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Environmental Crime Legal Framework In India

India’s constitutional provisions give certain power and rights to the citizens to protect the environment. Article 48A, for example, reads: “ State shall endeavor to protect the environment. It also emphasizes on safeguarding the forests and wildlife of the country.” Article 48A also imposes a duty on the State to protect the environment from pollution by adopting various measures.

Article 51 A(g) states that it shall be the duty of each and every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment that includes lakes, rivers, forests and wildlife. Unlike Article 48A, it concentrates on the fundamental duty of citizens whereas Article 48A instructs the state to perform their duties and protect the environment.

Article 47 imposes a duty on the State in order to improve the standards of living of citizens by providing health facilities, proper nutrition, and sanitization and protect the environment to live safely.

Article 21 states that the right to life is not just for animals but it also provides the right to humans to live safely in an environment with basic human dignities.

Article 19(1) (g) states that citizens cannot practice such trade or business activities which are hazardous to public health.

Article 32 & 226 provides the right to citizens to approach the Supreme or High Court whenever there is violation of fundamental right by PIL (Public Interest Litigation). This article helps preserve the environment and maintain ecological balance. This Article also illustrates that environmental conservation is not just the duty of the government but also the responsibility of citizens of India.


1972: The National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning was established, later evolving into the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in 1985.

1972: The Wildlife Protection Act was introduced to manage modern wildlife and protect select endangered species.

1974: The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was signed into force, establishing pollution control boards in order to serve as watchdogs for preventing and controlling pollution

1980: The Forest (Conservation) Act was created to measure deforestation and diversion of forest land.

1981: The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was adopted, aimed at checking air pollution via pollution control boards.

1986: The Environment Protection Act was instituted, serving as the key environmental legislation in India. The Environment Protection Act establishes the framework for studying, planning and implementing long-term requirements of environmental safety and laying down a system of speedy and adequate response to situations threatening the environment. It is an umbrella legislation designed to provide a framework for the coordination of central and state authorities established under the Water Act, 1974 and the Air Act. The term “environment" is understood in a very wide term under s 2(a) of the Environment Act. It includes water, air and land as well as the interrelationship which exists between water, air and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms and property

2002: The Biological Diversity Act was enacted to protect threatened species and prevent biopiracy and water scarcity. It also regularizes the usage of natural resources and avoids its over exhaustion.

2008: The Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary) Rules were presented as guides about the manufacture, storage and import of hazardous chemicals for managing hazardous wastes. Biomedical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules were formulated along parallel lines, for proper disposal, segregation, transport, etc, of infectious wastes. Finally, Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules were aimed at enabling municipalities to dispose of municipal solid waste in a scientific manner.

2010: The National Green Tribunal Act was passed,  providing the effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to conservation of forests, environmental protection and enforcement of any legal right relating to the environment. The Act also gives proper compensation and relief for damages to persons and property, and connected matters.

2011: E – Waste (Management and Handling) Rules came into effect with the primary objective to reduce the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment by specifying thresholds for the use of hazardous material and to channelize the e-waste generated in the country for environmentally sound recycling. The Rules apply to every producer, consumer or bulk consumer, collection centre, dismantler and recycler of e-waste involved in the manufacture, sale, purchase and processing of electrical and electronic equipment or components as detailed in the Rules.

Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • According to the 2021 State of India’s Environment (SoE) report, India recorded  wildlife crimes every day between 2019 and 2020. In fact, in 2019: 34,671 environment-related crimes were registered, with over 7,000 cases pending police investigation, and almost 50,000 cases pending trial in courts. SoE has identified Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra as the hot spots for environmental crime, as these regions accounted for 77 per cent of India’s wildlife crimes in 2019. The prosecution of these environmental crimes is exacerbated by existing backlogs in the courts. According to  Ishan Kukreti, an official from SoE, Indian courts will need to dispose of 137 cases a day to clear the backlog for the remainder of the year. The SoE’s analysis reveals that in all of 2019: Only 0.13 cases under the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) could be disposed of every day. In other words, courts would take more than 20 years to clear the backlog of cases under this Act.
  • A recent report released by the  National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reveals an eight-fold rise in environmental crimes between 2016 and 2017. Of note, however, is the fact that 70% of the offences recorded are under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act – namely, smoking in public and the use of plastic in packaging for tobacco products. These figures skew the data because said offences have only a minor environmental impact. Sanjay Upadhyay, an environmental lawyer and founder of the  Enviro Legal Defence Firm (ELDF), believes the data is misleading, obfuscating the real perpetrators of environmental crimes in India. For example, in 2016: Police registered 4,732 environmental offences, which rose 790% to 42,143 cases in 2017: According to the NCRB’s latest crime data released on October 21, 2019. In contrast, police recorded a mere 36 offences under the laws for air and water pollution, even though India is home to 14 of the planet’s 20 most polluted cities. The deflated number of environmental offences in the NCRB report is attributed to the fact that it records only criminal cases related to the environment, whereas most of the environmental cases are civil in nature. Legal scholars in India believe that these laws unfairly punish  tribespeople. The laws rarely punish industrial polluters and illegal miners, deploying the full might of the law against the deprived communities that are dependent on natural resources for livelihood such as the Adivasis, one of India’s Indigenous peoples.

References and Further Reading


Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change: