Environmental Crimes and their Implications in the Indian Legal System

Environmental crimes are commonly acknowledged to be among the most lucrative types of transnational criminal activity. Environmental crimes are on the rise, and attempts to prevent them should follow behind. Even functional criminal law attempts to deter and prohibit such behaviour in general. There are a number of reasons why existing regulations have not been successful in reducing the occurrence of environmental crime. Those charged with enforcing these regulations encounter a variety of challenges. The dual role vested in the authorities who are both counsellors and executors of these laws has a number of flaws. Furthermore, prosecutors and police officers encounter difficulties in determining the accused's competency and accountability.

These concerns are looking for answers to the underlying causes of these major difficulties. Thus, this article explores whether criminal law can help in the protection of our environment by functioning as a means of monitoring and controlling the hazardous activities which directly/indirectly have an impact on the environment. It focuses on how impactful are the regulatory aspects of law, the likelihood of sanctions and punishment, and their severity in actually deterring such activities. These laws deal with the regulatory system, the broad principles they follow, and the customary rules that characterize the influence of human activities on the environment. These rules are based on the premise that environmental contamination is at the heart of all they do. They understand the value of our natural resources, their scarcity, and the need to protect them for future generations, and they endeavour to reduce environmental damage.

Our environmental laws in India primarily address air and water pollution, sustainable development, waste management, preventative and preventive measures, contamination cleanup, dumping safety, and dealing with chemical elements dumping, as well as a public trust. All of these environmental rights and principles have contributed to the country's environmental jurisprudence and judicial decision-making. This framework is used to assign roles to various public and private enterprises, as well as to determine their constitutional, legislative, and common law application and execution. The Indian Penal Code, 1860, has various penal provisions. Offenses relating to public health and safety are included in Chapter XIV of the IPC. To begin with, environmental crimes are classified as a public nuisance under Section 268[2] and the offence of causing a public nuisance is punishable by a fine of up to Rs 200 under Section 290[3]. Those who act or fail to act in a way that causes environmental contamination to harm others may be prosecuted. Smoking in public places, like in the case of K Ramakrishnan v. the State of Kerala (1999)[4], causes public disturbance and is thus punishable under the IPC. The Supreme Court ruled in Murli S. Deora v. Union of India (2001)[5] that smoking in public places is a violation of the fundamental right of those who don’t smoke under Article 21[6].

The four basic concepts underpin India's comprehensive environmental jurisprudence. The polluter pays principle, the precautionary principle, and the public trust theory are examples of these. These are been discussed below:

Sustainable development - This notion attempts to meet people's current needs while also ensuring that future generations have access to similar resources. However, a critical examination of the Narmada judgement (1999) reveals how the Supreme Court

"instrumentally harnessed the inherent vagueness of the principle."

Polluter pays principle - It simply holds the polluter responsible for the environmental damage he or she has produced. The necessity to move away from the criminal penalty system and establish a strict civil responsibility system based on the polluter pays principle has been stated previously by the National Environmental Policy, 2006. However, the times have changed, demonstrating the insufficiency of present legal criteria and their application.

Precautionary principle - Despite the lack of scientific assurance, this principle encourages the taking of preventive measures in situations that potentially pose a major hazard or inflict irreversible damage. It can aid in the development of ecologically friendly legal outcomes, but it is not conducive to the formation of a clear line of jurisprudence.

Public Trust Doctrine - It was first used in Indian environmental law in the case of M.C. Mehta vs Kamal Nath & Ors, 1996[7], to promote the idea that no single person owns natural resources, and that the government and regulatory authorities must act as trustees and hold the resources for the general public's free and unrestricted use.

Littering, trash disposal, oil spills, dumping into water bodies, wetlands destruction, poor pesticide handling, burning waste, inappropriate asbestos removal, and smuggling chemicals are just a few examples of environmental crimes. They can also be categorized as cognizable, non-cognizable, compoundable, non-compoundable, bailable, and non-bailable, depending on the nature of the crime.

Violations and disobedience of pre-existing statutes and laws aimed at protecting nature's ecological balance are considered crimes against the environment. In the name of development and ever-increasing capitalistic idealism, the hunt for the affluent, richer, and richest has neatly managed to achieve this terrible state of toxic waste. The legislature and the government have introduced a slew of measures aimed at protecting the environment. As a result, it has been observed that there are far too many laws in place to address environmental challenges. However, this has simply added to the uncertainty and complexity of putting them in place. What we require is a robust integrated system that can deliver a holistic, unified approach as well as effective outcomes. The judicial implementation mechanisms have had inconsistent results despite all of the set principles. Apart from complex external factors, the implementation process is hampered by institutionalized internal flaws, such as the courts' inconsistent application of implementation mechanisms, the fact that their orders require more robust legal reasoning, and they must better integrate with the existing regulatory framework. All of these concerns can be effectively addressed by imposing criminal liability, which not only saves time in court but also serves as a deterrence. It is past time for the country to enact strong criminal penalties for anyone who break environmental regulations.


1. https://www.livelaw.in/taking-environmental-law-seriously-indian-perspective/

2. Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

3. Section 290 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

4. K Ramakrishnan v. the State of Kerala (1999)

5. Murli S. Deora v. Union of India (2001)

6. Article 21 Of the Indian Constitution, 1950.

7. M.C. Mehta vs Kamal Nath & Ors, 1996.

This article is written by Sarvesh Kathpalia of Punjabi University, Patiala.

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