Landmark Judgments which widened the scope of environmental law in India


Judiciary has always played a very important role in order to protect the environment1. There are a number of cases that have provided landmark judgment in the field of environmental law. The factor of protection of the environment has been mentioned in Article 48A of the Constitution of India as well2. Along with Article 48A, Article 51-A (g) also mentions that “it is the duty of every citizen to protect the natural environment”. These articles were added to the Constitution after the 42nd Amendment. There are a number of Acts and legislation that ensure the protection of the environment; for instance: “The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986”, “Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974”, “The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972”, “The Indian Forest Act, 1927”, and a few more. Many of these acts have experienced amendments too3. The following chapter talks about a few cases that have provided landmark judgments that had widened the scope of environmental law in India.

Landmark judgments related to environmental law in India

In ancient India, the protection of forests and the natural environment was often linked to culture, folklores, etc. It is very well known that forests and wildlife hold an important place in Indian culture4. With increased globalization, humans started harming the environment for serving their own purposes. But these days, a lot of measures have been taken again in order the environment. Sustainable development is one such important measure.

  • “M.C. Mehta & Anr. Etc vs Union of India & Ors. Etc”5: This case came up with the concept of “public liability”. It is also called the “Oleum Leakage case”. This case also introduced the “Deep Pocket Principle”. The Court in this case held that no factory can carry out hazardous activities near any residential area. A new chapter was also introduced in the “Factory Act, 1948”. This was one of the most significant cases that introduced one of the main principles in the field of environmental law. This case happened after Oleum gas got leaked from a fertilizer plant. It was considered in this case that the Apex court not only is responsible to ensure the right to life under Article 21, but also to provide an eco – friendly, and pollution-free life.
  • “M. C. Mehta v. Union of India”6: This is also known as the “CNG Vehicle case”. This case was concerned regarding the air pollution levels in Delhi. A survey had been conducted and a staggering number of 10,000 people was found who die every year as a result of this air pollution in the capital city. The petitioner, M. C. Mehta, an environment activist filed a PIL in the Hon’ble Supreme Court against the Union of India in the year 1985. According to Mehta, the air pollution levels in the capital city have increased a lot. Finally, in the year 2002, it was held by the Apex court that CNG had to be provided to the transportation sector for usage. The main purpose of the court was to maintain a balance between the protection of the environment from degradation and the unhindered transportation system in the city. A lot of diesel buses were converted to buses that were run using CNG. There were some issues regarding the usage of CNG. CNG was quite environment–friendly, but it was not a pocket–friendly or easily available option, as compared to other alternatives. The court was concerned with the condition of the environment as well as the health of the people.
  • “Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja and Ors.”7: This is an important case when it comes to the concept of animal welfare. Animal welfare is an important part of environmental protection. This case was surrounded around the sport of “Jallikattu”. It has been considered as a traditional sport where the “players” would have to claim a bundle of coins that is attached to the horn of a bull. The whole game and haphazard scenario would confuse the bull. Tackling a raging bull would bring “pride and masculinity” to the winner. This was later seen as cruel even for the bulls. It was considered that unnecessary pain was inflicted upon the poor animal. Hence, the Supreme Court decided to ban the sport but revered its decision stating that the sport would be allowed after maintaining certain protocols. Finally, in 2014, the Supreme Court had banned the sport once and for all. Sections 3 and 11 of the “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960” stated that it was illegal to inflict animal races. Traditions and cultural significance could also not justify such acts.

There are a lot of other cases too, that is very significant in the field of environmental law.


It has been concluded that there are already a number of legislations and Acts that provide laws to protect the environment. It is onto us to execute the laws now. It is high time that we take steps to provide safeguard to the environment. Due to misuse of the natural environment (both flora and fauna), lots of species of animals and plants (sharks, leopards, orangutans, Chile sandalwood8, woolly hawthorn, etc.) have become endangered or extinct too. Issues regarding environmental protection are not restricted to India, instead, it is a global issue. The cases mentioned in the previous chapter have allowed a better understanding of the legal stance of environmental protection in the Indian context.


  1. Sristi Raichandani, “15 Landmark Judgments on Environmental Protection”, [July 8, 2020],
  2. “Environment law in India – an overview”,
  3. Anupam Chakravartty, “Six environmental laws to be amended soon”, [April 7, 2015],
  4. “Environmental Laws and Constitutional Provisions in India”,
  5. M.C. Mehta & Anr. Etc vs Union of India & Ors. Etc, [AIR 1987 965].
  6. M. C. Mehta v. Union of India, [AIR 2002 SC 1696].
  7. Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja and Ors., [2014 7 SCC 547].
  8. Adam Vaughan, “Humans have driven nearly 600 plant species to extinction since 1750s”, [June 10, 2019],”.

This article is written by Aaratrika Bal student at National Law University Odisha.

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