“Environment is the sum total of all conditions and influences that affect the development and life of all organs”, said Dr. T. N. Khoshoo, world renowned environment scientist. Environment is everything that surrounds us. It plays a crucial role in human life as in the development of society. Mankind is a part of nature and its life is dependent upon the uninterrupted functioning of natural system. Albert Einstein once remarked, “Environment is everything that is not me.”
It is an evident fact that today almost every country in the world is facing the problem of environmental pollution. Environmental pollution means presence in the environment of any pollutant which is likely to cause or which is causing pollution or degradation. Thus, environmental pollution means deterioration in the quality of air, water, land etc. Environmental pollution can be broadly classified as Natural and Man-made. Natural pollution includes landslides, tsunamis, lava from volcanoes, epidemics, earthquakes etc. These are beyond the control of man. Man-made pollution is caused due to the activities of human beings. The problem of environmental pollution can be dealt effectively only when we understand the causes of pollution. Some of the causes includes overpopulation, poverty, urbanisation, industrialisation, deforestation, radioactivity and lack of environment education.
The earth is finite and a finite earth can support only a finite population. However, today there is ‘explosion of population’. Each new human being is creating a burden on natural resources. The problem of poverty directly contributes to environmental pollution. Poverty is the inability of an individual or household to attain minimum standard of living. Indira Gandhi in the International Conference on Human Environment, Stockholm, 1972 voiced deep concern on eco-imbalances and stated that poverty and needs are indeed the greatest polluters. “Poverty reduces the ability to use resources in a sustainable manner”, she said. There is a nexus between poverty, overpopulation and environmental pollution. Urbanisation means migration of people to urban areas in search of job opportunities, attraction for city life etc. Cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi have become densely populated due to which problems of slums, poor sanitation, overcrowding etc. are arising. Industries are the axis which gears the economic growth of any country. Most of the environmental pollution is caused due to industries. Industries require raw materials due to which there is unbridled clearing of land, deforestation etc. Industrial activity leaves untreated effluents in water or on land which result in damage of ecology in that area and pollution. ‘Noise’ is a by-product of machineries causing Noise pollution. Radioactivity is the property exhibited by unstable isotopes of elements emitting radiations producing energy. Nuclear Energy which is nowadays a big source of energy has become a big health hazard. The Chernobyl Atomic Reactor and Three Mile Island incidents have proved that radioactive fallouts affect man and material, flora and fauna equally by damaging them. One of the most important causes of pollution is lack of environmental education among masses. If people are not aware of the causes and hazardous effects, they will not make efforts to reduce pollution. In a PIL filed by Mr. M. C. Mehta, the Hon’ble Supreme Court directed Central Board of Secondary Education to make Environmental Studies compulsory. Now, many other boards have incorporated Environmental Studies in their syllabus. It is an irrefutable fact that environmental pollution can be curbed to a considerable extent by bringing awareness among people.
Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, has rightly remarked, “Earth provides enough to satisfy each man’s needs, but not every man’s greed”.
The emergence of environmental jurisprudence is based on the realisation of mankind of the dire physical necessity to preserve the environment. There are numerous acts dealing with the problems of environmental pollution. The Water Pollution Act, 1974 is the result of motivation derived from Stockholm Conference. It provides for establishment of boards at both State and Central level to abate water pollution and penalties for offences committed in non-compliance with the provisions of the Act. The Air Pollution Act is on similar lines with the Water Act. The Noise Pollution Rules, 2000 lay down such terms and conditions as are necessary to reduce noise pollution. Similarly, the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2000 and Biomedical Waste Rules provides for proper handling of domestic and medical waste respectively. In various judgements the Supreme Court as well as the High Courts gave decisions in favour of protecting the environment which shows the anxiety of the Judiciary in dealing with environmental problems effectively. The incorporation of Precautionary Principle which deals with burden of proof in environment cases i.e. shifting of onus on the individual/industry to show that the proposed activity will not cause pollution; principle of Sustainable Development which emphasises on development meeting the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to use natural resources; Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) or Social Impact Assessment (SIA) which involves the public before commencement of any development project etc. are proving beneficial in tackling environmental problems with ease. These methods are preventive in nature.
In order to reduce air pollution, carpooling, reducing or restraining number of automobiles are some of the measures that are adopted. Also, recycling the products and avoiding bursting of fire crackers which cause noise, air as well as land pollution helps. Noise pollution not only is harmful for human beings but also for animals and birds. Birds stop laying eggs and mating even during mating season. According to Prof. Garl of Marburg University, 155 dB of sound may burn skin and 198 dB may cause death. Alternatives like Wind Energy in which turbines convert kinetic energy in moving air into mechanical energy, which is then converted into electricity; Solar power produced from the energy obtained from sun; Geo-thermal energy, the naturally occurring thermal energy produced by the earth’s molten inner core can be used. Similarly, Ocean Wave Energy harnesses the mechanical power in constant waves are not dependant on time of day or year. Thermal energy can be exploited through various systems including combined heat and power units (CHPs), fuel cell technology and ocean thermal energy. Hydroelectricity is electricity produced by the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. This is currently the most widely used form of renewable energy. Tehri Dam, Srisailam, Koyana Hydroelectricity power project etc. have contributed significantly to generation of electricity in a non-polluting way. Bioenergy is produced from Biomass obtained from living things such as trees and plants or recently dead material, like agricultural and forestry residues, wood etc. Various companies like Bharat Petroleum, Indian Oil, and Universal Biofuels now provide for this energy. To reduce Land Pollution, we must cut use of fertilizers, herbicides and other agrochemicals and rely upon other alternatives such as Vermicompost and use of organic fertilizers. Excessive and undesirable burning of vegetation leads to Smog formation. Sponges and towels can replace tissue papers and paper towels. Water is the basic need not only of human beings but also of plants and animals. Hence, it must be safe for consumption. 40% of phosphates in water pollution comes from detergents. Hence, use of phosphate-free detergents must be encouraged. Untreated effluents should not be discharged into streams and wells. It is now compulsory for a tannery or similar establishment to set up a waste treatment plant irrespective of its financial condition. Increasing participation and involvement of public in matters relating to environment is one of the most influential as well as important methods for effectively dealing with the crisis of environmental pollution. Thus, emphasis should be shifted on prevention in environmental cases.
There are other methods which come into picture after the pollution is caused in order to seek remedy. It includes penalties, imprisonment to the habitual polluter, fines etc. The ‘Polluter pays principle’ is incorporated by Supreme Court in many cases. The polluter is absolutely liable to compensate for harm caused to the environment and reversing the damaged ecology. The principle of Absolute Liability is aggrieved form of ‘Polluter pays principle’.
The success of any law depends upon its implementation. Various international treaties have been conducted addressing and covering almost every aspect of environmental pollution but they have no binding effect. As the pollution knows no boundaries, states should assist each other and cooperate to tackle environmental pollution. The developed nations should assist the developing nations financially as the brunt of non-sustainable use of resources by the developing nations is borne by the developed nations as well. Thus, environmental problems can be effectively tackled when the whole mankind comes together. Proper education and awareness among masses about the causes of pollution and its hazardous effect on present and future generations are necessary for creating awareness which is an important factor in reducing pollution. Every citizen should not only follow the set regulations and norms but also contribute their bit to make Mother Earth a pollution-free place to dwell in. Thus, “One person alone cannot save biodiversity but each individual’s effort to encourage nature’s wealth must not be underestimated”—United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).