The killer smog of Delhi has again forced us think where are we heading with rapid industrialisation of our country and its reflection in the society, especially when the governments have failed to take effective corrective measures to check the worsening situation and we are looking again to our courts, the custodians of our Constitution and thus the guarantor of our lives, for relief.
While the National Green Tribunal (NGT) today rapped the Delhi Government again as it failed to come up with a concrete plan to deal with Delhi pollution in spite of the smog continuing for over a week, the Supreme Court of India agreed to hear later today a plea on alarming level of pollution in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR). While accepting the pea filed by Supreme Court lawyer RK Kapoor, Chief Justice Dipak Misra observed that the problem had reached to such levels that it could no longer be ignored.
The higher courts, led by the Supreme Court of India, have, from time to time, worked as environmental watchdogs reminding the government and the industry where to draw the line whenever pollution reaches to alarming levels threatening the ecological balance. The Supreme Court, in fact, way back in 1988 had clearly laid out that if pollution by industries reached to an alarming level, they must be shut down irrespective of the investment made in them and their importance for making products useful for society.
RURAL LITIGATION & ENTITLEMENT KENDRA VS STATE OF UTTAR PRADESH – AUGUST 30, 1988
(DEHRADUN QUARRYING CASE)
This case was a first where the Supreme Court, concerned by environmental degradation and ecological imbalance it could have caused, passed a landmark order to stop illegal mining. Through this judgement, the apex court tried to define the limit up to which natural resources (here forest) could be exploited to meet the demands of industry and development.
The case goes back to 1980s. Decades of mining in limestone quarries of the Dehradun Valley stripped the Himalayan Mountains of green vegetation in the state of Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand) against which the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, an NGO, wrote a letter to the Supreme Court in 1983.
The court treated the letter as a writ-petition starting thus a series of hearings which finally ended in a verdict that for the first time dealt comprehensively with environment review, assessment of national needs from mining activities and reforestation of the affected area.
While delivering the verdict, the court came down heavily on the mining industry of the area, closed their operations and said it was a price that had to be paid to ensure the right to healthy environment, “The consequence of this Order made by us would be that the lessees of lime stone quarries which have been directed to be closed down permanently under this Order or which may be directed to be closed down permanently after consideration of the report, would be thrown out of business in which they have invested large sums of money and expanded considerable time and effort. This would undoubtedly cause hardship to them but it is a price that has to be paid for protecting and safeguarding the right of the people to live in healthy environment with minimal disturbance of ecological balance and without avoidable hazard to them and to their cattle, homes and agricultural land and undue affectation of air, water and environment. “
The apex court also put the government’s responsibility in clear terms while passing the order under the recently enacted Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, “Maintenance of the environment and ecological balance was the obligation of the State and the Central Governments.”