Judiciary’s role in Environment Protection

Post-liberalization, the protection of environment was not very significant on account of the need for a modern turn of events coupled with political aggravations. The focus was on expanding the commercial and economic workspace of our country. However, after the Bhopal Gas disaster, making sure provisions were in place to take care of the environment was given importance. It was only after this disaster that the horizons of environmental law broadened and legislations were enacted. In spite of the various legislative advances put in place to provide an impetus to guarantee the right of man to live in a sound environment, it is a far reality. To achieve this end, the legal executive has built up specific norms to give feasible fixes in case of an encroachment of appointed and regulatory request. A couple of thoughts which the legitimate official has progressed in order to offer capacity to the other side of man to a strong space would be immediately overseen. The current article discuss excessively the obligation of judiciary in the assurance of a healthy environment.

Constitutional Aspects of Environmental Law

In the Indian Constitution, for the first time the responsibility of protection of the environment was imposed upon the states through Constitution (Forty Second Amendment) Act, 1976. Article 48A states that, the State shall endeavour to guard and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wildlife of the country.” The Amendment also inserted Part VI-A (Fundamental duty) within the Constitution, which reads as follows:

Article 51A (g) “It shall be duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creature.” [1] In Sachidanand Pandey v. State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court observed “whenever a drag of ecology is brought before the court, the court is sure to bear in mind Article 48A and Article 51A(g).[2]

Failure of the Supreme Court to meet expectations

Sardar Sarovar Dam Project

The NBA’s petition to the court was to call for a comprehensive review of the project and for a court order to stop all construction and displacement until the completion of the review. In May 1995, the court issued a stay on further construction of the dam but the orders were disregarded.

On 18 October, 2000 the Supreme Court pronounced its final judgement by a two is to one majority ruling and upheld the plan for development of the Sardar Sarovar dam. It allowed the construction of the dam up to the originally planned height of 138 metres and its immediate construction of a height of 90 metres. Thus, taking a predevelopment stance as against environmental and human rights issues. It not only authorised the construction of the dam to proceed but also stated that it was a matter of priority to complete the construction of the dam. It ordered the ‘monitoring and reviewing of resettlement and rehabilitation programmes with the raising of the dam height.’ It additionally ordered the states concerned to ‘comply with the decisions of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) and directed that the ‘NCA will draw up a plan in relation to further construction of the dam and relief and rehabilitation to be undertaken’.

The Court further declared that if the Review Committee of the NCA is unable to decide on any issue, the committee may refer the same to the Prime Minister whose decision will be final and obligatory on all concerned. This changed approach of the Court can be attributed to the change in the membership of the Court which adopted a pro-development stance and supported the government’s version of the case ignoring the human suffering of the local population (Rajagopal, 2005). The social activists lamented that none of the issues relating to rehabilitation and resettlement or human rights violations were satisfactorily dealt with either by the government or by the Supreme Court.[3]

The Court’s complete faith in the government to the NBA was totally unjustified. In 2002, the NBA again filed a petition claiming that the resettlement and the rehabilitation on the ground was not taking place alongside the construction of the dam. In 2006, the Court accepted the Prime Minister’s conclusion of not stopping the construction work in larger public interest and that the relief and rehabilitation work could be undertaken in the monsoon period when the construction work on the dam would have to be stopped. In 2008, at the final hearing before the Supreme Court, it was argued on behalf of the farmers that the Rehabilitation and Resettlement by the Madhya Pradesh government was not in accordance with the Narmada Tribunal’s Award directives and the constitutional right to life under Article 21. While the case stagnated in the Supreme Court, the NBA besides pursuing the legal remedies, continued to engage in various forms of direct action such as public meetings, rallies, demonstrations, fasts and dharnas (Narula, 2008).

The Sardar Sarovar dam became symbolic of a larger struggle over the discourse of human rights and development in India.

The Bhopal Gas Disaster Case[4]

The Bhopal gas tragedy, which occurred in December of 1984 at Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, till date is the world’s worst industrial disaster. The tragedy was a result of the leak of the methyl isocynate gas from the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) plant which manufactured pesticides. On the night of December 2-3, 1984, there was a leak of MIC gas which is considered to be the most toxic chemical in industrial use. The people in the city were exposed to this gas and the immediate effects of inhaling the gas were coughing, vomiting, severe eye irritation, and a feeling of suffocation. Thousands of people died and immediately and lakhs of people sustained permanent injuries.

In March 1985, the Government of India passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Act to take upon itself the responsibility by invoking the doctrine of parens patriae to bring a suit on behalf of all the victims of the disaster who would be potential claimants for compensation in a court of law, leading to the beginning of legal proceedings. The grounds for invoking the doctrine were given as – constitutional duty to secure justice for all the victims not only the present ones but also the future generations and to protect, preserve and restore the natural environment and the economy of the country.

In November 1988, the Supreme Court told bothy the sides to come to an agreement and “start with a clean slate”. Eventually, an out-of-court settlement was reached in February, 1989. Union Carbide agreed to pay ₹ 35,38,40,44,000 for damages caused in the Bhopal disaster, an amount which was 15% of the original claimed in the lawsuit. There was a huge public outcry that the settlement was a sell-out.

To prevent such events from occurring in the future, the author believes that the government should thoroughly check and regulate such industries. In the event of such an outsized scale disaster as Bhopal, the questions like who is true and who is wrong and who was negligent and who wasn’t become totally irrelevant within the plight of thousands of individuals who get affected in one single night.


Along these lines, upon analysing the previously mentioned cases, we find that the Supreme Court as of now expands the fluctuated legitimate arrangements concerning the insurance of nature. Along these lines, the equity framework attempts to fill in the holes when there is an absence of enactment. These new advancements and improvements in India through legal activism open the numerous ways to deal with helping the nation. In India, courts are very mindful and wary about the real idea of ecological rights, in light of the fact that the loss of normal assets can’t be restored. The author thus believes that there in an inherent need of suggestions that should be thought of and implemented.

[1] https://legaljugaad.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/citizen-suit-provision-under-various-environmental-legislations

[2] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/497388/

[3] http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/Jones/narmada.html

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/12/bhopal-the-worlds-worst-industrial-disaster-30-years-later/100864/

Rinsha Narayanan from Christ (Deemed to be University), Delhi NCR

editor: vatsala sood

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