The deterioration of the environment leading to gradual degradation of land, water and air is a matter of grave concern. Over the years, there has been a steady pollution and contamination of precious resources such as air, water, soil, etc as well as the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of many wildlife species due to devastation of their natural habitats. This is caused due to reckless use of such scarce resources and irresponsible disposal of waste into the environment. This degradation has obvious implications on human health, the economy, food production, tourism, flora and fauna and the overall environment in which we live and bring up our children.

Common Cause has been greatly exercised over this issue and has filed a number of petitions in public interest over a range of environmental concerns some of which are listed below:

Safety Concerns in Nuclear Energy Programme

Common Cause challenged the constitutional validity of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (CLNDA), 2010, and sought a safety reassessment, and a comprehensive analysis of the long-term cost-benefits, of Indian nuclear plants. The petition also prays for the establishment of an independent atomic energy regulatory authority in the interest of people’s rights to life and clean environment.

Safety issues in Kudankulam Nuclear Plant

As a corollary to our PIL challenging the vires of the CLNDA, Common Cause and others filed a writ petition to ensure that suppliers of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu are bound by the ‘Polluter Pays’ and the ‘Absolute Liability’ principles, and that in case of an accident the victims can sue the reactor suppliers for damages, even if the Government and the plant operator choose not to sue. The petition seeks a further declaration that the suppliers are bound by the said Act, irrespective of any bilateral agreement to the contrary, and challenges the rule framed by the Government to scale down the liability of suppliers as ultra vires the Constitution and the parent Act.

Preventing the export of logs of red sandalwood

In this petition the intervention of the Supreme Court was sought to foil a determined bid by the Government of Andhra Pradesh to export a huge quantity of confiscated red sandalwood, an endangered species, in the form of round logs fancied by international traders. This move is in contravention of international conventions, express provisions of the Import-Export Policy and repeated admonitions of the Ministry of Environment & Forests.

Pitiable condition of mortuaries

Common Cause had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court seeking directions to keep mortuaries in good condition. The PIL had also asked for court directions to ensure the availability of autopsy report within 24 hours, improved working conditions for the doctors and action against the staff who take bribe for discharging the bodies to the relatives of the deceased. The Delhi High Court issued a directive to the Union Government, the Delhi government and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences to file their reports on the study by forensic expert Dr R K Sharma on the condition of mortuaries in hospitals of the Capital.

Slaughter house pollution

The petition prays for remedial measures against the rampant malpractices in slaughter houses, notably improper waste disposal, slaughter of diseased animals and employment of children in the trade. The Court had directed the Central and State Pollution Control Boards and the Animal Welfare Board to confirm compliance with the laws for prevention of cruelty to animals and environment protection. The Ministry of Environment & Forest filed a compliance report on August 27, 2013 along with guidelines to be followed by the State Committees for ensuring effective supervision of slaughter houses. The Court requested the High Courts in January 2014 to nominate retired District Judges to act as conveners of the state level committees constituted to monitor the implementation of the Court orders as well as the regulatory framework prepared by the MOEF. The Committees would submit quarterly reports to the Court. Deploring the inaction of the state governments, the Court directed the defaulters at the last hearing on September 2, 2014 to ensure compliance of its orders within four weeks.

Prevent usage of incinerators for bio-medical waste treatment

A writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court, assailing the usage of incinerators for the disposal of bio-medical waste to the detriment of the environment. It was contended in the petition that the present method used for the disposal of Bio Medical Waste by incineration is causing serious environmental pollution. These incinerators consume human fossil fuels and high amount of electrical energy and its operating cost was very high and it involved occupational health hazards. It was our contention that incineration though destroys the waste, produces many other chemical and ashes which would cause atmospheric pollution indirectly contributing to global warming, apart from causing serious effects on soil and water resources.

Animal hazards on roads

Common Cause had examined the problem of the cattle straying on the roads and petitioned the High Court of Delhi to relieve the citizens of this particular menace which was found to be hazardous, causing traffic snarls and spreading filth and squalor leading to outbreak of diseases. This problem not only affected the safety of human beings on the road but had the potential to cause accidents.

The Court held that the State and its agencies were impervious to the menace and had taken no effective steps to prevent the cattle and the bovine animals from taking to the roads thereby affecting the quality of life of the citizens. The Court further held that the State and its agencies are impervious to the menace of stray cattle and have not taken any effective steps to prevent the cattle and the bovine animals from taking to the roads thereby affecting the quality of life of the citizens. The inaction of the state and its agencies impinges upon the fundamental right of the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution. Under Article 48 of the Constitution, the State inter alia is required to protect and safeguard the forest and wild life and the State by neglecting to perform its duty in preventing the menace of stray cattle is avoiding implementation of Article 48 of the Constitution.

Illegal mining in the state of Odisha

In the context of a public outcry over massive mining scandals in various parts of the country, the Government of India had set up the Justice M. B. Shah Commission of Inquiry in November 2010 to inquire into the illegal mining, trade and transportation of iron ore and manganese ore, identify the deficiencies in the systems of management and regulation, and assess their overall impact in terms of environmental damage, prejudice to livelihoods and other rights of the local populations, and the financial losses caused to the Central and State Governments. The Commission submitted a 5 volume report on the mining sector in Orissa in July 2013 and sought a further extension of one year to complete its inquiry in other major mining areas. The Government, however, refused to extend its term beyond October 2013. The Commission’s first report on Orissa, documents the reckless plunder of the nation’s mineral wealth and the flagrant violation of the laws relating to mining and environment protection and the fundamental rights of the local populations. Common Cause has filed before the apex court, a writ on the substantive issues highlighted in the Orissa reports, to force the hand of the UOI and to seek urgent judicial intervention in the matter.

(For a detailed reading on all of the above cases please visit our Case Library section)