This article is written by Manasvee Malviya, from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun. This article discusses the responsibilities of the companies towards the environment and the landmark judgement related to the environmental laws in India.
Earth’s expanding population and industrial development have been known to cause serious environmental disasters. For any society to be an ideal society, environmental awareness must be cultivated. The increasing population in India has pushed the country towards industrial development. Consequently, the industry groups produce enormous amounts of toxic waste that affects the water bodies, land, and air. Environmental disasters are the effects of human activities that they only think about profit-making and are not conscious about the impact of their activities on the environment and future life.
Even though India has sufficient environmental laws regulating the activities, roles, and responsibilities of humans and companies, lack of funds and weak enforcement act as barriers to pollution control. According to the Constitution of India, it is the fundamental duty of the citizens to protect the natural environment and sustainably use the natural resources, as mentioned in Part IVA Article 51A of the constitution. The natural environment includes forests, rivers, lakes, and wildfires. Also, the state has to protect and implement measures for the protection of the environment under Part IV Article 48A of the constitution. Important environmental legislation enacted by India are as follows:
- Water (Prevention and Control of Population) Act, 1974
- Air (Prevention and Control of Population) Act, 1981
- Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
Environmental protection and Constitution
Environmental laws are enacted for the protection of the environment. The environmental law sets guidelines and regulates how humans and companies can utilise the natural resources available. In K. M. Chinnappa v. Union of India (2002), the Court defined environmental laws as an instrument to protect and improve the environment and control any act or omission polluting or which is likely to pollute the environment.
The Constitution of India
Under the constitution of India, responsibility towards the environment is mentioned under Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policies):
- Article 48A, it is the duty of the state to undertake measures to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forest and wildlife.
- Article 51A(g) states the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forest, lake, river and wildlife.
- Article 21, the right to a healthy environment is part of the right to life enshrined under this article. A healthy environment is not only important for humans but also animals.
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
The Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change is an agency of the central government. The ministry plans, promotes, coordinates and oversees the implementation of India’s environmental policies and programmes. The objectives of the ministry are, first, prevention and control of pollution; second, survey and conservation of flora and fauna, forest and wildlife; third, regeneration of degraded area; fourth, afforestation; and protection of the environment.
India has an elaborated framework for environmental protection. Some of the important legislation for the prevention and control of industrial pollution include:
The Environmental Protection Act, 1986
The Environmental Protection Act provides for the improvement and protection of the environment. The Act establishes the guidelines for planning and implementing long term measures for environmental safety and lays a mechanism of adequate responses to situations threatening to the environment.
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 provides guidelines for the prevention, control and abatement of air pollution. This act is specially enacted to preserve air quality and air pollution. The objectives of this act are:
- Prevention, control and abatement of air pollution,
- Establishment of boards at central and state level, and
- To maintain air quality.
The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act provides for the prevention and control of water population and maintains or restores the wholesomeness of water in the country. This was the first act which provided and ensured that the industrial and domestic pollutant should not be discharged into lakes and rivers without the proper treatment. Also, the Act establishes boards at the central and state level to set guidelines for industries discharging water into water bodies.
The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010
The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 establishes the National Green Tribunal for effective and speedy disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forest and other natural resources including enforcement of legal rights relating to the environment, relief and compensation for damages in related matters.
The hazardous waste management regulations
There are legislations that either directly or indirectly deal with hazardous waste management. Hazardous waste means any kind of waste due to its physical, chemical, toxic, reactive, flammable, corrosive or explosive characteristics, causing danger or likely to cause danger to the environment or health. Legislations that deal with hazardous waste:
- Factories Act, 1948
- Public liability insurance Act, 1991
- National environment tribunal Act, 1995
Few rule that deals with hazardous waste management are:
- E-waste (management and handling) Rules, 2011
- Batteries (management and handling) Rules, 2001
- Hazardous wastes(management, handling and transboundary) Rules, 2008
Corporate social responsibility
Many corporations have undertaken CSR even before the Companies Act, 2013 added the provisions of corporate social responsibility. Companies act defines corporate social responsibility as an activity undertaken by the corporation to reduce poverty, and promote education, health, environmental sustainability and gender equality. Also, CSR can be referred to as the impact of decisions and activities made by the companies on the environment and society. CSR the following responsibilities:
- Ethical responsibility,
- Legal responsibility,
- Economic responsibility, and
- Environmental responsibility.
Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 deals with corporate social responsibility. The CSR committee formed under this section administers the formulation of the CSR policy and its implementation. The activities undertaken by the companies should not be in the normal course of business that is for employees and their families, the activities must be in as per Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013.
Corporate environmental responsibility
It is the environmental aspects of corporate social responsibility. Schedule VII outlines ten major areas of corporate social responsibility. Out of which one the point refers to activities related to the environment and environmental sustainability. Corporations have a duty to meet human’s demand without compromising the environment and its ability to support life. It refers to the management of the use of natural resources most effectively and efficiently. Under the Companies Act, there are various elements of environmental protection:
- Environmental sustainability;
- Ecological balance;
- Conservation of natural resources;
- Protection of flora and fauna;
- Animal welfare; and
- Maintaining the quality of air, soil and water.
Role of companies in environmental protection
It is the social responsibility of every individual, company and government to protect the environment by taking necessary steps as required. Some steps which can be taken by the company to protect the environment are:
- Creation of work culture by the top management for environmental protection and pollution control.
- Complying with rules and regulations enacted by the government.
- Developing policies and programs to control pollution.
- Developing scientific techniques for disposal of toxic waste after the treatment of toxic waste.
- Adapting new technologies.
- Participation in government program/ workshops on hazardous substance, cleaning of polluted rivers/lakes, etc.
- Arranging workshops for the employees and other members like customers, suppliers, distributors, etc to educate them about the techniques which company follows and what in general people should follow to prevent pollution.
Kamal Nath case, 1996
In this case, one of the family members of Mr. Kamal Nath (Minister for Environment and Forest) owned a private company in Himachal Pradesh named Span Motel Private Ltd. The motel diverted the course of the Beas river to beautify the motel and encroached upon some forest land. The Supreme court in this case ordered to remove all the encroachments and relinquish the management of the motel to the government of Himachal Pradesh. Further, for the first time in India, the principle of exemplary damages was established and imposed exemplary damages on the motel, polluters must pay for the damages caused by them. Moreover, in this case, the court observed the Polluter Pays Principle and Public Trust Doctrine.
Oleum gas leak case
The case of MC Mehta & Anr. v. Union of India (1986), this case took right after the Bhopal gas leak and brought the fear back. Shriram food and fertilizer factory was established in Kirti Nagar, Delhi. Mr. MC Mehta filed a PIL against the plant of Shriram fertilizers engaged in the production of caustic chlorine and sulphuric acid to relocate the plant where there is no danger to the public’s health. A month later, oleum gas leaked from the plant. The Supreme court uncovered the principle of absolute liability and held companies or any enterprise engaged in inherently hazardous activities are liable to compensate all the people who are affected by an accident.
For a detailed analysis of this case click here.
Dehradun Quarrying case
Rural litigation and entitlement Kendra Dehradun & Ors. v. State of U.P (1985), also known as Dehradun Valley litigation. In the Mussoorie hill, mining activity was being carried out to extract limestone by blasting with dynamites. The mining resulted in caves followed by landslides which killed villagers and destroyed their homes, castles, and agricultural lands. The supreme court held that mining activity and pollution caused by it affects the safety and health of the villagers. Hence, it should be stopped as it articles Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Also, the court held that the right to a wholesome environment falls under the ambit of Article 21.
Ratlam Municipality v. Vardicharan
The case of Ratlam Municipality v. Vardicharan (1980), was brought by the residents of Ratlam frustrated by the lack of sanitation facilities and contamination of the streets. The Court, in this case, interpreted the provision of Public nuisance mentioned under Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and Section 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and held that it is the statutory obligation of the municipality to provide a pollution-free environment. Further, the Court stated that the problem of sanitation and contamination was due to private polluter and haphazard town planning.
Taj Trapezium case
In this Taj trapezium case (1996), a writ petition was filed along with the report environmental impact of the Mathura refinery by Mr. MC Mehta, to preserve the Taj Mahal from the pollution caused by the industries. Here, Taj trapezium refers to the area of 5 districts around Taj Mahal, Agra. The Court ordered the UP Pollution Control Board to prepare a list of all industries responsible for environmental pollution and ask them to comply with the anti-pollution measures. Also, asked the industries to use natural gases instead of coal. And those industries will not be functioning if they don’t comply.
Prevention of pollution of Ganga
A writ petition was filed for stopping leather industries in Kanpur from disposing of the toxic waste and polluting the Ganga river. Primarily, the court directed the industries to stop releasing toxic waste till the treatment plants are incorporated to treat toxic water before releasing it into Ganga. The Supreme Court held that despite the provisions mentioned under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act no major steps were taken to prevent and control pollution by the state board of pollution control as well as the central board. Further, ordered the installation of water treatment plants in industries.
The world is facing environmental problems and the growth of environmental awareness and the desire of the citizens and government to save the environment has led corporations and every individual to follow the regulations to protect the environment. Unfolding the concept of corporate environmental responsibility under corporate Social responsibility is a significant step taken by the government to save the environment. The provisions related to CSR are obligatory and implementing it correctly can be of extraordinary help in environmental protection.
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