CRIMINAL LIABILITY FOR ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION BY THE CORPORATES
Author: Nardhana R Bhuvana
Over the past decade, there has been a surreal rise in the growth of the corporate sector. Numerous businesses have been set up and the financial leap in this is quite remarkable. But with every pro, there comes a con and along with a rise in the businesses and corporate sector also comes along with threat towards environmental protection.
The rise in the Companies cannot be discouraged and at the same time, the quality and protection of our environment also cannot be compromised. So Indian Courts have tried to bring out laws wherein companies carry on their businesses without causing drastic damage and depletion of our nation’s natural resources.
LEGISLATIONS ON ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION:
One of the most notable Acts passed by the legislation is The Environment Protection Act, 1986. This Act was passed to enforce the steps that were taken in the United Nations Conference on Human Environment which concerned on how to improve the quality of our environment and enhance the protection of the environment and also how to prevent measures that could prove to be hazardous for all forms of living. It emphasizes on pollution levels, standards of ambient air quality and for this very purpose under this Act, pollution boards have been set up at both Central level and State Level.
Another Act that was passed was the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991. This Act was being passed to secure the interests of the public who have suffered due to the consequences of the company not being careful and resulting in drastic changes in the environment taking a toll on the health of the lives of the people. This Act was passed in Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India[i] known as the Bhopal Gas Leak case which happened on the night 2nd-3rd December1984 and also the Vishakapatnam Gas Leak case[ii] which happened on 7th May 2020 and Neyveli boiler blast which happened on July 1, 2020.
An integral step taken is CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility[iii]. It is also enshrined in the provisions of the law of Companies Act, 2013 under Section 135[iv]. Under this Section, it is given that every Company having a net worth of Rupees Five Hundred Crore or more or having a turnover of Rupees One Thousand Crore or more or earning Net Profit of Rupees Five Crores or more have to contribute for the welfare of the society as well as contributing to environmental protection, by spending at least two percent of the average net profit made during the three immediately preceding financial years. This is also given under the Corporate Social Responsibility Policy and for the very same a Corporate Social Responsibility Committee is to be constituted. The average net profit to be contributed will be calculated as per the provision of Section 198 of the Act. It is also urged to the companies to prevent pollution as much as possible, to recycle wastes and adopt waste management measures that are eco-friendly in nature as much as possible, adopt technology that is eco-friendly and to make judicious use of the natural resources.
The Wildlife Protection act, 1972, ensures that no company works in a way that is a threat to wildlife, flora and fauna.
FOREST CONSERVATION ACT, 1980 – This Act was being passed with the object to preserve and conserve the country’s forest areas. The Central Government regulates and restricts unnecessary deforestation accordingly.
BIO-MEDICAL WASTE MANAGEMENT RULES, 1998 was passed. It is concerned about how to effectively dispose of and management of bio medical wastes.
The Basil Convention was held and the treaty regarding the Transboundary of Hazardous wastes.
The Kyoto Protocol was passed in 2005 which dealt with reducing the emission of Greenhouse gases like Carbon dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, Chlorofluorocarbons, etc.
CASES ON BEHALF OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION:
There are several landmark cases in India regarding environmental protection and most of them were filed by the famous environmental activist M.C.Mehta.
M.C. Mehta v. Kamalnath (Span Motel Case)[v], the defendant tried to construct his Span Motel over the River Beas, which would result in the river changing its course and leading to flooding and threat over the lives of the people. The Court slapped fine on the defendant and held that environmental protection is a must and Polluter Pay Principle was applied here. There are also other prominent landmark cases such as the Taj Trapezium Case, Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum Case, etc.
In Taj Trapezium Case[vi], the chemical industries situated near the Taj Mahal were releasing a harmful gas called Sulphur dioxide into the air. When this gas mixes with oxygen it leads to acid rain, damaging the Taj Mahal as the marble white was slowly turning into yellow. The Polluter Pay Principle and Precautionary Principle were applied & it was ordered by the SC to keep the pollution levels in check. The Court also ordered that industries like Coke and Coal, which are unable to obtain gas connections should switch their business or relocate to a different place. The Court ordered the 292 industries that are situated near the Taj Mahal to switch over to natural gas as their fuel.
In Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum Case[vii], the petitioner filed a PIL Case under Art. 32 of the Constitution as the tanneries/factories situated in Vellore were dumping harmful effluents and hazardous wastes in Palar River making it unfit for drinking purposes. It also resulted in nearly 35000 hectares of agricultural land becoming unfit for cultivation. The Court slapped a fine of ₹10000 each on every tannery & ordered them to apply the usage of effective waste management disposal or else relocate and the Polluter Pay Principle and Precautionary Principle was applied.
Though there are a lot of environmental protection legislations and a number of cases that stress on environmental protection, there will be a destruction of environment on one side. The recent Salem 8 ways express road project which has placed the livelihood of a lot of farmers in the verge of cliff and destroyed the mountains and fields in that area. The recent amazon fire and the never ending methane project are destroying the wealth and resources of the environment. Many are protesting and opposing the projects that are harmful to environment. People who are accepting and conducting those projects that are harmful to environment should think, that without environmental resources and nature the life of mankind would not be possible, before destroying the environment.
[i]1990 AIR 273 [ii]SUO MOTO WP (PIL) NO. 112 OF 2020 [iii]https://taxguru.in/company-law/corporate-social-responsibility-csr-companies-act-2013.html [iv]https://www.mca.gov.in/SearchableActs/Section135.htm [v](1997) 1 SCC 388, https://www.informea.org/en/court-decision/mc-mehta-petitioner-v-kamal-nath-and-others-respondents [vi]1987 AIR 1086, https://lawsisto.com/legalnewsread/Nzg3NQ==/Taj-Trapezium-Case#:~:text=Facts%20of%20the%20Case%3A&text=Various%20emissions%20of%20gases%20like,laid%20on%20the%20Taj%20Mahal [vii] AIR 1996 SC 2715