This article was written by Sushrut Sharma, a student of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law.
The word ‘environmental degradation’ and the idea it conveys is not as shocking as it once was. In our times, the picture it portrays is not one of an ominous future where entire cities are reduced to a collection of unorganised, unsafe and unhygienic settlements within which human life struggles to survives. Instead, it has become a reality. It has become our reality. The morbidness of this reality is however, further exacerbated by the economic, social, legal and political inequalities it helps perpetuate. It is observed, not only in India, but throughout the world that the inhabitants of areas affected by environmental degradation are, for the most part made of the weakest sections of society. This weakness is not only of a financial nature. It is the product of entire lives spent deprived of basic rights and necessities such as education, clean water, sanitation facilities, reasonable wage for labour etc.
The problems posed by environmental degradation and its potential effects on society reverberate aloud in the Indian context. Branded as the fastest growing economy in the world and a future hub of global commerce, India has made no secret of its desire to become a major player in the world economy. Its relentless pursuit of stronger GDP numbers and faster growth rates have resulted in an entire large-scale campaign, the Make in India campaign, designed to achieve the same. During its time in power the incumbent government has passed a flurry of reforms relaxing the conditions required for obtaining industrial licences making it easier for individuals and corporations to set up industries and production houses. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is greatly encouraged and special measures have been taken to facilitate the same. Massive urbanisation projects such as the creation of industrial corridors connecting India’s biggest metropolitan cities and the sanctioning of construction of entirely new ‘smart’ cities to further facilitate the progress of the nation. It has been deemed necessary to change the global perception of India. No longer is our country to be looked down upon as a land of only snake charmers and black magic. The India of today is a country fully integrated with the developed world and one with the facilities and infrastructure to provide for a billion dreams and aspirations.
The primary objective of this paper is to highlight the plight of the female members of societies living in areas affected by environmental degradation. To shed light on the numerous hardships they face in the course of their everyday lives and to suggest solutions and recommendations for the same are the main objectives which the authors of this paper set out to achieve. Through the course of writing this paper it has become abundantly clear that the socio-economic dynamics affecting women residing in areas affected by environmental degradation are never static. Therefore it is of paramount importance that the social circumstance and extent of degradation be taken into consideration while studying the situations of women.
In the context of India, a traditionally patriarchal society, women tend to be given the role of managing the day-to-day affairs of the household. According to this concept they are the ones responsible for ensuring that every other member of the family’s needs are taken care of and their requirements looked after. This usually results in a reality where women demote their own basic needs and requirements to the fag end of the priority list and focus on taking care of others instead. In times of natural disasters and adverse environmental conditions, it logically follows from the above stated lines that women are particularly affected by situations of environmental degradation. The broader purpose of this paper is to bring to light this position on overwhelming vulnerability that is faced by several women on a daily basis. This issue shall be discussed at length.
Another point of focus for this paper is the failure of the administrative systems in India in curbing the menace of environmental degradation. This topic, though it falls outside the ambit of women and environmental degradation, has been chosen by the authors due to a stern belief of the existence of a relationship between the prevalence of environmental degradation and a lax administrative system which fails to enforce the provisions meant to promote sustainable development. The National Green Tribunal, established by the Indian authorities in 2010 is the main object of attention in this section. The NGT is a specialised tribunal established for the speedy disposal of cases related to environmental degradation, illegal mining, granting of spurious environmental clearances etc. The ultimate objective of this undertaking has however, not been realised. The Various lapses and deficiencies of this institution and the Indian judiciary in general will be analysed in this paper.
A product of humanity’s relentless thirst for development and progress, environmental degradation is not a novel phenomena. Indeed, centuries of polluting the planet’s air and water, eroding the soil, fragmenting and eliminating the habitats of various plants and animals, altering the climate and unrestrained use of non-renewable fossil fuels have led us to our current predicament.
Such is the gravitas of the problem that we, as a consequence of our actions, are destroying the ability of our ecosystems to regenerate and sustain themselves in the long term. A thorough understanding of the concept of environmental degradation is therefore a prerequisite before moving on to the main objectives of this paper.
Environmental degradation is the outright deterioration of the healthy condition of the environment by means of depletion of resources such as air, water, soil etc., the destruction
ecosystems and extinction of wildlife. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.
The United Nations (UN) International Strategy and Disaster Reduction has defined environmental degradation has “ The reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives and needs”.
The scope of environmental degradation ranges from air, land, noise, and water pollution to destruction of entire natural ecosystems or to irreversible disturbances to the natural equilibrium set by the forces of nature. An environment is a delicate space as it encompasses both living and nonliving things and preserves a balances in the relations between the two.
Environmental degradation is caused by a number of factors such as pollution, over-population, land disturbance, deforestation, landfills etc. Of course, all harm to the environment is not a product of human misdemeanours. With or without the effect of human exercises a few biological systems generally degrade beyond the level of self-sustenance due to reasons such as natural calamities, environmental disasters amongst others. However, it is important to note that this type of ‘natural degradation’ is usually in tune with the natural equilibrium of the area and thereby doesn’t have an adverse effect on the ecology of an area. Man-made degradation on the other hand is a more frequent occurrence that tends to disrupt the natural balance of things in the concerned area.
The connections between human activities and environmental degradation are several. The extent of degradation in an ecosystem is determined by the consolidation of an ever-expanding human populace, constantly expanding monetary development or per-capita fortune and the application of resource depleting and polluting technology. This way a reasonable classification can be made in grouping the major contributing factors into three categories. These are Human population , Per-capita rate of consumption of energy and materials that contribute to affluence, and the impacts stemming from the technologies used to provide that per-capita rate of consumption. This method is popularly known as the IPAT Equation.
It is called so because an ‘equation’ is used to represent the scale of environmental degradation in a particular area.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT (I) = POPULATION (P) x PER-CAPITA AFFLUENCE LEVEL (A) x IMPACT FROM THE TECHNOLOGIES USED TO ACHIEVE THAT AFFLUENCE (T)
Even though this is a useful tool in the assessment of environmental degradation, it is also misleading if taken too literally. It conveys the notion that each element is individually a linear multiplier of the level of degradation . Taken in isolation, this concept states that an increase in any one of the three factors could lead to a proportional increase in the environmental degradation caused to the region. This has been proved wrong and thus reduces the values of this particular approach in determining the extent of environmental degradation in an area.
While it has been proven beyond doubt that not enough is being done by the world governments in combating the imminent threat of environmental degradation, it is not to say that no action has been taken either.The United Nations (UN) High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change has, in 2004 declared environmental degradation as one of the ten biggest threats facing mankind. The Earth Summit Agreements  of 1992 to have gone a long way to provide solutions both practical and effective of combating pollution and degradation. Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit is one of the landmark agreements in the sphere of sustainable development. It sets out a comprehensive program of global action focusing on all areas of sustainable development. Several other, somewhat less significant conventions and treaties have also been entered into by the different countries of the world to deal with the spectre of environmental degradation and excessive pollution.
Environmental Degradation and India
In a country such as ours which houses 17.5% of the world’s population on just 2.4% of the global land mass, the problem of environmental degradation takes on a whole new meaning. The acuteness of the problem can be better understood by keeping in mind the population density of India which currently stands at 390.11 people per Sq.km of land area.
Therefore, in the event of any adverse environmental condition, the likelihood of a large number of people being affected is very high in India. The situation is more acute in rural India as as medical facilities, rehabilitation facilities and places of security are much lesser. Moreover according to data released by the Ministry for Rural Development, nearly 75% of all rural households make less than Rs 5000 a month and almost 90% of rural India does not have salaried jobs. Putting it all together, the vast majority of people, who do not have a fixed source of income, who have minimal access to health and safety facilities, who barely makes ends meat are the ones that are most vulnerable to the effects of environmental degradation.
Considering the above, it is only appropriate that before deciding on an appropriate course of action moving forward, a comprehensive understanding of the problem of environmental degradation facing India is necessary. There are three broad perspectives through which one can understand the problem of environmental degradation. These perspectives, though theoretical in nature, provide an insight into the root cause of problems relating to the environmental and their consequences. They are :
1) Neo Malthusian Perspective
The Neo-Malthusian perspective is a rather pessimistic one that points to excessive population growth as the root cause for all the world’s major socio-economic problems wherein environmental degradation is a part. This approach relies heavily on the theories of the 19th century English economist, Thomas Robert Malthus. From 1798 to 1826, in a series of 6 essays, Malthus outlined what he thought was the relationship between population growth and human subsistence. In his view, while the total production of food or all other edible resources providing subsistence for the human race increased in an arithmetic progression, the total human population on the planet increased at a geometric rate. The natural corollary of such a process would be the unsustainability of human existence on the planet.
The implications of the Neo-Malthusian model are that the Earth can only sustain the agricultural needs of a limited population and that, as overpopulation occurs, there are significant social and economic consequences. The neo-Malthusian perspective has also been extended to include not only agricultural sustainability but also the need and depletion of all resources. This means that pollution, desertification and deforestation etc. are a result of uncontrolled population and can only be regulated by curbing the same. These interpretation suggest that overpopulation may be a direct cause of conflict and poverty in many parts of the world.
The main contributors of Neo-Malthusian theory are Paul Ehlrich and Anne Ehlrich who in their 1968 book ‘Population Bomb’ and 1990 book ‘Population Explosion’ expounded on the linkages between overpopulation and socio-economic problems.
2) Cornucopian Perspective
The more hopeful and optimistic counterpart to the Neo-Malthusian perspective, The cornucopian approach focuses on the capability of the human intellect to resolve problems. They believe that the advancements in technology can take care of society’s needs. Here, An increase in the population level is taken to be positive because a higher population implies more human minds engrossed in thinking up idea and concepts as solutions on society’s prevalent problems. These ideas and concepts generate technology in the form of gadgets, systems, procedures et al that help resolve the problems related to human subsistence and therefore existence in the long term.
The cornucopians hold an anthropocentric view of the environment and reject the view that overpopulation is a burden on the planet. This school of thought usually aligns itself with the libertarian philosophy and advocate the establishment of capitalism and free market economics as the ideal economic system for human growth and development.
The root of the cornucopian perspective can be traced back to the American economist Julian Simon and American futurist Herman kahn. These optimist economists believed that due to an increasing population, the present workforce would become more specialized and therefore more efficient, leading to a dynamic and sustainable economy that would further the cause for human growth and development.
On the aspect of environmental degradation, the cornucopian approach asserts that there is de facto no causal relationship between an increasing population and incidents of environmental degradation. An assertion that is the polar opposite to the Neo-Malthusian perspective.
- Marxist Perspective
The Marxist take on environmental degradation combines its fundamental ideas of class struggle and exploitation with that of disregard for environmental sustainability. Here, the extent of environmental degradation is thought to be a direct consequence of the capitalist’s ruthless quest for money and profit with absolute disregard for the consequences of the same.
”As individual capitalists are engaged in production and exchange for the sake of immediate profit, only the nearest, most immediate results must first be taken into account ……. In relation to nature, as to society, the present mode of production is predominantly concerned only about the immediate, most tangible result, and then surprise is expressed that the more remote effects of actions directed to this end turn out to be quite different, are mostly quite opposite in character.” 
The above lines, which provide a comprehensive outlook on the way a marxist perceives the problem on environmental degradation lays particular emphasis on the short-sighted nature of the capitalist method and its rather parochial set of priorities for its unplanned and loosely regulated economy. The lack of regulation or planning with regard to developmental practices is what the marxists believe is the root cause behind pollution and degradation. An unwillingness to acknowledge the bigger picture and contemplate ideas and concepts suitable for long-term sustainability is highlighted as one of the biggest concerns regarding the future course of sustainable development.
The above three are the major perspectives through which one may analyse and examine the existence and perpetuation of conditions such as pollution, degradation and long term environmental degeneration.
Women and Environmental Degradation
“Advancing gender equality may be one of the best ways of saving the environment, and countering the dangers of overcrowding and other adversities associated with population pressure. The voice of women is critically important for the world’s future – not just for women’s future.”
Women hold a special place in society. This is true for cultures across the world. Within the confines of India, traditionally a patriarchal society, women are seen as managers of the household. Essentially, it is their duty to look after the needs and requirements of every other member of the household. These duties can range from one requiring much effort and physical exertions such as cleaning the home, looking after the surroundings, fetching firewood, handling the kitchen etc. to rather simpler ones such as serving food, washing dishes, running errands and so on.
There is a very close linkage between women and the environment. This is especially true of women in a rural setting. Away from the cities and towns a woman’s life is almost totally dependent on nature. This dependence arises from the fact that it is only from nature that she can obtain the resources and provisions required to successfully maintain and manage her family. Women are primary providers of household food, fuel, and water for cooking, heating, drinking and washing. Most rural families depend on nature for their livelihoods and women are the key persons in using, managing and protecting the natural resources.
As users, women come into direct contact with the natural environment as they collect essential items like fruits, vegetables, medicinal herbs, fuel wood, fodder, water etc. for their day-to-day needs. The dependency which the women have with the natural environment help create a special relationship between the two.
Water collecting and carrying fall exclusively within the domain of women and girls. They are responsible for collecting water and for controlling its use. It is the women who have the knowledge of the location, reliability and quality of the local water resources. Women are in close contact with nature not only as users or consumers but also as producers and managers of environmental resources.
As farmers women produce foods and agricultural products. Their tasks in agriculture and animal husbandry as well as in the household make them daily managers of the living environment. Women particularly rural and indigenous women play a major role in managing natural resources – soil, water, forests and energy – as they have profound knowledge of the plants, animals and ecological processes around them.
Women’s work responsibilities include managing the most basic and natural of all resources—food, fuel and water. When natural resources are abundant, the burden of responsibility on the women was manageable and the women went about it without much fuss. But, with the depletion of natural resources, women with limited access to such resources were required to expend more energy and even money to obtain the same. As the resource becomes increasingly scarce, more and more women are excluded from the litany of its users. As we discussed earlier, it is through management of natural resources women provide sustenance to their families and communities. Therefore they are one of the most affected and concerned groups when it comes to the environmental degradation of their surrounding areas. Whereas men consider the forest in terms of commercial possibilities, women see it as a source of basic domestic needs. They are fully aware that their livelihood and family welfare is linked to the potential of sustainable resource base and therefore, environment is to be conserved to meet their long — term needs. Poor women often have no choice but to exploit natural resources in order to survive, even though they may be wise enough to know otherwise.
Women in India value the environment in a special way. They look to the environment for food, fuel, fodder, water, medicine and sources of their income — generation activities. So women have to suffer more for environmental degradation. At the same time, they have more concern about and better understanding of their immediate environment. That is why the study of environmental degradation assumes particular significance when done so from the gender perspective.
Around 68% of the Indian population lives in rural areas. Rural women are entrusted with the task of collecting food, fuel and fodder from the forests to meet the needs of her household. Deforestation, which is a type of environmental degradation, results in the reduction of the variety of forest products available to pick from. This is of particular relevance to women in such societies. If the supply of forest resources shrink, women tend to be disproportionately affected when compared to men. With the responsibility of looking after the needs of her entire family, a women is often left to choose between satisfying her family (which most rural women believe is their duty) and fulfilling her own basic requirements. When facing such a predicament women often prioritise their family over themselves. This leads to problems such as malnourishment, low-immunity, etc. among women.
Deforestation also severely affects the ability of women to gather fodder and fuel. According to Raana Haider, “in order to convert food into an edible form, some form of fuel is required. The task of fuel collection falls to women and for them, it is a strategy in survival. Supply of crop residues and animal dung is scarce for marginalized women, both rural and urban. They have
to rely on fuel mass, leaves, twigs and branches, traveling further and further away in search of it, an exercise demanding more and more time and further damaging to their health”.
Scarcity of biomass fuels is not only critical to the lives of rural women in terms of the time and energy it consumes, it also affects the nutritional and health status of all concerned. Lack of fuel ie firewood to cook available food is in itself a massive problem in certain areas. Scarcity of fuels makes the usual practise of boiling water an unaffordable luxury and leaves women with the option of either cooking less or completely changing the traditional diet of the household. Moreover, undercooked food and unboiled water can lead to the spread of several diseases.
Water is one of the most essential elements necessary to sustain life. The time and effort spent by women in rural areas on providing their families with water is considerable. Due to environmental degradation it is not uncommon to find the groundwater level lower than required and soil and water salinized beyond repair. The existence of such unusable reserves of water force the women to walk great lengths in order to provide for their family. This journey could involve several obstacles which Water carrying is an activity which is time-consuming, arduous and at times even injurious to health.
The effect that environmental degradation has on the long term sustainability of wetlands is also significant. The destruction of wetlands has a drastic impact on the lives and livelihoods of families depending on it for survival. In those areas, where capture fisheries is the main source of income and protein for the rural poor, any negative change in the condition of water reservoirs results in severe consequences for its inhabitants. Such a situation affects women considerably. One of the most pertinent concerns for women is the loss of employment opportunities due to depletion and degradation of wetlands. Moreover, the loss of plant and animal species also affects the ability of women to collect fuel and fodder for domestic needs as discussed earlier.
Another area where women suffer disproportionately to men is in agriculture. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 37 million people in the developing world suffered acute or chronic poisoning due to exposure to toxic chemicals and pesticides. It must be noted here that women are more likely to suffer from these diseases because they are more likely to work without protective gear or, be made to work without protective gear.
“In urban areas women do not have the same close relationship with the natural environment as they do in the rural areas, but they are still affected by the degradation, being faced with problems such as poor housing, overcrowding and inadequate water supply and sanitation”.
Young women living in economically backward sections of urban society have to face a lot of adverse conditions due to environmental degradation. Women of all ages have to live in unhygienic slums located in unsuitable areas. This often leads of a heightened sense of insecurity and social isolation. This feeling of insecurity and anxiety is aggravated by the lack of privacy enjoyed by them. In an urban slum, tightly packed with makeshift houses and and up to the brim with people, women have to deal not only with inhuman sanitary conditions but also with the constant attention of prying eyes following her. A women is not able to fulfil her most basic sanitary needs in complete confidence of her security.
In both urban and rural societies, environmental degradation has an adverse and severely disproportionate effect on the female members of our species.
WOMEN AND NATURAL DISASTERS
Environmental degradation caused by human beings has resulted in an increased risk of natural disasters such as cyclones, droughts, flash floods etc in many parts of the world. Even though a natural disaster is not discriminatory in its impact and effects, the low-income population of a region suffers more than the well-off groups. This is due to the low-income group’s inability to sustain themselves physically and financially post disaster. For women, environmental disasters bring about unbearable social suffering and crises. In fact women are the worst affected group during natural calamities.
Environmental disaster often decimate entire regions and leave behind only shattered ruins. In the midst of all this women still have to perform their regular duties such preparation of food, collection of fuel and water, tending to the elderly and children etc. In such situations, numerous obstacles that otherwise would not have affected daily life, manifest, often resulting in hazardous situations. Women have to take considerable risks to travel long distances to procure potable water and edible resources. When there is nothing left to eat, it is usually the mother who is left to find a way to feed the children. In the poorest of households, the women (usually mothers) often sacrifice their own meals for the well-being of their children and other family members.
Furthermore, women whose entire families have been affected by disasters are often left helpless as they do not have a permanent source of employment or income. Compounding this the lack of insurance or other contingency plans availed. Women who have lost their households, many a times, end up moving to non-affected areas in search for safety, security and employment. Studies have shown that such movement does not, in any way, benefit the women. In these cases, they are made to work longer hours without proportionate pay because they are not in a position to turn down the possibility of extra income. 
The problems of environmental degradation and its effects on women are very real and require our urgent attention. Far too long a time has been spent contemplating and considering the various possible routes available to tackle this issue. But this is not to say that no action has been taken to further the cause either. Through the course of this section, various legal and statutory remedies, international conventions and other solutions will be discussed.
Recognising women’s vast environmental knowledge and experience as well as their potential for resilience is key to building their adaptive capabilities and strengthening their capacity to absorb the impacts of conditions such as environmental degradation, natural disasters etc. The silver lining here is that there are plenty of ways to uplift the position of women but unless proper implementation of the same is successfully carried out there is only so much words and ideas can do.
Firstly, disaster mitigation and climate change strategies should be combined with the economic empowerment of women. Strengthening women’s capacities to absorb and cope with environmental shocks is possible only by improving their financial, social and political standing. This implies the ability of women to resort to alternative sources of income when facing a crisis. To accomplish this, impetus must be given to awareness and sensitization programs aimed at emphasising the need for such income. It is only when they a sufficient understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental degradation that any person will accept the need for measures to counteract it. Alternative sources of income include weaving,tailoring, handicraft making, jewellery making etc. Programs promoting the learning of these vocational tools will certainly within the ambit of a willing government. The will however, does not easily arise. It is to manage such difficulties that proper political representation of women become necessary. Basic measures that can be undertaken to ensure the increased participation of women in the political sphere is through the establishment of self-help group or women’s collectives. A collective body constituted entirely of women campaigning for the rights of women would certain help in improving women’s standing in the political sphere.
A self-help group or collective is also a more appealing option for other women to approach. Women in rural India, who are taught from a very early age not to interact with men outside the family, experience several difficulties in obtaining the benefits accorded to them. Also, women whose husbands have left for other areas in search of work are often overburdened with responsibilities with very little income. In such situations, Self-help groups can act as a support mechanism and also help women contact local departments for help, participate in the market etc which they would not have done otherwise.
Another significant course of action is providing women access to institutional credit. The availability of money can, for women working in the agricultural sector, help them transition to non-agricultural jobs. The establishment of special Women’s Cells in public sector banks can help facilitate the assimilation of more women into the system and lead them away from loan sharks and other financial institutions indulging in predatory practices.
Not limiting itself to providing institutional credit, the government should ensure that a sufficient portion of public funds are allocated to improving the status of women. Only by doing this can we achieve a wholesome elevation of the status of women from that of the most affected in times of natural crises to that of a resilient group capable of looking after themselves.
Alternative cultivation methods such as those suggested by the latest developments in agroecology can go a long way ensuring food security. Agroecology is the study of ecological processes that operate in agricultural production systems. By bringing in ecological principles to the process of cultivation, agroecology is able to suggest novel management approaches that would otherwise not be considered.
“The core principles of agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; integrating crops and livestock; diversifying species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; and focusing on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system, rather than focusing on individual species”.
More efficient and judicious use of available resources such as land and water can also go a long way in improving the condition of women and making them less prone to degradation or natural disasters that affect their most important resources.
Perhaps the most important of all, and one that incorporates social, political and economic upliftment of women together, is women’s right to land. In India it is observed that many of those who work in agriculture do not own the land they depend on. This is especially true of women labourers, who make up a considerable chunk of the workforce. In India, ownership of land is not merely a piece of paper awarding a certain right. It is about power, security, equality and opportunity. Moreover, several women, if they do not have land titles to their name, have not proof of their residence. They have no collateral with which to access institutional credit or any other financial institution in search assistance. They also cannot make use of government sponsored agricultural extension programs such as subsidized seeds and fertilizers etc. That according to Indian tradition women do not inherit property is also a factor which continues to weigh down the situation.
Though laws have been passed such as the 2005 amendment of the Hindu Succession Act 1956, its effects on Indian society have not fully materialised, The 2005 amendment placed hindu women on par with men when it came to the issue of inheriting family property. Sadly, the law’s effects, especially in rural society are not very visible.
Measures must be taken to ensure that women are not left landless. More stringent implementation of existing laws coupled with the passing of more focused and precise legislation tackling the various problems facing women when it comes to inheriting property must be done.
National Green Tribunal
The NGT was established on October 18, 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. The aim to create to create this forum was to create a specialised forum that deals only with cases pertaining to environment degradation, rampant mining of natural resources, illegal deforestation and for seeking compensation for damages caused to people due to violation of environment laws. Earlier, these cases were tried in the civil courts which made the dispensation of justice tardy. The NGT exercises wide powers and is staffed by judicial and technical expert members who decide case in an open forum. It avails itself of adversarial, inquisitorial, investigative and collaborative procedures throughout the decision making process.
The 17th Law Commission of India through Report No. 186 recommended the formation of the Green Tribunal as courts of original jurisdiction on all environment issues and also as appellate authorities under the major environmental issues. These recommendations were based on the observation of the Supreme Court on the following cases : M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, Indian Council of Environmental legal action v. Union of India, Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board v. M.V. Nayudu. This act is also an endeavour of the Parliament to fulfill the obligation of India towards Stockholm declaration.
The NGT has the power to hear all civil cases relating to environment issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws in Schedule 1 of the NGT Act,2010. These include the following:
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution)Act, 1974
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977
- The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
- The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
- The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
- The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991
- The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
Any violation of the aforesaid laws can be challenged before the NGT. However, NGT can not deal with cases pertaining to the Wildlife (Protection) Act,1972, The Indian Forest Act,1927. Cases pertaining to these statutes can be dealt by the Civil Court.
The following table describes the percentage of judgements pronounced by National Green Tribunal from May 2011- February 2015
|Type of Cases
|Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)
|Cutting of Trees
Lapses in Judicial System Regarding Environment Degradation
A study done by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on the status of cases filed by the state pollution control boards showed that as many as 96 per cent, 76 per cent and 55 per cent of cases filed by Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Karnataka boards respectively, were pending in the lower courts. Before NGT, many High Courts took important environment cases through Public Interest Litigations and also through suo moto cognizance. But later when it was created most of the cases were filed in Green Tribunals as it served as a specialised court. The appeal from NGT goes to the Supreme Court. Many High Courts (especially Madras High Court) protested against the appeal procedure and stated that appeal should first go the respective High Court before coming to Apex Court.
The number of cases being instituted each year is also increasing phenomenally. The number of cases filed has increased from just 548 in 2012 to 3,116 in 2013 to 2,348 in the first three months of 2014. This has put enormous pressures on NGT. This also reflects an increasing environmental crisis in the country and a growing trust people have in NGT. NGT set a goal of disposing off the case within six months and perhaps, it has been partially successful. But, the ever increasing backlog has made this difficult. There has been approximately 40% backlog and it is ever increasing.
NGT has earlier many times exercised suo-moto powers. It took suo-moto cognizance of the issue of environment degradation and pollution in and around Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh. But, the use of use of these powers have been illegal as NGT is not vested with suo-moto powers. It has repeatedly asked for these suo-moto and contempt powers from Union Government but it has been rejected again and again. Madras High Court has categorically rejected suo moto powers to NGT. Stripping NGT of these powers destroys the main purpose of the creation of these tribunals.
NGT has also taken on the jurisdiction of the lower court. Although the process of dispensation of justice in the lower courts was slow, but they did a remarkable job especially in tribal areas. Additionally, the access to justice has become more difficult. Earlier even tribunal people or activists used to file a case in a lower which was in the same region but now these people will have to NGT branches which are generally far off from their homes. NGT has a limitation period of three months to file a case. This is akin to denial of justice.
Environmental activists hope that the NGT will protect the rights of underdogs, protection of natural resources. There should be appropriate responses to environmental litigation, and so appropriate guidelines should be issued for the effective use of power. There should be strict guideline for the employment of the members of the tribunal based on the suggestions of various of environmental researchers, legal scholars, academicians, etc. The process of appointment should be made transparent and should be amenable to public scrutiny.
There are plethora of cases in NGT but only some of them are important or needs the attention of tribunal while others are frivolous cases. There is a huge need to filter these cases so as to scrutinize and review these cases so as to know the intention of the plaintiff or complainant. Mainly, the PIL should be institutionalised with guidelines that in which petition can NGT accept or reject a complaint. The procedure should become more transparent than that of Supreme Court’s way of adjudicating environmental cases.
NGT has started putting financial penalties on the polluter but so far there has been no specific guidelines regarding this. It needs to establish some principles and criteria to estimate damages, fines and compensation. It should also take some expert advice on case to case basis regarding aforesaid problem. This will help in bringing objectivity in a case.
With changing environmental problems and reflecting diverse environmental values on the present environment laws, NGT should provide executive bodies with adequate resources to tackle environmental problem and should ensure better utilisation of resources. NGT has the opportunity to enhance and give boost to the development of the environmental jurisprudence by landmark judgements given by Supreme Court.
NGT needs to be strong and effective in deciding that their directions should be implemented. Courts and the NGT should lay down strict conditions for the implementation of environmental judgments, identify the executive agency responsible for carrying them out, and ensure the accountability of the agency if it fails to follow directions.
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 The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. 2004-03-31
 John Hart, Human Population as a Dynamic Factor in Environmental Degradation, 2007
 UN, A More Secure World : Our Shared Responsibility, High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, 2004
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