Ninaad Deshmukh

 Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai

Humankind has come a long way. From surviving two ice ages, to developing the most complex form of civilization on the planet, it has been a long journey. Being a part of the civil society basically means following what the society considers civil. At times this also means reinventing the very definition of the same, or adding new avenues to it. With deeper understanding, humans evolved the classification of acts against the essence of humanity as either civil or criminal offences. While the ambit of civil offences can be understood in the individualistic context, the criminal aspect of it remains ever-expanding. Even though the basic essence of criminal offences is an act that impacts not just the person the act is committed on, but the entire society as a whole.

Ever since the industrial revolution, we have seen tons and tons of – as the term suggests – revolutionary changes. We have made immense progress in all facets of life. But this progress has not come without its share of consequences. Rash acts of exploitation of the resources required to keep the industrial machinery running has resulted in an alarming amount of environmental degradation. The problem has risen to such an extent that it has become associated with a very fascinating and yet serious term – ‘environmental crimes’.

Environmental crimes, also known popularly as ‘green-collar crimes’ are crimes committed against the environment or nature in general. These cover the gamut of activities that breach environmental legislation, cause significant harm or risk to the environment and human health, or both. These offences can include, but are not limited to:

  • improper collection, transport, recovery or disposal of waste;
  • illegal operation of a plant in which a dangerous activity is carried out or in which dangerous substances or preparations are stored;
  • killing, destruction, possession or trade of protected wild animal or plant species;
  • production, importation, exportation, marketing or use of ozone-depleting substances.

These crimes are very widespread all over the world, with a large market of various categories of customers feeding the financial needs of the gross industry for their own benefits, regardless of the overall damage they continue to inflict on the environment. This problem is especially worse in India. With such diverse topography, entailing tremendous biodiversity, India has historically been the victim of instances of crimes against the environment. It has continually been exploited for its plethora of flora and fauna while completely disregarding the evident need for a proper ecological balance. As for a recent statistic, according to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB)’s Crime Statistics Report for 2017, the number of environmental offences committed in India increased from 4,732 in 2016 to 42,143 in 2017, an increase of 790%, according to the, released on October 21, 2019. The problem has now become so huge that solely in the year 2019, 34,671 environment-related crimes were registered. Further, over 7,000 cases were pending police investigation, and almost 50,000 cases were pending trial in courts.

Hence, even with 5 legislations –

  1. Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (as amended in 1988)
  2. Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
  3. Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986
  4. Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
  5. Forest Act, 1927

along with Article 48A which talks about the protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life and Article 51A(g), which deals with the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures , India has not been able to effectively tackle or even fight with the rampant problem of environmental crimes.

Why this is such an important issue is that all of these acts are not just harming individuals of certain isolated groups of individuals, but they severely affect the entire planet as a whole. Reckless use of resources is continually killing the planet and potentially all life on it, including our own. Excessive use of all that is available to us has begun depriving some of us of their very fundamental needs, with economies crashing over the unavailability or exorbitant rates of the most basic of facilities. It continues to affect the very large number of poor persons in this world, who can no longer afford the essentials they need to live the bare minimum life. Further, as already mentioned, these thoughtless and unheeding activities have already resulted in wiping countless species off of the face of the Earth, and will continue to do so until they end up decimating anything and everything that we have left.

This is a matter of serious global concern, and hence pan-global action is required to tackle this ever-increasing problem before it is too late. While there are a significant number of treaties and conventions, these are fairly old and there is need for newer talks and dialogue between all the nations of the world to, if possible, come to a unanimous, and if not, at least a mutually agreeable yet flexible stand on the matter. We all need to thoroughly assess every single factor affecting the environment and begin our war against environmental destruction before we completely run out of time.

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