Environment Law: Introduction and Pollution

Environment: 

The Global problem of the present day is the Environmental Pollution, which is a serious threat to the existence and survival of the human race. As food, clothing, and shelter are basic human needs; “Unpolluted air (to breathe), uncontaminated water (to drink) and nutritious food and hygienic condition to live in” are ‘Sine qua non’ for human personality. Man, in making a variety of efforts for progress and development, causes much damage to forests, wildlife, land surface, water resources and to the atmosphere, which is part and parcel of the environment. Thus, the people, voluntary organizations and Government agencies should realize the importance of the protection and improvement of the environment.

Meaning: The term ‘Environment’ is formulated on the word ‘Environ’ derived from the French word ‘Environner’, which means “to surround”. Thus, the term ‘Environment’ literally means “the surroundings and conditions under which man lives and works”. In other words, “it is the physical and biological world that we live in”.

Definition:- It is very difficult to define the term ‘environment’. Many attempts were made to define the term. Prominent among them are stated below:

  1. T.N. Khoshoo: (Secretary, Dept. of Environment, Govt. of India) defines the environment as “ the sum total of all conditions and influences that affect the development and life of all organs”.
  2. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986: According to Section 2(a) of the Act, “Environment includes water, air and land and the inter-relationship, which exists among and between water, air and land and human beings, other living creatures, plants, microorganism and property”.

The environment is a very complex phenomenon. To understand the concept (environment), it is necessary to know about the ecology, eco-system and biosphere as explained hereunder:

Ecology: The term ‘ecology’ is a Greek word, connected to the environment. It is a branch of biology dealing with relations of living organisms to their surroundings, their habits, modes of life etc.

R.M. Dasmann defined ‘ecology’ as “the study of ecosystems to determine how they are organised, how the creatures within them interact and how total systems function”. According to the United States Council on the Environment Quality, “Ecology is the science of the intricate web of relationships between living organisms and their living and non-living surroundings”. Thus, it (ecology) may be described as “the science involved in the study of organisms in relation to their environment”.

Ecosystem: Man cannot escape from his physical environment, which includes plants and animals. An assemblage of species of plants and animals inhabiting a common area and having effects on one another is known as ‘biotic community’. A combination of such biotic community with the physical environment is called ‘ecosystem’. The United States Council on the Environment Quality observed that “the interdependence of living and non-living parts i.e. man, animals, plants, forests, lakes, etc. make eco-system”.

The ecosystem doesn’t remain constant, as changes take place in it continuously in one form or the other. A small change even in one part of the ecosystem will have an impact on the entire system.

Biosphere: ‘Biosphere’ is that part of the earth and atmosphere, which is inhabited by living beings. It is the surface area of the earth, which is made up of the atmosphere, the oceans, upper surfaces of the land areas of the continents and islands and the fresh water associated with them and living things, which inhabit this area. In this area, the energy of the sun is available to activate living processes.

Pollution: 

Meaning: The expression ‘pollute’ means “to get spoil or to make unclean or impure or unhealthy”. The word ‘pollution’ is derived from the Latin word ‘polutus’, which means “defiled or to make dirty or to pollute”. The expression ‘pollution’ denotes “the presence of wrong matter in the wrong quantity and at the wrong place”.

Definition:- It is very difficult to define the term ‘pollution’. However, several attempts were made to define the term. Prominent among them are stated below:

Working Definition: Every substance existing in the environment has definite composition, when a foreign body is introduced into it or the proportion of its constituents is modified, then that substance loses its original character and qualities. As a consequence of the changed constitution, the original substance does not serve its definite purpose. The modified version is termed as ‘polluted’ or ‘adulterated substance’ and the process s called ‘pollution’.

The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986: According to Section 2(a) of the Act, ‘Environmental Pollution’ means “the presence in the environment of any environment pollutant”. This definition is not comprehensive and should be read with ‘Environmental Pollutant’ and ‘hazardous substance’ as defined under Sec. 2(b) and 2(e) of the Act respectively as follows:

Environmental Pollutant: According to Sec 2(b) of the Act, ‘Environmental Pollutant’ means “any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious environment”.

Hazardous Substance:- According to Sec 2(e) of the Act, ‘hazardous substance’ means “any substance or preparation, which, by reason of its chemical or physicochemical properties or handling, is liable to cause harm to human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms, property or the environment”.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981: According to Sec 2(b) of the Act, the term ‘Air Pollution’ means “the presence in the atmosphere of any air pollutant”.

According to Section 2(a) of the Act, ‘Air Pollutant’ means “any solid, liquid or gaseous substance including noise present in the atmosphere in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious to human beings or other living creatures or plants or property or environment”.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act,1974: According to Sec. s(e) of the Act, ‘pollution’ means “such contamination of water or such alteration of the physical, chemical or biological properties of water or such discharge of any sewage or trade effluent or of any other liquid, gaseous or solid substance into water whether directly or indirectly as mayor is likely to create a nuisance or render such water harmful or injurious to public health or safety or to domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural or other legitimate uses or to the life and health of animals or plants or of aquatic organisms”

It may be noted that the water, which is unfit for domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural or other legitimate uses, it shall be deemed to be polluted.

Hazardous substance:

Meaning:- The expression ‘hazardous substance’ is that substance, which is liable to cause harm to any living being, property or the environment. The substance itself need not be harmful. If the effect produced by it is harmful, it is a hazardous substance. It is an object or substance, which by virtue of its chemical and physiochemical properties causes harm to all living and non- living in the environment.

Definition:- The Environment (Protection) Act and the National Environment Tribunal Act define the term as follows:

The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986:- Section 2(e) of the Act, defines the term ‘hazardous substance’ as “any substance or preparation which by reason of its chemical or physio-chemical properties or handling, is liable to cause harm to human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism, property or the environment”

The National Environment Tribunal Act, 1995:- According to Sec. 2(f) of the Act, “any substance or preparation, which is defined as hazardous substance in Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and exceeding such quality as specified by the Central Government under the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991”.

According to Section 2(e) of the Act, handling in relation to any hazardous substance means “the manufacture, processing, treatment, package, storage, transportation by vehicle, use, collection, destruction, conversion, offering for sale, transfer or the like of such hazardous substance”.

Procedural Safeguards:- As the hazardous substance is very dangerous and harmful, necessary precautions are to be taken in handling the same. Section 8 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provides for the procedural safeguards as follows:

“No person shall handle or cause to be handled any hazardous substance except in accordance with such procedure and after complying with such safeguards as may be prescribed”. In simple words, a person handling the hazardous substance must strictly comply with the safeguards provided for under Section 8 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Sources of Environmental Pollution:

There are various sources/factors causing Environmental Pollution. The main sources are explained below:

  1. Natural Causes:- Pollution caused by the natural hazards viz., cyclones, floods, earthquakes etc. is called “Natural Pollution or by Natural Causes”.
  2. Artificial Causes:- Pollution caused by artificial causes viz., the intervention of human agency is called “Artificial Pollution or by Artificial Causes”. They are two, namely: Population Growth; and Industrialisation.

(i) Population Growth:- Population explosion is a serious threat to developing countries like India. Today, the population is growing by leaps and bounds. “The world’ s population rose to 6 billion (600 crores) by 1998. Population explosion and rising standard of living increase the discharge of waste products, street filth, insects and rodents. Increasing population demands an additional requirement of food products, goods and commodities. To meet the increasing demand, production on scientific lines, despite adverse effect on the environment, is incompatible. Further, urbanization at faster rate increases density of population and accumulation of domestic and industrial wastes in drainages. Almost all rivers in India including Ganga got polluted as a consequence of overpopulation. (Eg. Ganga Pollution (Municipalities) Case. page 61 Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum (Tanneries) Case, page 63 etc.). In thickly populated cities like Delhi, the serious problem is air-pollution and deficit of oxygen in the air. Hence, it is found necessary to open oxygen Bars in such cities.

(ii) Industrialisation:- The main source of environmental pollution is rapid growth Of industrialisation. Industries release noxious and hazardous gases into the atmosphere. When dust and smoke in the atmosphere combine with water vapors, it forms as ‘smog’. which is very dangerous. As a consequence of the smog in the year 1952, 4000 persons died in London (U. K.) and 8000 persons in Tokyo (Japan) suffered from ear, nose and throat troubles. In Bhopal (India), poisonous gas (Methyl isocyanate gas) released from Union Carbide Corporation India Ltd., on December 4. 1984 claimed thousands of lives. The Bhopal Gas Leak was described as the World’s Great Gas Disaster. Further, the rapid growth of industrialization results in ozone depletion, acid rains, atmospheric turbidity etc. Smokes released from the factories cause air pollution. Similarly. the wastes and effluents from the factories are released into rivers and hence, almost all the rivers in India including Ganga got polluted.

Classification or pollution

Pollution or Environmental Pollution may be classified under the following two heads:

1. Natural Pollution:- It is caused by natural hazards viz., cyclones, floods, earthquakes, ozone depletion, acid rains etc. is called “Natural Pollution”.

2. Artificial Pollution:- It is caused by the intervention of the human agency is called “Artificial Pollution”. The rapid growth of population and industrialisation are the main causes of artificial pollution. Following are the different kinds of artificial pollutions:

    • Air-Pollution
    • Water Pollution
    • Land/Soil Pollution
    • Noise/Sound Pollution
    • Food Pollution
    • Radio-Active Pollution.

(i) Air Pollution:- Air is the chief constituent of human life without which we cannot survive for a few minutes. Air-pollution is not a new problem. It has been with us for centuries. The tremendous growth of population and urbanisation; expansion of industrialization ventilated the gravity of the effects of air pollution. Air-pollution is mainly caused by smokes and gases released from the factories and motor vehicles. Thus, the air is a mechanical mixture of gases. It gets polluted by dust, smoke, toxic gases, chemical vapours etc., and causes sickness and death. 50% of air pollution is caused by automobiles.

Air-pollution cannot be prevented without a concerted effort through International Co-operation. The Indian Parliament passed the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 with a view to preventing the air-pollution.

The concept of Air-Pollution:- It is very difficult to define ‘air-pollution’. Air-pollution in common parlance involves undesirable introduction into some parts of the atmosphere, of substances that are either foreign to it or are in quantities exceeding the natural concentration”. (Eg. Personal pollution, by individuals by causing foul smell through negligently throwing domestic wastes, cigarette smoking etc. occupational air pollution as a consequence of harmful air pollution in the working environment). The definition adopted by the World Health Organisation is as follows:

“Substances put into the air by the activity of mankind in a concentration sufficient to cause harmful effects on his health, vegetation, property or to interfere with the enjoyment of his property”.

According to Sec. 2(b) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, ‘Air Pollution’ means “the presence in the atmosphere of any air pollutant” Section 2(a) of the Act defines ‘Air Pollutant” as “any solid, liquid or gaseous substance including noise present in the atmosphere in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious to human beings or other living creatures or plants or property or environment”

This definition under Sec. 2(b) is quite comprehensive since it covers/includes ‘noise’ as a potential air pollutant.

Sources of Air-Pollution:- The main sources causing air pollution are; i) The combustion of fuels to produce energy for heating and power; ii) Transportation (vehicular traffic); iii) Industrial and Commercial processes; iv) Incineration (burning of wastes, i.e., rubber, plastic products etc. without combustion equipment); v) Agricultural activities etc.

Effects:- Air-pollution has an adverse effect on the environmental and climatic conditions: human health and safety; plants and animals and other socio-economic conditions.  

M.C.Mehta vs. Union of India and Other, (1991) 2 SCC 353:

The petitioner, M.C. Mehta is a leading legal practitioner (Advocate) in the Supreme Court. He became very popular by filing public interest litigation writ petitions in the Supreme Court under Art. 32 Of the Indian Constitution. In this case, he filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the heavy vehicular traffic pollution in New Delhi. The Supreme Court directed the Central Government to appoint a committee to study/examine various issues relating to traffic pollution and to take necessary steps to prevent the same.

Measures were taken for Prevention of Air-Pollution:- As the air-pollution is a global problem, India also is not free from the serious threat of air pollution. In view of industrialisation and urbanisation, about four million tonnes of sulphur dioxide, seven million tonnes of particulates, one million tonnes of carbon monoxide etc. are released into the air every year. Thus, there is an urgent need to take stringent steps against the threatening dimensions of air-pollution.

Complete eradication of air-pollution is very difficult and technically impossible. It can be controlled to some extent by taking technological, legislative and administrative measures. Containment (prevention of the escape of toxic substances into the air by engineering devices), Reduction of concentration of toxic substances etc. are the technological measures. exclusive legislation on air-pollution is the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act. 1981. The Act also provided for the administrative mechanism by creating Central and State Pollution Control Boards.

(ii) Water Pollution:-  Life without water is unimaginable. Water is an important factor, which covers two-thirds of the earth ‘s surface and represents the present circulation system of our planet. It is said to be contaminated/polluted when it contains infective and parasitic agents, poisonous chemical substances, industrial or other wastes or sewage. In a legal sense, pollution of water means a departure from a normal sense. The expression ‘normal sense’ denotes unaffected or least affected physical and biological conditions of water for human activities.

Water pollution has been defined as “the change in the composition of water in such a way, that it becomes not only but also unwholesome for human consumption”. Water-pollution today has been considered as one of the major problems of the world and the states (nations) directed to pass appropriate legislation to prevent the water-pollution. Therefore, the Indian Parliament passed the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.

According to Section 2(e) of the pollution means “such contamination of water or such alteration of the physical, chemical or biological properties of water or such discharge of any sewage or trade effluent or of any other liquid, gaseous or solid substance into water (whether directly or indirectly) as may, or is likely to, create a nuisance or render such water harmful or injurious to public health or safety, or to the domestic, commercial, industrial. agricultural or other legitimate uses, or to the life and health of animals or plants or of aquatic organisms”.

Sources of Water Pollution:- The main cause of water pollution is the discharge of solid or liquid waste products containing pollutants. They are: (i) domestic and commercial wastes; (ii) Industrial wastes ; (iii) agricultural wastes; (iv) air-pollution; (v) chemical substances; (vi) thermal wastes; (vii) radioactive substances; (vii) suspended matters etc.

Effects:- Water pollution causes deleterious effects on the environment, which includes public health and safety. plants and animal life, land. property etc. The extent of water pollution in India is very obvious since al! the 14 major rivers are highly polluted. It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of the diseases in India is due to the pollution of water.

Preventive Measures:- Various measures have been taken for the prevention of water pollution in India. The Indian Parliament passed the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act. 1974 as a supplement to the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 relating to Water Pollution Control Boards have been set up to promote cleanliness of the water and to prevent pollution. The municipal bodies are entrusted with the control of solid wastes through treatment plants, throughout the country. The Union Ministry of Forests, Environment and Wild Life has developed action plans for the prevention of pollution of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. Despite the above efforts, the massive problem of water pollution still remains unabated.

(iii) Land/Soil Pollution:- The soil is the heart of life. Any sickness of the soil will inevitably affect the health of man. Destruction of soil, erosion of soil, creation of dust bowls etc. render the land polluted. The major source of land pollution is the massive amount of solid wastes deposited by use here and there.

Household refuses, industrial waste etc. are land pollutants. The most dangerous is plastic components (plastic bags, plastic papers etc.). Chemicals also create land pollution. The major source of land pollution is urbanisation. Agricultural operations, mining operations, felling of trees result in land pollution.

(iv) Noise/Sound Pollution:- Noise is a form of sound. It is an unwanted or undesired and unpleasant sound. It is also known as ‘misplaced sound’, which produces a bad effect on health (loss of hearing capacity, fatigue, digestive system, blood pressure etc.).

Harell defined noise as “an unwanted sound which increases fatigue and under some industrial conditions, it causes deafness”. According to J. Tiffin, “Noise is a sound which is disagreeable for the individual and which disturbs the normal way of an individual”. Industries, Loudspeakers, Automobiles, Aircraft, Trains, Construction works, Radio, T. V Microphones etc. are the main sources of Noise.

Many countries perceived/regarded noise as the major factor affecting the quality of health. In the United States, noise is ranked only second to crime. It is high time for us to realise the importance of protection against noise pollution.

Noise Pollution Control Laws:- In England, the Noise Abatement Act of 1900 was passed. In America. there is ‘Noise pollution and Abatement Act 1970’ for prevention of Noise Pollution.

In India, there is no law exclusively dealing with the problem of noise. However, the following provisions are provided:

            (1) Articles 39(e), 47, 48-A and .51(g) of the Indian Constitution.

            (2) Sections 268 and 290 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.

            (3) Chapter Ill of Factories Act, 1948.     

            (4) Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and Rules Framed thereunder;

            (5) The Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 (provides for certain provisions).

(v) Food Pollution:- Food gets polluted from its source to its use. Food pollution begins, when chemicals are used from plant growth. These chemicals, directly and indirectly, affect the quality of food. Food also gets polluted during processing, storage, transportation and retailing. When polluted or adulterated food is consumed, it affects the health of the consumer.

(VI) Radio Active Pollution:- Radioactive pollution is “the pollution caused by the blast of atoms”. Some elements such as radium uranium etc. emit invisible effects known as radiation. The emission of these invisible radiations is known as ‘radioactivity’ and such substances are called ‘radioactive substances’.

The term ‘radioactivity’ has been defined as “property exhibited by unstable isotopes of elements which decay, emitting radiation, principally alpha, beta and gamma particles, is known as radioactivity”

Radiation, which is emitted from, a radioactive substance is part of man’s environment. When the amount of radiation received is exceeded (i.e. when it crosses the permissible limits), then it causes pollution known as radioactive pollution.

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