Need for Environmental Lawyers in India By Kshitij Agarwal from KIIT Bhubaneswar
Before we enter into the topic, first we need to answer a rudimentary question; what is environmental law? Environmental law means the law that regulates the impact of human activities on the environment. Environmental law covers a broad range of activities that affect air, water, land, flora or fauna.[i] Practically, environmental law involves arguing for real things which can be experienced with the senses. Here is when the role of environmental lawyer begins. An environmental lawyer has to work to bridge the gap between the environment field worker and the court, to translate legal language into English (or rather, the vernacular language in this case.)
It would be wrong to say that there are no environmental lawyers in the country as there are many a proficient lawyers and law firms specializing in the law. However, the subject is such vast that any number of lawyers will be deficient to effectively handle the issues of the law. There is an ever-growing need for coherent lawyers to take active part in advocating cases based on intricate environmental issues.
Policy concepts such as the polluter pays principle, precautionary principle, public participation, environmental justice have influenced several of India’s environmental law reforms, past and present. Additionally, environmental law is budding not only in the policy side but also for the corporate sector. Such policy concepts need to be handled carefully by the environmental lawyers.
Further, environmental law has begun to be perceived as an integral and critical tool of environmental management, and rightly so. With damage to environment proving to be a major threat worldwide, scope of environmental law in promoting “development without destruction" is immense.
Environmental lawyers,[ii] instead of suing corporations for violations after the damage has been done, should advice companies on how industries can be set up minimising environmental damage in the most feasible manner in the initial stages itself. Such preventions beforehand would avoid future litigations. Environmental-legal due diligence is becoming more and more important, and many companies have begun the practice to hire their own in-house environmental law experts instead of depending on third party law firms.
Environmental Litigation refers to the practice of lawyers who actively take up the cause of environment protection and not merely act against or on behalf of violators. It involves enforcement of laws related to air, water and land pollution; conservation of wildlife; protection of environmentally protected areas; poaching and other related offences. Also, environmental litigation is most effective at higher levels of judiciary such as Hon'ble Supreme Court and High Courts since majority of cases are pursued by way of PILs. Other fore of environmental litigation have emerged over the years which include the newly constituted National Green Tribunal, National Environmental Appellate Authority, Central Empowered Committee. These bodies are Quasi-Judicial in nature and are at a similar power as the courts, except for the fact that these bodies deal only with cases related to environment issues.[iii]
It is widely felt that Environmental litigation[iv] in India is still at a nascent stage and it is so because of the misconception that the practice of environmental law requires specialized knowledge and training, which lawyers dealing in other areas cannot do justice to. Lawyers in this area face quite a few challenges, and thus need to be realistic about what lies ahead. To begin with, the opponents in environmental matters/cases are invariably big corporate and/or government - both powerful and influential. Secondly, the lower judiciary precisely, is not completely prepared and trained to welcome the gravity of the environmental issues. Lastly, a majority of the public is not supportive towards this branch as environmental lawyers are regularly seen as being against the development activities.
In a nutshell, environmental law as a career prospect is promising as well as equally challenging for young lawyers who seek to pursue a career in the field. With the growth of country pertaining to infrastructure, manufacturing and related sectors, conflict with such laws is destined to happen. Thus, there will be a more prominent requirement for environmental lawyers to interpret and define the environment techniques for the corporate sector. Similarly, litigation on environmental issues has prospered in India for more than three decades. Specifically, in the last decade High Courts and the Supreme Court have been faced with resolving disputes between corporate interests and environment protection.
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