Law of Crime and Environment in India under IPC
Law of Crime and Environment
Environmental crimes involve the infringement of laws designed to safeguard the environment and human well-being. These regulations govern the quality of air and water and stipulate the lawful methods for waste and hazardous material disposal. Both individuals and companies can face legal consequences for committing environmental offenses.
Indian Penal Code, 1860
The Indian Penal Code, through specific statutory provisions in both its Civil and Criminal Codes, addresses the concept of Public Nuisance. This involves a comprehensive set of regulations that define various aspects and instances of this crime and stipulate corresponding penalties. Chapter XIV of the Indian Penal Code is dedicated to offenses that impact public well-being, safety, convenience, decorum, and ethics. Within this chapter, Section 268 provides a definition of Public Nuisance. Additionally, two specific sections, namely Section 277 and Section 278, focus on actions that lead to water pollution and air pollution, respectively, allowing for legal action against those responsible for these environmental issues.
- Fouling water of public springs or reservoirs.
Anyone who intentionally contaminates or pollutes a public spring or reservoir’s water, making it less suitable for its regular use, can face penalties, including imprisonment for up to three months or a fine of up to five hundred rupees, or both.
- Similarly, if someone deliberately makes the air in a certain area harmful to the health of people living nearby, conducting business in the vicinity, or passing through a public route, they may be subject to a fine of up to five hundred rupees.
These two legal provisions are directly related to environmental protection, aiming to combat water and air pollution through legal means. However, their practical application for achieving this goal is uncertain due to the intricacies of Indian criminal law, which demand stringent evidence and compliance with the specific conditions outlined in the legal provisions. For example, the water pollution provision requires proof of intentional contamination or pollution, the water source must be a public spring or reservoir, and the water must be rendered unsuitable for its usual purpose. Such wording not only places a burden on the prosecution to provide substantial evidence but also gives the accused ample opportunity to defend themselves.
These provisions have not streamlined the criminal justice process, as it still involves complex evidentiary requirements and technical interpretations of apparent facts and events.
Section 425: whoever with intent to cause, or knowing that he is likely to cause, wrongful loss or damage to the public or to any person, causes the destruction of any property, or any such change in any property or in the situation thereof as destroys or demises its value or utility or affects injuriously, commits “mischief”
Explanation 1: it is not essential to the offence of mischief that the offender intended to cause loss or damage to the owner of the property injured or destroyed. It is sufficient is he intends to cause damage to any person by injuring any property, whether it belongs to that person or not. Explanation 2: Mischief may be committed by an act affecting property belonging to the person who commits the act or to that person and others jointly causing diminution of water supply has been treated as mischief in section 430 of the code and the possible direct cause may also be pollution. Adulterating of food or drink so as to make it noxious has also been make punishable.
The Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 (CrPC)
The Criminal Procedure Code contains a significant chapter focused on maintaining public order and tranquility, which is divided into four main sections. Part A addresses unlawful assemblies (Section 129-132), Part B deals with public disturbances (Sections 133-143), Part C addresses urgent situations involving disturbances or anticipated dangers (Section 144), and Part D deals with disputes related to immovable property (Sections 145-148). Of particular relevance in our current context is Section 133, which has been effectively used to address public disturbances resulting from environmental harm. This provision grants authority to a District Magistrate to issue conditional orders for the elimination of nuisances. Supporting provisions in Sections 134 to 143 of the Code complement Section 133, collectively establishing a comprehensive procedure for addressing public disturbances.
Section 144 of the Code has to be seen as a significant provision conferring wide powers upon the Magistrate to deal with urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger and tranquillity. This magisterial power has been exercised only for the purpose of preventing public disorder arising out of public unrest or riot situations. The potential of this provision is vast, but it does not appear to have been utilised effectively in cases of environmental harm.
M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (Oleum Gas Leak Case):
This landmark case in 1986 dealt with the leakage of oleum gas from the Shriram Food and Fertilizer plant in Delhi. The Supreme Court held that the “Polluter Pays Principle” was applicable, making the polluting industries liable for the damage caused.
Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India:
In this case, the Supreme Court laid down the principle of “Absolute Liability,” stating that industries engaged in hazardous activities would be absolutely liable for any damage caused by them, irrespective of whether they had taken all reasonable precautions.
Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India (Bichhri Village Case):
This case focused on hazardous waste management and held that it was the responsibility of the polluter to bear the cost of handling and disposing of hazardous waste.
MC Mehta v. Kamal Nath (Taj Trapezium Zone Case):
This case aimed at protecting the Taj Mahal from pollution and industrial emissions in the Taj Trapezium Zone. It led to various restrictions on industrial activities in the area to preserve the monument.
The procedures outlined in Section 133 of the CrPC incorporate a social justice element. The available solutions and authorities granted under this provision align with the requirements of the rule of law, which is crucial in the context of developing nations. The Supreme Court readily supported the idea that the municipality should formulate a plan to address and eliminate the ongoing nuisance, primarily caused by the municipality’s lack of action.
Different Types of Environmental Crimes
Environmental crime covers a wide range of violations that result in harm befalling the environment and human life, from errors at the administrative or record keeping level to the actual illegal dumping of pollutants into the environment.
Environmental crimes may include but are not limited to the following:
- Improper waste disposal
- Oil spills
- Destruction of wetlands
- Dumping into oceans, streams, lakes, or rivers
- Improperly handling pesticides or other toxic chemicals
- Burning garbage
- Improperly removing and disposing of asbestos
- Falsifying lab data pertaining to environmental regulations
- Smuggling certain chemicals, such as CFC refrigerants, into the U.S.
- Bribing government officials
- Committing fraud related to environmental crime
Environmental law violators are usually hit with criminal fines, probation, jail time, or a combination of these punishments. While jail time may be the most formidable punishment for individuals who commit environmental crimes, fines are intended to deter large corporations from violating environmental laws and regulations. Without the threat of heavy monetary punishment, some corporations might find that noncompliance is more cost-effective than obeying the law. Environmental crime fines are meant to offset the financial allure of activities such as illegal dumping.
Enforcement is often carried out by joint task forces, which are composed of representatives from federal, state, and local organizations. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has enforcement authority over environmental law violations.