In India, Public Interest Litigation emerged as a developing mechanism in the domain of environment protection. In environmental litigation, the parties that are affected maybe an unidentified or a diffused mass of individuals and the violation of a legal right of a single individual would be difficult to establish. Before the 1980s, the locus standi in writ jurisdictions only included petitions from an individual who has suffered a violation of his/her protected legal right or interest or is likely to suffer such violation, thus no other person was entitled to represent an aggrieved party as such a person would not possess the locus standi to institute a petition. But with the advent of Public Interest Litigation through the reports of the Committee on Legal Aid presided by Justice P.N. Bhagwati and Justice Krishna Iyer brought about a new development in environment oriented jurisprudence.
Significance of PIL for Environment Protection
The inception of the concept of PIL has lead to tremendous changes in the field of environmental litigation. It has broadened the scope for the public to enforce their Constitutional as well as Statutory rights through PIL. Before the emergence of PIL, petitions to be filed against environmental pollution and degradation were governed under the Criminal Law by the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure and under the Civil Law by the Law of Torts. The provisions for public nuisance under these laws covered noise, air and water pollution and a suit against such environmental pollution could only be instituted by a person or a party which is directly affected by it.
Judiciary and Environmental Litigation
The citizens under Article 32 and Article 226 of the Constitution of India have started using PIL as a tool to restore their fundamental rights which are being affected by the environmental pollution and degradation. A PIL against environmental pollution can be filed in the Supreme Court under Article 32 and in the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. A few cases instituted though PIL are, Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh, which raised issues relating to the ecological imbalances and the Right to Pollution Free environment. The Supreme Court included the right to a wholesome environment under the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and that could be asserted by the citizens against the State. Under Article 32, a petition was filed demanding the closure of limestone quarry as the blasting of mines caused ecological imbalances and health hazards to the people and the environment.
Intricacies of Public Interest Environmental Litigation
The introduction and development of PIL in the Indian Judiciary has not only brought about as increase in environmental cases affecting the public at large but has also uncovered many pitfalls of the concept. Giving the right to “public spirited” citizens to move to court on behalf of the affected community or mass of individuals has shown a rise in cases related instead with private injuries and has become more personalized and attention-seeking. The method of PIL was to bring about inexpensive and quick redressal of issues affecting the environment and the public at large, but this has not been the case. The Godavarman case is a classic example of the Court being seized of the problem for over a decade and its final resolution is a long way in coming.[iii]
India being a developing country has seen a rise in the environmental degradation and pollution to which PIL on environment protection has proved to be an effective mechanism for restoration and redressal to the environment and the citizens of the country. With the amended environmental law and the new procedures of PIL any citizen or an organization, whether directly or indirectly affected may institute a petition against the ecological and environmental imbalances which not only cause harm to the citizens, but are also violative of their fundamental rights. It has proved to be a new dawn for the marginalized citizens who are unable to voice their opinions on the atrocities committed on them as well as the environment by various industries and also the Government. Through judicial activism as a means of PIL, the courts check the working of the Government and provide remedies and re-enforce the infringed fundamental rights of the citizens. Thus the introduction of PIL for environmental issues by the Indian Judiciary has been a boon to the citizens of the country.
[i] PIL to ensure that institutions behave lawfully: Public Access to Environmental Justice in India by D. S. Sengar available at http://www.jstor.com/stable/43952408 (accessed on 12/10/20 at 6:30 PM)
[ii] Public Interest Environmental Litigations in India: Contributions and Complications by Geetanjoy Sahu available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/41856466 (accessed on 12/10/20 at 7:00 PM)
[iv] Corporate activity and human rights in india by Gabriella Waas (accessed on 12/10/20 at 7:15 PM)
Author: Neha Bhandari