Health and Environmental Pollution project

Introduction

The concept of interrelatedness, of global citizenship and a shared planet does not apply to only environmental issues but extends to the inter-linked responsibilities of human development and environmental protection. The interaction between human health and the environment is very complicated and difficult to assess, thus an objective and precautionary principle should be adopted. The most basic indicators of health hazard are air and water pollution, noise pollution, climate change, bad sanitation and loss of biodiversity. Human health is under threat from natural sources, add to that human actions such as environmental pollution, deforestation etc have worsened the situation. India is a party to the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in 1992. The Ministry of Environment and Forests came out with a notification in 1994 requiring almost all development projects to conduct a study for environmental impact assessment and get clearance for it. The level of enforcement for the various laws and directives is very poor, resulting in deterioration of the environment. India being a developing country is faced with both kinds of environmental health risks, traditional hazards of lack of clean water, waste disposal, indoor air pollution and vector borne diseases. The modern hazards include urban air pollution, exposure to industrial chemicals and waste and development lacking environmental safeguards. [1] 

The organic and inorganic components of nature are bound by very intricate relations that are so sensitive that a delicately minute alteration in any of such elements of nature results in a profound threat to the whole natural balance. So the challenge of the environmentalists has always been to adopt a cautious and objective approach to the various environmental problems. The issue of health in the light of environmental pollution is of immense significance because of the huge role that factors of pollution play in the degradation of the public health as well. The harm caused by the pesticides and other toxic substances is alarmingly severe in terms of not only the amount of pollution caused but also in terms of the impact that it has on the health of millions of people world over. In India, this issue is of special significance because of the fact that the demographic pattern in India indicates a major vulnerability of the population to toxic wastes and other harmful pollutants. Another grave concern is in regard to the high amount of exposure that women and children suffer in relation to environmentally hazardous substances. [2] 

The eagerness of the policy makers and environmentalist is well reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (hereinafter referred to as ‘UDHR’). Article 25(1) the UDHR has declared that ‘everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family including food, clothing, housing and mental care, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstance beyond his control’. Another important international charter that has laid down a major policy guideline is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Right, 1966 (hereinafter referred to as ‘ICESCR’). The ICESCR has, through Article 12(1) made it binding on the states which are parties to the covenant to recognize ‘the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health’. Article 12(2) further lays down that the concerned states need to take certain steps which will help realise the aforementioned goal of the covenant.

The Constitution of India has laid down a number of guidelines under part IV through the Directive Principles of State Policy (hereinafter referred to as ‘DPSP’) to ensure that the necessary measures are taken to preserve the environment even while working on the social and economic development projects. The most significant of these DPSPs is Article 47 of the Constitution which has in clear terms laid down the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. Its significance lies in the fact that this Article has sought to incorporate the guidelines proclaimed by the UDHR and the ICESCR as has been mentioned in the earlier paragraphs. It is interesting to note that the Indian courts have been very vocal in implementing this piece of legislation as can be observed from a number of judicial decisions. This Article makes it a primary duty of the State to improve public health. Accordingly in Ratlam Municipality v. Vardhichand [3] the Court made it binding on a defaulting municipality to perform this duty irrespective of the financial resources. This duty of the state is necessarily linked to the ‘right to life’ under Article 21 of the Constitution and this was made abundantly clear in Shaibya v. State of U.P. [4] wherein a hazard to public health was considered to be a potential danger to the said fundamental right. [5] 

In the course of this paper, we shall go deeper into these initiatives while for the present we may note some important legislation that have left a significant impression on the issues affecting public health in particular and environmental health in general. The two areas of air pollution and water pollution have some major acts namely; the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 [6] and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 [7] . Apart from these two acts, there are several other rules and regulations that go a long way in addressing the needs of a positive development in public health regime. Some of these are the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 [8] , the Batteries (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001, the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000, the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Amendment Rules, 2000. The Indian legislature has not only carried out the international obligations as far as health and environment is concerned, but have at same time, seen to it that the incorporated directives are properly implemented.

One of the major outcomes of these unprecedented developments in the industrial sector has been that global life support systems have come under serious threat, thus broadening the role of the public health policies. [9] Even in present times when one looks into the traditions and practices of the indigenous population of India in the rural areas, one will surely come across beliefs and customs that emphasise on the maintenance of a healthy environment for good health of the population, such as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Moreover in terms of modern medical sciences, there is an increased awareness regarding the intricate relation of ‘food, nutrition and environmental security’. [10] 

Indian Legal approach

The approach of the Indian environmental policy towards the delicate issues of health and environment are commendable. The types of pollution that have a very harmful impact on health of individuals are water pollution, air pollution, solid waste pollution and chemical pollution. Sustainable development in India covers a range of schemes in social, clean energy, clean water, sustainable agriculture and human resource segments. The oft quoted definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ from the Brundtland Report at the World Commission on Environment and Development in ‘Our Common Future’ states that “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." [11] Sustainable development is a very significant concept for balancing the development of the economy and the maintenance of the essential level of purity of the environment. It needs to be seen how far Indian environmental policy has been able to balance the growth of the economy and the simultaneous protection of the health and environment. The UN Environment Program (hereinafter referred to as ‘UNEP’) report titled, ‘Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2010’ [12] , released on July 2010, has ranked India eighth in the world in terms of investment in sustainable energy [13] . The report further stated that India invested around US$ 2.7 billion in sustainable energy in 2009.

Water Pollution

The Indian legal system provides four major sources of law for addressing the challenge of water pollution. Firstly, a comprehensive scheme of administrative regulation through the permit system of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Water Act’), secondly, provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 relating to water quality, thirdly, public nuisance actions against polluters, including municipalities charged with controlling water pollution and lastly the common law right of riparian owners to unpolluted water. [14] The most important of these is surely the Water Act.

For the first time, a big attempt was made at prevention and control of water pollution by the Water Act. This Act represented one of India’s first attempts to deal comprehensively with an environmental issue. The Indian parliament adopted minor amendments to the Act in 1978 and revised the Act in 1988 to more closely conform to the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 (hereinafter referred to as ‘EPA’) The Water Act establishes central and state pollution control boards. The Central board may advise the Central Government on water pollution issues, coordinate the activities of state pollution control boards, sponsor investigation and research relating to water pollution, and develop a comprehensive plan for the control and prevention of water pollution.

The Water Act is more or less comprehensive in its coverage, applying to streams, inland waters, subterranean waters, and sea or tidal waters. The standards for the discharge of effluent or the quality of the receiving waters are not specified in the Act itself. Instead the Act enables the state boards to prescribe these standards. It is noteworthy that the Section 17 (g) of EPA gives the Central Government similar authority to establish water quality and effluent standards throughout India. The Water Act generally prohibits disposal of polluting matter in streams, wells and sewers or on land in excess of the standards established by the state boards under section 24. As such, a person must obtain consent of the state board before establishing any industry, operation or process, any treatment and disposal system or any extension or addition to such a system which might result in the discharge of sewage or trade effluent into a stream, well or sewer or onto land, under section 25. However, most importantly, this act has defined pollution as ‘such contamination of water or such alteration of the physical, chemical or biological properties of water or such discharge of any sewage or trade effluent or of any other liquid, gaseous or solid substance into water (whether directly or indirectly) as may, or likely to create a nuisance or render such water harmful or injurious to public health or safety, or to domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural or other legitimate uses, or to the life and health of animals or plants or of aquatic organisms.’

Air Pollution

In India, a number of enactments are relevant for the control of air pollution. These are, the Boilers’ Act, 1923, the Factories Act, 1948, the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951 and Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act, 1957. The more important ones are the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Air Act’) and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The Air Act is a very significant enactment passed by the Parliament under Article 253 of the constitution. This Act deals exclusively with the preservation of air quality and control of air pollution. It envisages the creation of Air Pollution Control Boards at the Centre as well as in the states with power to issue and invoke licenses to polluting industries, enforce emission standards and to frame rules and regulations for the control of air pollution. [15] Its primarily directed against polluting industries called scheduled industries, such as textile, power plants, iron and steel, cement, engineering, chemical fertilizers, coal industries, mining etc. Another important provision in this Act is that certain heavily polluted regions may be declared as ‘air pollution control areas’ by the State Government after consultation with the State Board. In such areas it is presupposed that any further pollution by the use of any fuel would become a severe health hazard to the people. Similarly, the use of any appliance can be prohibited in the premises situated in such control areas.

Moreover the State Government in consultation with the State Board has the power to give instructions to the concerned authority in charge of registration of motor vehicles under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1989, for ensuring standards for emission from automobiles and such authority is bound to comply with such instructions. Also, no industrial plant can be operated in an ‘air pollution control area’ by any person without the previous consent of the State Board.

Pollution from Hazardous Substances

Indian industry generates, uses, and discards large amount of toxic substances as in any modern industrial society. Even in the agricultural sector, which is the mainstay of Indian economy, increasing numbers of farmers encouraged by government agricultural policies spray highly toxic chemical pesticides to protect their crops. The hazardous substances that have invaded the Indian environment include flammables; explosives; heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury; nuclear and petroleum fuel by products; dangerous micro-organisms; and scores of synthetic chemical compounds like DDT and dioxins.

Exposure to toxic substances may cause acute or chronic health effects. Apart from the EPA, 1986 India has an extensive regime for regulating toxic substances. However the EPA is the most important one and in section 2 (e), the Act has defined ‘hazardous substance’ to mean ‘any substance or preparation which by reason of its chemical or physio-chemical properties or handling, is liable to cause harm to human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro organisms, property or the environment’. Under the enabling provisions of the EPA, the Central Government in July, 1989 issued the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules. The first comprehensive rules to deal with one segment of the toxic problem, these rules applied to designated categories of waste that are enumerated in the Schedules to the Rules. Radioactive wastes and wastes discharged from ships as well as waste water and exhaust gases regulated under the Water Act and Air Act are explicitly excluded from the Hazardous Wastes Rules.

In this chapter we have seen how the Indian legal framework has attempted to deal with the multifarious challenges posed by environmental pollution to human well being. Though this was brief overview, yet it has given us adequate sampling to go ahead with an examination of the Indian environmental policy in terms of the ‘health and environmental pollution’.

Conclusion

Environmental health is responsible for the physical, chemical and biological factors external to a person and the related factors that impact behaviour. This is a branch of public health. The essential needs of vast numbers of people in developing countries for food, clothing, shelter, jobs are not being met, and beyond their basic needs these people have legitimate aspirations for an improved quality of life. A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises. Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life. Living standards that go beyond the basic minimum are sustainable only if consumption standards everywhere have regard for long-term sustainability. Thus sustainable growth is an important element to ensure sustained purity of environment and a healthy population.

The compliance with the directions of the Supreme Court has often remained lukewarm. Thus the need of the hour is a sincere effort on the part of the concerned authorities and other stakeholders to come forward with strict enforcement of pollution control measures. Moreover a comprehensive code will be welcome to deal with all the aspects of hazardous substances and wastes and determination of liability arising out of accidents. This should be coupled with a separate set of tribunals to adjudicate dispute relating to hazardous substances, process and wastes.