The United Nations Conference on Human Environment was convened at Stockholm in 1972: and this pioneering global initiative laid down the basics of environmental reform to be followed in signatory countries including India:
Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life in an environment of quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being; and
Man bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.
The Stockholm Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 15 December 1972, which designated June 5 as the World Environment Day. All the countries are required to reaffirm on that day their pledge to conserve and improve the environment. This applies to all of us.
Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India had participated in that Conference and that she was sufficiently inspired by these developments became clear when the provisions regarding the protection of the environment were incorporated into the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act passed in 1976. This appears as Article 48-A in the Chapter on Directive Principles of State Policy, which reads as below:
“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”
The Wildlife Protection Act was followed by the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. There is no dearth of legal enactments to protect the environment, but the implementation of legislative provisions has either been slow or a non-starter. It was the Bhopal Gas Disaster of 3 December 1984 (in which over 3,500 people were killed and as many as 2 lakhs were injured and the victims are fighting till date for health care facilities and compensation) that precipitated the passage of the Environment (Protection) Act in 1986. Even this Act (including other related ones) finds it difficult to provide relief to the affected people. That is where the Indian judiciary has effectively stepped in and ordered closure to dangerous limestone quarries, tanneries, shifting of hazardous industries operating in residential areas of Delhi so on and so forth in the course of disposal of Public Interest Litigation cases.