i. 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
ii. 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 protection of 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:
“Protection and Improvement of Environment and Safeguarding of Forests and Wildlife The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.” Apart from this provision, a new provision in the form of “Fundamental Duties” as Article 51A was also incorporated by the 42nd Constitution Amendment, Sub-Clause (g) of this Article is important and it provides:
“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, 1974; Forest (Conservation Act, 1980 and the Air (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 nonstarter, 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 of 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.
The principles and objectives laid down by the Stockholm Resolution were confirmed by the Rio de Janeiro Summit on June 14, 1992 (also known as the Earth Summit) which adopted the now famous Rio Declaration and its Plan of Action popularly known as Agenda 21 and the Declaration of Principles of Forests.
The Heads of Governments who attended the Earth Summit proclaimed that “there shall be sustainable development, and the environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant levels”.
The post- Rio programme was reviewed in the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held at Johannesburg in 2002.