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The Battle for India’s Environment

Nov 21, 2007

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Choking air pollution in Delhi and acid rain which was destroying the Taj Mahal were two of the significant cases which changed the face of environmental protection in India – lawyer M.C. Mehta told a packed audience in London this evening (November 21st). But climate change poses an enormous and present threat to India’s population.

India’s leading environmental lawyer’s cases over more than twenty years have led to dramatic improvements in India’s environment. He told the audience: “The Supreme Court of India has laid down a strong foundation on which a beautiful house can be constructed”.

He was speaking to members of the UK Environmental Law Association and readers of the Journal of Environmental Law at University College London.

The air pollution case started in 1985 means that Delhi is the only city in the world where all public transport is required by law to run on Compressed Natural Gas, which is cutting damaging emissions. However with more than 1000 private vehicles being registered every day there is a pressing need to persuade more people to use public transport. In the Taj Mahal case the Supreme Court ordered a 90% reduction in emissions from oil refineries and led to the closure of more than 500 companies which were causing the pollution, so preventing the marble being eroded away.

“At one time our courts were as rigid as any in the world but they’ve had to evolve”, said M.C. Mehta. “The judiciary and lawyers have to take more responsibility in seeing that people’s health and lives are protected and at the same time that the environment which is under serious threat is protected”. This could all happen at great sacrifice and great cost, but lawyers have to play their part”, he added.

The Supreme Court has also ruled on a world leading programme of public education with compulsory environmental education in schools and colleges, and daily TV and cinema environmental messages.

M.C. Mehta started a Foundation which has trained 125 lawyers from South Asian countries in environmental law and 400 NGOs, 100s of teachers and has organised ecological camps for young people and children. Apart from being a lawyer, M.C Mehta believes in grass-roots action; among other things he undertakes green marches, persuades children and young people to plant trees or conserve water and helps raise awareness on environmental issues.

The greatest concern now, M.C. Mehta said, is climate change, which was already having a dramatic impact in India – hitting crop production, causing glaciers to melt, serious storms and flooding. “We have to go for the measures that will address it. If the courts ignore these issues it affects the entire humanity. This is about imparting environmental justice – the courts should be more positive in their thinking and judgements”.

Notes to the editors:

1. M.C. Mehta was speaking at the twentieth UK Environmental Law Association Garner lecture, held jointly with the Journal of Environmental Law. The event was hosted at University College London.
2. UKELA is the UK forum which aims to make the law work for a better environment and to improve understanding and awareness of environmental law. UKELA’s members are involved in the practice, study or formulation of Environmental Law in the UK and the European Union. It attracts both lawyers and non lawyers and has a broad membership.

UK Environmental Law Association - Better law for the environment
Registered charity 299498; company registered in England number 2133283
Registered office: One Glass Wharf, Bristol, BS2 0ZX

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