Skip navigation

Overview and recommendations on the Environmental Jurisprudence in India

Feb. 20, 2024   •   Advocate Aaisha Jabeen Siddiqui



Environmental Justice

Environmental justice has emerged as a critical concern globally with India facing its own set of challenges in this realm. Despite having comprehensive environmental legislation, the gap between legal provisions and on-the-ground implementation remains a significant issue. This article explores the state of environmental justice in India, examining key laws, case studies and the need for effective implementation.

Legal Framework:

India boasts a robust legal framework for environmental protection, including laws like the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. These legislations aim to regulate and manage environmental issues ensuring sustainable development.

Case Studies:

Examining case studies sheds light on the disparities between environmental laws and their execution. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984) remains a poignant example, revealing gaps in corporate accountability and the need for stringent regulations. The recent Vizag gas leak incident (2020) also underscores the importance of proactive measures and prompt responses to prevent environmental disasters.

Indian Case Laws in Environmental Justice:

1. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1986):
- This landmark case involved the closure of tanneries along the Ganges to prevent water pollution. The Supreme Court in its judgment emphasized the "polluter pays" principle, holding industries responsible for the environmental damage they cause.

2. Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India (1996):
- Commonly known as the "Oleum Gas Leak" case, it addressed the leak of oleum gas from a factory in Delhi. The Supreme Court laid down guidelines for industries handling hazardous substances, emphasizing the right to a safe environment as part of the right to life.

3. Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996):
- This case addressed water pollution caused by tanneries in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu. The Supreme Court emphasized the precautionary principle and the need for industries to adopt cleaner technologies to prevent environmental degradation.

4. Indian Medical Association v. Union of India (1996):
- This case focused on vehicular pollution in Delhi and led to the implementation of various measures to reduce air pollution including the introduction of compressed natural gas (CNG) as a cleaner fuel for public transport.

5. T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India (2006):
- Commonly known as the "Forest Case" it addressed issues related to deforestation and illegal mining in forest areas. The Supreme Court laid down guidelines for the protection of forests and biodiversity emphasizing sustainable development.

6. In Re: Noise Pollution (V) (2005):
- This case dealt with noise pollution especially during festivals. The Supreme Court established guidelines to regulate noise levels, balancing the right to celebrate with the right to a peaceful environment.

7. Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991):
- This case focused on the unregulated dumping of hazardous wastes. The Supreme Court asserted that the right to life includes the right to a healthy environment and held that industries must handle and dispose of hazardous substances with utmost care.

8. Alembic Chemical Works Co. Ltd. v. Union of India (1989):
- This case dealt with the disposal of toxic waste in the sea. The Supreme Court emphasized the principle of sustainable development and held that industries must adopt environmentally friendly practices.

These case laws collectively contribute to the evolving jurisprudence surrounding environmental justice in India, providing legal benchmarks and guidelines for addressing diverse environmental challenges. They highlight the judiciary's role in interpreting and enforcing environmental laws to ensure the well-being of both present and future generations.

Challenges in Implementation:

Despite progressive legislation, several challenges hinder the effective implementation of environmental laws in India. These challenges include inadequate enforcement mechanisms, limited resources for monitoring and a lack of awareness among the public. Additionally, the complex interplay between development goals and environmental conservation poses a constant challenge.

Community Participation and Advocacy:
Environmental justice often involves communities directly affected by ecological issues. The Forest Rights Act, 2006, is a crucial step in recognizing the rights of tribal and forest-dwelling communities emphasizing the need for their involvement in decision-making processes. However, bridging the gap between legislation and community participation remains an ongoing struggle.

Role of Technology in Environmental Monitoring:
Advancements in technology offer promising solutions for environmental monitoring. Satellite imagery, remote sensing and data analytics can enhance surveillance and provide real-time insights. Integrating technology into environmental governance can strengthen enforcement mechanisms and aid in timely intervention.

Corporate Accountability and Environmental Audits:
Corporate entities play a significant role in environmental conservation. Introducing mandatory environmental audits for industries can ensure compliance with environmental norms. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy aftermath led to increased scrutiny of industries emphasizing the need for stringent audits to prevent disasters and hold corporations accountable for environmental degradation.

Public Interest Litigation (PIL):
Public Interest Litigation has been an instrumental tool in addressing environmental issues in India. Through PIL, concerned citizens or non-governmental organizations can approach the courts to seek redressal for environmental grievances. Several environmental cases including those related to air and water pollution have been initiated through PIL, highlighting its pivotal role in environmental justice.

Climate Change Litigation:
As the global community grapples with climate change, Indian courts have witnessed cases addressing the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities. Climate change litigation seeks to hold governments and corporations accountable for their contribution to environmental degradation and advocates for measures to mitigate climate-related risks.

International Agreements and India's Commitments:
India is a party to various international agreements addressing environmental concerns including the Paris Agreement. Analyzing how the country aligns its domestic legislation with international commitments is crucial. Understanding India's role in global environmental governance provides insights into the nation's efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainable development.

Community Rights and Environmental Protection:
Empowering local communities with rights over natural resources is essential for effective environmental conservation. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, is a significant step in recognizing the rights of forest-dwelling communities. Examining the implementation and impact of such legislation sheds light on the intersection of community rights and environmental protection.

Capacity Building and Awareness Programs:
To bridge the gap between legislation and implementation, capacity building and awareness programs are imperative. Educating stakeholders including government officials, law enforcement agencies and the public about the importance of environmental protection fosters a culture of responsibility. Successful case studies where awareness programs have led to positive environmental outcomes can serve as models for replication.

Technological Innovations for Sustainable Development:
Embracing innovative technologies is vital for achieving sustainable development goals. India has witnessed the rise of eco-friendly solutions such as solar power initiatives, waste-to-energy projects and smart agriculture practices. Assessing the legal frameworks and policies supporting these innovations provides insights into the role of technology in mitigating environmental challenges.

Wetland Conservation and Legal Safeguards:
Wetlands, crucial ecosystems that provide numerous ecological services face threats from urbanization and pollution. Examining legal safeguards such as the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 and their implementation sheds light on efforts to preserve these vital ecosystems and maintain biodiversity.

River Pollution and the Right to Clean Water:
Cases addressing river pollution like the Ganga Rejuvenation and Yamuna Pollution cases, highlight the importance of safeguarding the right to clean water. Evaluating legal interventions and their impact on rejuvenating polluted rivers underscores the need for holistic approaches to water management.

E-Waste Management Regulations:
As electronic waste becomes a growing concern, understanding the legal frameworks governing e-waste management is crucial. The E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2016, aim to regulate the generation and disposal of electronic waste. Analyzing their implementation provides insights into the challenges and successes of managing this evolving environmental issue.

Urban Planning and Green Spaces:
Balancing urbanization with environmental conservation necessitates effective urban planning. Legal provisions promoting green spaces, tree cover and sustainable infrastructure contribute to creating environmentally conscious cities. Examining urban development case laws showcases efforts to strike a balance between development and ecological preservation.

Legal Response to Natural Disasters:
Natural disasters pose significant threats to the environment and human settlements. Assessing legal responses to events like floods, cyclones and earthquakes provides insights into disaster preparedness and recovery mechanisms. Legal frameworks addressing disaster management contribute to environmental resilience in the face of climate-related challenges.

Incentivizing Sustainable Practices through Taxation:
Exploring how tax incentives promote environmentally sustainable practices offers insights into the role of economic instruments in environmental conservation. Analyzing case laws related to eco-friendly taxation policies can reveal the effectiveness of such measures in encouraging businesses to adopt green practices.

Collaboration between Stakeholders:
Environmental justice requires collaboration among various stakeholders including government bodies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and local communities. Examining case studies where effective collaboration led to positive environmental outcomes provides valuable lessons for fostering partnerships in addressing environmental challenges.

Inclusive Decision-Making Processes:
Ensuring inclusive decision-making processes in environmental governance is crucial. Legal frameworks promoting public consultations and participatory approaches empower communities to have a say in projects impacting their environment. Evaluating the effectiveness of such mechanisms contributes to the discourse on inclusive environmental governance.

Way Forward:

To bridge the gap between legislation and implementation, a multi-faceted approach is necessary. Strengthening enforcement mechanisms, increasing public awareness, fostering community participation and leveraging technology for monitoring are crucial steps. Additionally, the integration of environmental education into school curriculums can cultivate a sense of responsibility from an early age.


While India has made strides in enacting legislation for environmental protection, the true measure of success lies in the effective implementation of these laws. Bridging the gap between legal provisions and on-the-ground realities requires collaborative efforts from the government, communities and the private sector. A holistic and proactive approach is essential to ensure that environmental justice becomes a reality for all, safeguarding the nation's ecological heritage for future generations.

The author affirms that this article is an entirely original work, never before submitted for publication at any journal, blog or other publication avenue. Any unintentional resemblance to previously published material is purely coincidental. This article is intended solely for academic and scholarly discussion. The author takes personal responsibility for any potential infringement of intellectual property rights belonging to any individuals, organizations, governments or institutions.

- Advocate Aaisha Jabeen Siddiqui

Liked the article ?
Share this: