The end of living and the beginning of Survival

In a landmark judgment on Oct 30, 2002 the Supreme Court of India discussed the issue of development and environment - here is an excerpt. This was a judgment on KIOCL -and the Bench comprised the Hon'ble Chief Justice, Justice Y K Sabharwal and Justice Arijit Pasayat.

The seminal issue involved is whether the approach should be "dollar friendly" or "eco friendly". 'Environment' is a difficult word to define. Its normal meaning relates to the surroundings, but obviously that is a concept which is relatable to whatever object it is which is surrounded. Einstein had once observed, "The environment is everything that isn't me." About one and half century ago, in 1854, as the famous story goes the wise Indian Chief of Seattle replied to the offer of the great White Chief in Washington to buy their land. The reply is profound. It is beautiful. It is timeless. It contains the wisdom of the ages. It is the first ever and the most understanding statement on environment. The whole of it is worth quoting as any extract from it is to destroy its beauty.

"How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man. 'the white man's dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.'
So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word and he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy our land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us.

This shining water moves is the streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father. The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes, and feed our children. If we sell you our land you must remember, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours and you must henceforth give the kindness you would give any brother. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother but his enemy and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father's graves behind, and he does not care.

He kidnaps the earth from his children. His father's grave and his children's birthright are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.

I do not know. Our ways are different from your ways. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.

There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring or the rustle of in insect's wings. But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand. The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there in life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night? I am a red man and do not understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a pond, and the smell of the wind itself, cleansed by a mid-day rain, or scented with the pinion pine.
The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man lying for many days, he is numb to the stench. But if we sell you ourland, you must remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives the last sign. And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred as a place where even the white man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow's flowers. So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition. The white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers.

I am a savage and I do not understand any other way. I have seen thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. I am a savage and I do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive.

What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man. All things are connected.
You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers, so that they will respect the land. Tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If man spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.
This we know: The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. This we know: All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not wave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.

Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover our God is the same God. You may think now that you own him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white. This earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on the creator. The white too shall pass perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.
But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the wild buffaloes are slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone, where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival."

It would be hard to find out such dawn to earth description of nature. "Nature hates monopolies and knows no exception. It has always some leveling agency that puts the overbearing, the strong, the rich, the fortunate substantially on the same ground with all others" said Zarathustra.

Environment is polycentric and multi-facet problem affecting the human existence. The Stockholm Declaration of United Nations on Human Environment, 1972, reads its Principle No.3, inter-alia, thus: "Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate conditions of life. In an environment of equality that permits a life of dignity and well being and bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations."
The Declaration, 'therefore, says that' in the developing countries, most of the environmental problems are caused by underdevelopments. The Declaration suggests to safe actions with prudent care for ecological balance. It is necessary to avoid massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment and strife for achieving present generation and the posterity a better life in an environment more in keeping with the needs and hopes. In this context immediately comes to mind the words of Pythogarus who said: "For so long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For so long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, they who sow the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."
Article 48-A in Part IV (Directive Principles) of the Constitution of India, 1950 brought by the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, enjoins that "State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country." Article 47 further imposes the duty on the State to improve public health as its primary duty. Article 51-A(g) imposes "a fundamental duty" on every citizen of India to protect. and improve the natural "environment" including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures. The word "environment" is of broad spectrum which brings within its ambit "hygienic atmosphere and ecological balance." It is, therefore, not only the duty of the State but also the duty of every citizen to maintain hygienic environment. The State, in particular has duty in that behalf and to shed its extravagant unbridled sovereign power and to forge in its policy to maintain ecological balance and hygienic environment. Article 21 protects right to life as a fundamental right. Enjoyment of life and its attainment including their right to life with human dignity encompasses within its ambit, the protection and preservation of environment, ecological balance free from pollution of air and water, sanitation without which life cannot be enjoyed. Any contra acts or actions would cause environmental pollution. Therefore, hygienic environment is an integral facet of right to healthy life and it would be impossible to live with human dignity without a humane and healthy environment. Environmental protection, therefore, has now become a matter of grave concern for human existence. Promoting environmental protection implies maintenance of the environment as a whole comprising the man-made and the natural environment. Therefore, there is constitutional imperative on the Central Government, State Governments and bodies like Municipalities, not only to ensure and safeguard proper environment but also an imperative duty to take adequate measure to promote, protect and improve the environment man-made and natural environment.

Industrialisation, urbanisation, explosion of population, over-exploitation of resources, depletion of traditional sources of energy and raw materials, and the search for new sources of energy and raw materials, the disruption of natural ecological balances, the destruction of multitude of animal and plant species for economic reasons and sometimes for no good reason at all are factors which have contributed to environmental deterioration.
While the scientific and technological progress of man has invested him with immense power over nature, it has also resulted in the unthinking use of the power, encroaching endlessly on nature. If man is able to transform deserts into oasis, he is also leaving behind deserts in the place of oasis. In the last century, a great German materialist philosopher warned mankind: "Let us not, however, flatter ourselves over much on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first.
Ecologists are of the opinion that the most important ecological and social problem is the wide spread disappearance all over the world of certain species of living organisms. Ecologists forecast the extinction of animal and plant species on a scale that is incompatibly greater than their extinction over the course of millions of years. It is said that over half the species which became extinct over the last 2000 years did so after 1900. The International Association for the Protection of Nature and Natural Resources calculates that now, on average, one species or sub-species is lost every year. It is said that approximately 1000 birds and animal species are facing extinction at present. It is for this that the environmental questions have become urgent and they have to be properly understood and squarely met by man. Nature and history are two components of the environment in which we live, move and prove ourselves. Environmental law is an instrument to protect and improve the environment and to control or prevent any act or omission polluting or likely to pollute the environment. In view of the enormous challenges thrown by the industrial revolution, the legislatures throughout the world are busy in this exercise.
Many have enacted laws long back and they are busy in remodeling the environmental law. The others have moved their law making machineries in this direction except the under-developed States who have yet to come in this wave length. India was one of those few countries which paid attention right from the ancient time down to the present age and till date, the tailoring of the existing law to suit the changing conditions is going on. The problem of law-making and amending is a difficult task in this area. There are a variety of colours of this problem. For example, the industrial revolution and the evolution of certain cultural and moral values of the humanity and the rural and urban area developments in agricultural technology, waste, barren or industrial belts; developed, developing and under-developed parts of the lands; the rich and poor Indians; the population explosion and the industrial implosion; the people's increasing awareness and the decreasing State Exchequer; the promises in the political manifestos and the State's development action. In this whole gamut of the problems the Tiwari Committee came out with the date that we have in India "nearly five hundred environmental laws" and the Committee pointed out that no systematic study had been undertaken to evaluate those legislative developments. Some legal controls and techniques have been adopted by the legislatures in the field of Indian Environmental Laws. Different legislative controls right from the ancient time, down to the modern period make interesting reading. Attention has to be paid to identify the areas of great concern to the legislature; the techniques adopted to solve those problems; the pollutants which required continuous exercises; the role of legislature and people's participation outside. These are some of many areas which attract the attention in the study of history of the Indian Environmental Law.

Since time immemorial, natural objects like rivers enjoyed a high position in the life of the society. They were considered as Goddesses having not only the purifying capacity but also self-purifying ability. Fouling of the water of a river was considered a sin and it attracted punishments of different grades which included, penance, outcasting, fine, etc.
The earth or soil also equally had the same importance, and the ancient literature provided the means to purify the polluted soil. The above are some of the many illustrations to support the view that environmental pollution was controlled rigidly in the ancient time. It was not an affair limited to an individual or individuals but the society as a whole accepted its duty to protect the environment.
The 'dharma' of environment was to sustain and ensure progress and welfare of all. The inner urge of the individuals to follow the set norms of the society, motivated them to allow the natural objects to remain in the natural state. Apart from this motivation, there was the fear of punishment. There were efforts not just to punish the culprit but to balance the eco-systems. The noteworthy development in this period was that each individual knew his duty to protect the environment and he tried to act accordingly. The Economic and Special Council of the United Nations passed a resolution on 30th July, 1968 on the question of convening an International Conference on problems of human environment. In the United Nations Conference on Human Environment at Stockholm from 6th to 16th June, 1972, proclamation was made on United Nations on Human Environment. It was stated in the proclamation in these profound words: "Man is both creature and moulder of his environment which gives his physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. In the long and tortuous evolution of the human race on this planet a stage has been reached when through the rapid acceleration of science and technology, man has acquired the power to transform his environment in countless ways and on an unprecedented scale. Both aspects of men's environment, the natural and the man made, are essential to his well being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights even the right to life itself. The protection and improvement of the human environment is a major issue which affects the well being of people and economic development throughout the world, it is the urgent desire of the peoples of the whole world and the duty of all Government".

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