   closure, prohibition   or   regulation   of   any   industry, operation   or   process   or   the   stoppage   or regulation of supply of electricity, water or any other service. (Section 31 A of the Air Act).

  1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act. 1977- Now Repealed in 2017

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act. 1977 was an act of Parliament to provide for the levy and collection of a cess on water consumed by persons carrying on certain industries and by local authorities with a view to argument the resources of the Central Board and the State Boards for the prevention and control of water pollution constituted under the water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act. 1974.The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act 1977 provided that the State Pollution Control Boards and Committees shall collect a Cess on water consumed by persons carrying on any Industry and from all Local authorities. This enactment, earlier made with the objective of augmenting the resources of the Pollution Control Boards, has been totally repealed through provisions of Section 18 of the Taxation Laws (Amendment Act) 2017.No Fresh Cess returns have to be submitted for periods beyond 01-07-2017 and no fresh assessments have to be made by the Pollution Control Boards/Committees for consumption beyond 01-07-2017. However Cess not collected by the Pollution Control Board for periods prior to 01-07-2017 shall be collected and paid by the Pollution Control Boards/Committees (the designated collection Authorities) to the Consolidated Fund of India and All persons liable to pay cess before 1st July, 2017 shall continue to be assessed and cess collected from the date of acquisition of such liability.

  1. The Environmental (Protection) Act 1986 was an umbrella act of Parliament to be executed by the Central Government. The act covers a range of polluting activities and prescribes standards and procedures to be followed. The standards for effluents and emission as prescribed under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 cannot be relaxed by any State Boards or Committees. They can only be made stringent on a case to case basis. It also provides for annual submission of Environmental Statements (Audits). A number of rules and notification have been issued under the E.P. (Act) 1986.
    • The E. Waste (Management) Rules 2016.

The new E. Waste (Management) Rules 2016 (GSR 338E:23.3.2016) apply to every manufacturer, producer, bulk consumer, other consumer, collection centre, refurbisher, dismantler, recycler or to any dealer and e-retailer involved in the manufacture, sale, Transfer, purchase, collection, storage and processing of e-waste or electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) as detailed in schedule 1 to the E-waste Rules. The rules establish responsibilities of the manufacturer, producer, collection centre, dealers, refurbishers, consumers, bulk consumers, dismantlers, recyclers and the state Government and prescribe a procedure for obtaining of authorization for the Manufacturer (From SPCB), Producer (Extended Producer responsibility authorization from the CPCB), Refurbisher (One Time authorization  from the CPCB), dismantler (SPCB) and Recycler (SPCB). Specific authorizations are required to be obtained by the occupiers (defined as the person, who in relation to any factory or premises has control over the affairs of the factory or the premises, and includes in relation to a hazardous substance the person in possession of the substance or waste).

The manufacturer, producer, importer, transporter, refurbisher, dismantler, recycler shall  liable for all damages caused to the environment or third party due to improper handling and management of E-Waste and shall also be liable to pay all financial penalties as levied for any violation of the provisions under the rules by the State Pollution Control Board with the prior approval of the Central Pollution Control Board.

  • The Bio Medical Waste Management Rules 2016

The Bio Medical Waste Management Rules 2016 have superseded the earlier rules of 1998 and now apply to all persons who generate, collect, receive, store, transport, treat, dispose or handle bio medical waste in any form including hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, dispensaries, veterinary institution, animal houses, pathological laboratories, blood banks, ayush hospitals, clinical establishments, research or educational institutions, health camps, medical or surgical camps, vaccination camps, blood donation camps, first aid rooms of schools, forensic labs and research labs.

The rules have established procedures for handling of biomedical wastes (Rule 4, 5, 8  and schedule I), the operation of bio medical waste treatment and disposal facilities (Rule 7), the standards ( as prescribed under Schedule II) and requirements of an authorization from the State Pollution Control Boards or Committee (Rule 10).

  • The Construction and Demolition waste management Rules 2016

 The Construction and Demolition waste management Rules 2016  were published by the MoEF and CC on 29-03-2016 vide G.S.R. 317 (E). These rules apply to every waste resulting from construction, remodeling, repair and demolition of any civil structure of individual or organization or authority which generates construction and demolition waste such as building materials, debris, rubble. A waste generators could be any person or association of persons or institutional, residential and commercial establishments including Indian Railways, Airport, Port and Harbors and defense establishments  who undertake construction or demolition of any civil structure which generate construction and demolition waste.  The rules establish procedures for segregation storage and disposal, of preparing waste management plans, seeking approvals from Municipal Authorities and payment of charges for processing and disposal of such wastes. (Rule 4) The rules also prescribe duties of service providers and contractors (Rule 5) , duties of local authorities, who shall also examine and sanction the Waste Management plans (Rule 6), State Pollution Control Boards (Rule 8) who would grant authorization to the construction and demolition waste processing facilities and the duties of the State Governments/UT, (Rule 9), the CPCB (Rule 10), the BIS , the Indian Road Congress (Rule 11) and the Central Government (Rule 12).

  • The Hazardous and other wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016

The Hazardous and other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules 2016 have been notified by the MoEF and CC and apply to wastes which by reason of their characteristic properties, (Physical, Chemical, Biological, Reactive, Toxic, Flammable, Explosive or Corrosive) causes danger or is likely to cause danger to health or environment whether alone or in contact with other waste or substances. Such waste has been indicated to also include wastes covered in the Schedule I, II and III of these rules. The notification also makes a mention of “other wastes” needing regulation. “Other Wastes” are those wastes which are included in Part B and Part D of Schedule III to the notification.

The rules provide for authorisations, granted normally for a period of 5 years)  and procedures for handling Hazardous and other wastes including Temporary storage of wastes, utilisation of Hazardous waste as a resources and the import and export of Hazardous wastes.

  • The Manufacture, storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989

The Manufacture, storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 were notified under the Environment Protection Act and deal with industrial accidents involving Hazardous chemicals. The rules apply to industrial activities involving the use of Hazardous chemicals as identified through Part I of Schedule I and column II of part 2 of the rules and to isolated storages involving the storage of hazardous chemicals beyond the threshold quantities as prescribed (Schedule 2, Column 2 and 3).

Occupiers having control over industrial activities involving the handling of hazardous chemicals will have to identify the manor hazards and febe adequate steps to prevent major accidents and provide information training equipment including antidites necessary to ensure safely. The rules also provide procedures for notifying accidents (Rule 5), Preparation of safety reports (Rule 10), notification of sites (Rule 7) and the preparation of onsite emergency plan by the occupier (Rule 13) and an off site emergency plan by the authorities (Rules 14). Import of Hazardous chemicals is covered under Rule 18.

  • The Environment Impact Assessment notification of 2006

Recognizing the importance of Environmental Impact Assessments in locating development activities in an environmentally sustainable manner, the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India prescribed a procedure for imposing restrictions and prohibitions on the expansion and modernization of activities being undertaken in any part in India unless environmental clearance has been accorded by the Moef, Government of India or in certain cases by the State Government. This was through the E.I.A. notification of 1994 and its various amendments. The Central Government, through the Environmental Impact Assessment Agency, was granting environmental clearance subject to certain conditions. In order to monitor effectively the implementation of the recommendations   and   conditions   subject   to which the environmental clearance has been given, the project authorities concerned were expected to submit half-yearly reports to the Impact Assessment Agency. Non-compliance of conditions is a violation of the Environmental Protection Act.  Compliance monitoring under the E.I.A. notification of 1994 as amended was and is also being performed by the Regional Officers of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, and the State Pollution Control Boards as part of the consent mechanism. The E.I.A. notification of 1994 as above was superseded and replaced by notification no S.O. 1533 dated 14-09-2006 issued by the Government of India. This notification provided for the establishment of the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities, the Central and State Expert Appraisal Committees and the procedures for granting environmental clearances. It is under this notification that clearances are issued by the MoEF after 2006.

The Environment Impact Assessment notification of 2006 identifies 37 activities in  8 categories of projects and activities (New projects and expansion or modernization of existing projects) where prior Environmental clearance must be obtained by the project proponents (Schedule 1). The activities are classified into two categories A and B. Category A projects are considered through an expert Appraisal Committee constituted at the level of the Central Government and granted/refused a clearance by the MoEF and CC, GOI on the recommendation of this committee. Category B projects are considered through the State Expert Appraisal Committees and granted /refused clearances by the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority. In the absence of a duly constituted authority/committee at the State Level, a category ‘B’ project automatically becomes a category ‘A’ project.

Screening, Scoping, public consultation (with exceptions) and appraisal constitute the various stages of project evaluation and time frames for each stage prescribed. Environmental Impact Assessments have been provided as an essential management tool (with exceptions) for the clearance mechanism. Quality Council of India, accredited consultants are authorized to make presentations on the EIA and EMP before the respective Appraisal Committees.

A six monthly monitoring schedule is also prescribed. Monitoring is done by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. This is essentially a clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the SEIAA/SEAC represent constituent entity of the Ministry at the State Level.

Validity of Environmental Clearances is generally limited to 10 years and the Environmental Clearance is transferable. This clearance is different from the consents to establish issued by the State Boards and Committees and the conditions of the Environmental Clearance are generally included as condition of consent aforementioned.

  • The Central Ground water Authority

The Central Ground Water Authority has been constituted under section 3 (3) of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 to regulate and control development and management of ground water resources in India and to issue necessary regulatory directions for the purpose. The National Green Tribunal has directed that no person shall with draw ground water without the permission of the CGWA. (NGT)

  1. The Public Liability Insurance Act 1991

The Public Liability Insurance Act is an act of Parliament of India to provide for immediate relief to the persons affected by accidents occurring while handling any hazardous substances. This act is related to immediate relief, not compensation and is specific to relief on death or injury to any person other than a workman (as defined in the workman compensation Act 1923) or damage to any property as a result of a major accident.  The victims also have a right to claim compensation under any other law  in force.

Every owner handling any hazardous substance (as defined and categorized in the Act) has to take out one or more insurances policies against liability to give relief. The insurance policy shall not be less than the amount of paid up capital ( defined as the amount of the market value of all assets and stocks of the undertaking on the date of contract of insurance) and not more than 50 crore rupees. Every owner is also supposed to pay to the insurance, together with the premium, a sum equal to the amount of the premium for a relief fund.

The maximum aggregate liability on the insurer has been limited to Rs. 5 Crores in the case of a single accident and Rs. 15 Crores in case of more than one accidents during the currency of the policy or one year which ever is less. Any award for relief beyond the amount shall be met from the relief fund and in case the award is for an amount greater than the sum of the insurers liability and the relief fund then the extra sum will be paid by the owner. The owner is supposed to reimburse the collector for the Money which is  paid from the relief fund.

The right to claim relief under the PLI Act is in addition to any right to compensation as under any other law in free. However, in case compensation is also sought, the amount of relief will be deducted from this compensation.

Section 12 of the Act empowers the Central Governments and State Government to issue directions on prohibition or regulation of the handling of any hazardous substance or for stoppage or regulation of the supply or electricity, water or any other service. Failure to comply with the directions issued under section 12 as above or not taking an insurance policy or not contributing to the relief fund will invite imprisonment which shall extend from 18 month to 72  months (24 months to 84 months in case of repeated offence). A maximum imprisonment of 3 months and a fine of Rs. 10000 is prescribed for other offences.

  1. The National Green Tribunal Act 2010

The National Green Tribunal constituted through the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 deals with the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources and also adjudicates on legal rights and compensation for damages. If specifically address to questions arising out of the implementation of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act 1977, The Environment Protection Act of 1986, the Forest conservation Act of 1980, the Wild Life Protection Act 1972, the Public Liability Insurance Act of 1991 and the Biodiversity Act of 2002. This includes adjudication of disputes arising out of decisions taken by the appellate authorities constituted under the aforesaid acts and disputes arising out of orders passed by the Pollution Control Boards, Forest and Environment Departments, National and State Biodiversity Boards, Central and State Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities. The procedure for filing application prescribes that an application or appeal to the tribunal can be made by the applicant or appellant either in person or through an authorised agent or by a duly authorised legal practitioner. The highlight of this Act has been the appointment of expert Members and the inclusion of provisions for the use of scientific knowledge in the settlement of disputes.

Appeals against orders passed by the Tribunal are only maintainable at the Supreme Court of India. Section 26 (i) of the National Green Tribunal Act States that a person who fails to comply with an order or award or decision of the Tribunal is punishable with imprisonment for a term upto 3 years or with a fine upto I.N.R. 10 Crores or both. If the failure or contravention continues, an additional fine of Rs. 25000 would apply to every day of the failure after connection for the first failure.

In case of noncompliance of orders or decisions by companies, Section 26(2) provides a fine of upto Rs. 25 crores. If the failure or contravention continues, an additional fine upto Rs. 100000 per day applies.

  1. The Company Act 2013

The new Company’s Act of 2013   has made provisions for Corporate Social Responsibility with a provision to spend 2% of the Average profits over the past 3 years and made CSR and the reporting of C.S.R. activities mandatory.( Section 135, Company Act 2013) The Environmental Impact assessment notification of 2006 enables the government to prescribe compulsory incorporation and implementation of C.S.R. initiatives. Noncompliance has been regarded as a punishable offence.

  1. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980

The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 is a Central  Act of Parliament with a view to provide for the conservation of forests and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental there to. Section 2 of the Act makes a provisions of a prior approval of the Central Government being necessary before a state Government or any other Authority issues directions for dereservation of reserved forests (which have been reserved under the forest Act 1927), use of forest land for non forest purposes, assigning forest land by way of lease or otherwise to any private person or to any authority, corporation agency, or any other organization not owned, managed or controlled by the government and clear felling of naturally grown trees. The term forest land mentioned in section 2 refers to any reserved forest, protected forest, or any area recorded as forest in the Government records. Land notified under section 4 of the Indian Forest Act would also come under the purview of the Forest conservation Act 1980. The Supreme Court of India has held that Forests as understood in the dictionary term would be regarded as forest land. The term ‘Forest’ would not be applicable to plantation raised on private lands except notified private forests. Procedures for making application have been prescribed. Appeals lie with the National Green Tribunal.

  1. The Wild Life Protection Act of 1972

The Wild Life Protection Act of 1972 provides for the protection of wild animals, birds and plants with a view to ensuring the ecological and environmental securities of the country and for matters ancillary and incidental thereto. The act provides for the constitution of the National Board for Wild life and the State Board for Wild Life and regulates the hunting of wild animals and protection of specified plants. It also empowers State Governments to notify Sanctuaries, National Parks and game reserves and regulate development in the fringe area through delineation and notification of Eco sensitive zones. If also provides for a system of clearances from the National Board for wild life. Any project which is proposed within 10 Kms of the boundaries of a protected area shall also require a NBWL clearance if an eco sensitive area has not already been notified for the protected area.

9. Public Interest Litigation

  • It was somewhere during the evolution of these tools that public interest litigation was also recognised as a cooperative effort in which the petitioner, the state or the public authority and the court endeavoured to secure legal rights, benefits and privileges conferred upon the weaker sections of society and to reach social justice to them. It was also emphasized that the state or public authority which is arrayed as a respondent in public interest litigation should in fact welcome it as it would give an opportunity to right a wrong or to redress an injustice done to the poor and weaker section of the community whose welfare is and must be the prime concern of the State or the Public authority. It was this period that witnessed the emergence of the courts as courts for the poor and struggling masses of the country and of public interest litigation as a tool to solve problems of the poor and the vulnerable sections of society.(S.P.Gupta and others vs. President of India and others, AIR 1982, S.C.149; Peoples Union for Democratic Rights and others vs Union of India and others, AIR 1982, S.C. 1973)
  • Of special importance to enviro-legal action is writ Petition no. 8209 and 8821/83, which was the first public interest Litigation in the country, involving issues related to environmental and ecological balance. It brought into sharp focus the conflict between development and conservation and emphasised the need for reconciling the two in the large interests of the country. Against an imbalance to ecology and hazard to healthy environment due to working of lime stone quarries in the Mussoorie ranges, the Supreme court ordered the closure of lime stone quarries.
  • The ball had been set rolling for a dynamic movement in the country. Coupled with increasing environmental awareness and an imperative need to conserve environment, individuals and groups started looking to the courts for a judicial redressal to social problems. The Supreme court stated that it would respond even to a letter addressed by any individual in matters of public interest. A number of issues were thrown up. It was recognised that non compliance of pollution control laws was a serious offence. Non conformity to standards stipulated by the Pollution Control Board elicited decisions involving immediate closure. Episodal pollution and hazards thereof brought to the fore the importance of industrial siting and absolute liability. Industries were asked to shift from non conforming land use areas. Forest rights were restored, workers rights protected, health compensations awarded. A number of important directions were given by the courts from time to time which have served as indicators of judicial thought and the seriousness with which they view environmental inaction.
  • Where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm results to any one on account of an accident in the operation of such hazardous or inherently dangerous activity resulting in the escape of toxic gas, the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all those who are affected in the accident and such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions which operate vis a vis the tortious principle of strict liability. In such a case, the measure of compensation must be correlated to the magnitude and capacity of the enterprise because such compensation must have a deterrent effect. The larger and more prosperous the enterprise, the greater must be the amount of compensation.
  • Where in a public interest litigation owners of some of the tanneries did not care in spite of notice to them even to enter appearance in the Supreme Court to express their willingness to take appropriate steps to establish the pretreatment plants, it was held that so far as they were concerned an order directing them to stop working their tanneries should be passed. It was further observed that the financial capacity of the tanneries should be considered as irrelevant while requiring them to install PETPs.
  • Where a person though not a riparian owner is a person interested in protecting the lives of the people who make use of the water flowing in the river Ganga his right to maintain the petition connot be disputed. Stay by High courts should not normally be granted and if granted the matter should be disposed off within a short period, say about two months.
  • Where remedial measures are required, the Supreme Court directed the Central Government to assess the amount which the respondents are liable to pay to improve and restore the environment in the area, damaged by their action. In case of failure of the respondents to pay the amount, the same could be recovered by the Central Government in accordance with Law.
  • The Supreme Court ordered the closure of 168 hazardous industries in Delhi and also ordered them to shift out side the capital. The court has given protection to the workers by directing that they shall be treated as continuing in their employment, with a shifting allowance. Those who want to quit their jobs or cannot shift could claim retrenchment benefits plus the shifting allowance.
  • Similarly on 19 Dec 1996, the Supreme Court directed 550 tanneries to a new site by April 1997. They were asked to deposit 25% of the price of the new land. All units which deposit the money were directed to be permitted to operate till they are relocated. Directions were also issued that workmen will not be retrenched but allowed to continue at the same site. They should be considered as actively employed between the closure and relocation. The tanneries opting for closure will have to pay 6 years (Six) wages to the retrenched workers. ( Jan. 1997)
  • The Supreme Court to save the Taj Mahal from pollution being caused by polluting industries at Agra ordered for the shifting/ relocation of industries and directed some to adopt gas based technologies.
  • The Supreme court has ordered that compensation be paid to the heirs of the deceased workers, suspected to have succumbed to silicosis; ailing workers and even to those who have succumbed to the desease because of living in the neighbour hood of quartzite crushing units in Jhargram, West Bengal.
  • The Supreme court has ordered the polluting tanneries in Tamil Nadu to compensate the affected persons and to pay the cost of restoring the damaged ecology
  • The Gujrat High Court has ordered the closure of dyeing and printing units, holding them responsible for polluting the drinking water. The dyeing units were also required to pay 1% of their 3 years turn over as penalty to the people affected by the polluted water
Filed in: Laws and Procedures

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