VELLORE CITIZENS WELFARE FORUM V. UNION OF INDIA & ORS

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BY HEERA MURALEEDHARAN K

PETITIONER   :  VELLORE CITIZENS WELFARE FORUM

RESPONDENT : UNION OF INDIA & ORS

DATE OF JUDGEMENT : 28/08/1996

BENCH                                 : KULDIP SINGH, FAIZAN UDDIN , K. VENKATASWAMI

NO. OF JUDGES                  : 3

WRIT PETITION                   : (C) NO. 914 OF 1991

INTRODUCTION

Environmental ethics has always been a part of the Indian philosophy and solely had found a place in the Indian Constitution. India witnessed significant growth in the environmental jurisprudence in the last two decades, largely as a result of the initiatives taken by the Indian Judiciary.After the tragic incident of Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the Indian judiciary has considered the right to pollution free environment as a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This action by the Supreme Court paved way for the Indian Legislature to enact the 42nd Constitutional Amendment which enlarged the Constitutional Mandate to include Environment Protection in it. The Indian Judiciary has shown tremendous amount of willingness to set off of the fundamental principles of common law i.e. a remedy can be granted only when there exists a right and duties explore new avenues to incorporate various fundamental rights of the citizens. Every citizen has the right to live in free and fair environment.

FACTS

  • The petitioner -Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum, filed a public interest litigation under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.
  • Petition was filed against the large -scale pollution caused to the River Palar due to the discharge of untreated and unaltered effluents by the tanneries and other industries in the state of Tamil Nadu. The water of River Palar is the main source of drinking water and house hold activities of the surrounding people.
  • Then the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University Research Centre, Vellore found that the nearly 35,000 hectares of agricultural lands has become either wholly or partially unsuitable for  the cultivation.
  • This is a leading case in which the Supreme Court critically analysed the relationship between the environment and development.

ISSUE

                     The question which arose for consideration before the Supreme Court was whether the tanneries should be allowed to continue to operate at the cost of lives of lakhs of people.

ARGUMENTS FROM THE SIDE OF PETITINER :

The petitioner argued that the  Palar River  has been intoxicated and has resulted in the non – accessibility of consumable water and domestic purposes  to the inhabitants of that area. It is expressed that the tanneries in the State of Tamil Nadu have caused environmental debasement in the zone, so the inhabitants of that area may suffer lot of problems in the tanneries. An autonomous study directed by peace members, a non – administrative association, covering 13 towns of Dindigal and Peddiar Chatram Anchayat  Unions ,uncovers that 350 well out of an aggregate of 467 utilised for drinking and water system purposes have been contaminated.

ARGUMENTS FROM THE SIDE OF RESPONDENT :

Learned counsel for the tanneries brought up a criticism that the standard with respect to Total Dissolved Solids ( TDS) fixed by the Board was not legitimized . This court by the request dated April 9,1996 ,coordinated the NEERI to inspect this angle and offer its input. In its report dated June 11,1996 , NEERI has legitimized the models stipulated by the Board. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF0 has not completely set down models for inland surface water release for Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) , sulphates and chlorides. The choice on these guidelines’ rests with the individual State Pollution Control Boards according to the prerequisites based on nearby site conditions. The guidelines stipulated by TNPCB are advocated on afore alluded contemplations. The endorsed principles of the TNPCB for inland surface water release can be met for tannery squander water cost- viably through appropriate embed control gauges in tanning activity, and normally structured and viably worked  wastewater treatment planets ( ETPs and CEPTs).

REASONING

The constitution of India came in to force on 26th January ,1950.Originally the constitution contains no specific provisions for the environmental protection. However, certain specific provision have been incorporated by the constitution ,under 42nd Amendment Act , 1976.

CONSTITUTION 42ND AMENDMENT ACT ; In 1976 ,the constitution 42nd Amendment Act was passed and the provisions relating to the protection of environment for the first time incorporated new ARTICLES 48-A, and ARTICLE 51- A.

According to Article 48 -A of the Constitution of India  “the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”

According to Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution of India  “ It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests , lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures “.

These two provisions impose two -fold responsibilities . On the other hand , it gives directive to the state for protection and improvement of environment and on the other hand it casts or imposes a duty on every citizen to help in the preservation of natural environment.

Thera are about 200 central and state legislation on environment protection. The most important environmental legislation, passed by the parliament under Article 249 of the constitution  the Acts

The Water ( Prevention and Control of Pollution ) Act ,1974.

The Air ( Prevention and Control of Pollution ) Act, 1974

The Air ( Prevention and Control of Pollution )Act, 1981

The Environment (Protection ) Act, 1986.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Part III of the Constitution containing ARTICLE 12-35 deals with the fundamental rights. Articles 15(2)(b), Article 21 , and Article 24 provide for the specific provision for environmental protection. According to Article 15(2)(b) of the Constitution of India “No citizen shall on grounds only of religion, race , caste, sex, place of birth, or any of them be subjected to any disability ,liability, restriction or condition with regard to the use of wells, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resorts ,maintained wholly or partly out for state funds or dedicated to the use of general public.

Article 15(2) prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, religion, caste , place of birth etc to make use of the public places the general public.

The public places, which are part and parcel of the human beings to the  environment should be made available to the public.So, all the citizens have the right to provide the public amenities for their uses. 

ARTICLE 21

                ARTICLE 21 IS THE HEART OF THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT and has received ,expanded meaning time to time.

IN MANEKA GANDHI      V.       UNION OF INDIA

                            Article 21 guarantees a fundamental right to life – right to life and personal liberty, a life of dignity to be lived in a proper and fair environment ,free of danger of disease and infection.

IN RURAL LITIGATION AND ENTITLEMENT KENDRA   V.   STATE OF UP

This case is also popularly known as  DEHRADUN QUARRYING CASE – The right to live in a healthy environment as a part of Article 21 of the constitution was first recognized. It is the first case of this kind in India ,involving issues relating to environmental and ecological imbalance. The R.L.and E Kendra and others in a letter to the Supreme Court complained about the illegal or unauthorized mining in the Missouri ,Dehradun belt. 

IN M C MEHTA   V. UNION OF INDIA

This case is also popularly known as OLEUM GAS LEAK CASE  – The Supreme Court treated the right to live in pollution free environment as apart of fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the constitution.

IN T. DAMODHAR RAO    V.     S O MUNCIPAL CORPORATION, HYDERABAD

  The right to live in healthy environment was specially declared to be part of Article 21 of the constitution.

DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY

          Part IV of the Constitution , containing ARTICLE 36-51 ,deals with the Directive Principles of State Policy . The directive principles from the fundamental feature and are designed to achieve socio- economic goals.

THE GENERAL FUNCTIONS OF MOST ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS ARE :-

  •  The Set of the offences and penalties for causing harm and destruction to the environment which is not authorised.
  • Assess, control or stop certain activities ( such as land use and development)  before they carried out.
  • The Set of policies and standards for how the activities will be controlled and how environmental decisions and approvals will be made.
  • Enable members of the public to take part in environmental decision making.
  • Create regulatory structures of environmental management, such as regulatory agencies.
  • Example: The Department of Lands, Planning and Environment.
  • Create specialist courts and tribunals .
  • Example: The Lands, Planning and Mining Tribunal .

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE AND POLLUER PAYS PRINCIPLE:

                      In 1992, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development codified the principle of sustainable development for the protection of the environment. The basic concept of sustainable development aims to maintain a balance between the economic advancement while protecting the environment in order to meet the needs of the present as well the future generations. The present generation used the environment in highly misuse so it may cause the future generation for the free and fair water, air etc.

PRINCIPLES OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT :

  • Conservation of ecosystem.
  • Development of sustainable society .
  • Conservation of biodiversity.
  • Control of population growth.
  • Development of human resources .
  • Promotion of public participation .

The PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE requires that, if there is a strong suspicion that a certain activity may be environmentally harmful, and  consequences ,it is better to control that activity now rather than to wait for incontrovertible scientific evidence.

   The POLLUTER PAYS PRINCIPLE is the commonly accepted practice that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of the managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment. This principle underpins most of the regulation of pollution affecting land ,water and the air.

The  PUBLIC TRUSTDOCTRINE is for the protection of natural resources .This doctrine postulates that the public has a right to expect that certain lands and natural areas will retain their natural characteristics to be protected. This doctrine enjoins up on the government to protect the resources for the enjoyment of the general public rather than to permit their use for private ownership or commercial purposes for the betterment of the future generation.  The public trust doctrine primarily rests on the principle that certain resources such as rivers, seashores, forests and the ais were by held by the government in trust for the public. The said resources being a gift of nature, so they each of them protect that the nature’s gift. All citizens have the right to protect the nature andthey should be made freely available to everyone irrespective of the status in life.

The INTER GENERATIONAL EQUITY is a value concept which focuses on the rights of future generations . Each generation has the right to inherit the same diversity in natural and cultural resources enjoyed by previous generations and to equitable access to the use and benefits of the resources so they all are liable to protect the environment in good way and Intergenerational equity represent a widely recognized principle of international environmental law providing for the preservation of natural resources and the environment for the benefit of future generations.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ACT ,1986

The Environmental (Protection ) was enacted with the main objective and aim to provide the protection and improvement of environment and for matters connected therewith. The Act is one of the most comprehensive legislations with a intend to protection and improvement of the environment. The Environment ( Protection ) Act , 1986 enacted under ARTICLE 253 of the CONSTITUTION passed in March 1986, It came in to force on 19th November 1986. It has 26 SECTIONS and 4 CHAPTERS.

   CHAPTER 3 of the  Environmental (Protection ) Act deals with the prevention ,control and abatement of the environmental pollution .This chapter provides that ; No person carrying on any industry , operation or process shall be discharge or emit or permit to be discharged or emitted any environmental pollutant in excess of such standards as may be prescribed .No person shall handle or cause to be handled any hazardous substances except in accordance with  such procedure and after complying with such safeguards as may be prescribed.

PENALITIES

                    SECTION 15 provides for the contravention of the provisions of the Act as well as the RULES,ORDERS, and DIRECTIONS. Whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any of the provisions ,rules, orders, or directions of this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years or with the fine which may extend to 1 lakh rupees or with the both . If the failure or contravention continues beyond a period of 1 year after the date of conviction , the offender shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years.

JUDGEMENT

The Supreme Court examining the report delivered its judgement making all efforts to maintain a harmony between the environment and development. The Court admitted the tanneries in India are the major foreign exchange earner and also provides employment to several thousands of people . But at the same time, it  destroys the environment and poses a health hazard to everyone. The Court delivering its judgement in favour of the petitioners directed all the tanneries to deposit a sum of Rs. 10,000 as fine in the office of collector as fine. The Court further said that the State of Tamil Nadu to award Mr. M. C. Mehta with a sum of Rs. 50,000 as appreciation towards his efforts for the protection of the environment. The Court in this case also emphasized on the constitution of Green Benches in India dealing specifically with the matters relating to the environment protection and also for speedy disposal of environmental case.

IMPORTANT ACTS AND LAWS  :

  • Public Interest Litigation
  • Article 32
  • Sustainable Development
  • Precautionary Principle
  • Polluter Pays Principle
  • Public Trust Doctrine
  • Intergenerational Equity
  • Section 3(3) of Environmental Protection Act ,1986
  • Penalty Provisions

REFERENCES

  • J.N Pandey           – Constitutional Law of India
  • Bare Act                – Constitutional Law of India
  • Bare Act                 – Environmental Protection Act , 1986
  • Satish C. Shastri    – Environmental Law
  • Indiankanoon.org
  • www.lawnn.com

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