Environmental Ethics and Indian Constitution!
Two provisions relating to environment are incorporated in the Indian Constitution in the form of Articles 48A and 51A (g). Article 48A is a constitutional pointer to the state to protect and improve the environment and Article 51A (g) confers a fundamental duty on the citizens of India to protect and improve the environment and have compassion for living creatures.
This clearly shows that the Indian Parliament fell in line with old traditional values. The language used in these provisions clearly indicates that the principle of equity, co-existence, reverence for nature and non-violence have been given legal recognition.
The use of the term ‘protect and improve’ implies the improvement of the natural environment as well as quality of life. Further, protection of the environment implicitly directs us not to cut trees, keep the water of rivers, lakes, etc., clean and wholesome.
This is reminiscent of century’s old ‘Chipko movement’ of village Kherjarilli in Rajasthan where Amrita Bai, her four family members and other 359 persons sacrificed their lives to save village trees (popularly known as ‘Green Khejris’). Thus, we have a culture where trees are regarded more precious and revered than our lives.
The government has also declared the villages of Bishnois in Punjab and Rajasthan as ‘reserved areas’ and cutting of trees and killing of animals have been declared an offence in these territories. If one happens to visit these villages, he/she can see deers and other innocuous animals roaming there freely and fearlessly.
The phrase “to have compassion for living creatures” used in Article 51A(g) recognises the principle that all creatures are made equal and that animal killing should be prohibited as taught by the principle of non-violence, or as the moral code of conduct says that “killing of animals and birds is a sin of highest order”. Abiding by this philosophy of olden times, the Indian Parliament has also passed two statutes, viz.
The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and the Cruelty against Animals Act, 1962. It is also in consonance with another ethical principle that unarmed enemy and mute birds and animals should not be harmed or attacked.
This reminds us of an old story of Prince Siddhartha who saved a swan, who was shot at with an arrow by his brother.
The same Prince Siddhartha later became Lord Buddha a great preacher of non-violence (ahimsa) and harmonious relationship with nature. The object behind the theory of “to have compassion for living creatures”, scientifically speaking, is that animals and birds are the second trophic level of the ‘food chain’ or food webs and help in energy flow.
The utility of the animals and their products need no special description here. It should not also be forgotten that wildlife is the guardian and protector of our forests. Decay of wildlife implies decay of forests. Thus, forests and wildlife are interdependent and complementary to each other. Indian social and moral ethics, relating to environment protection and conservation, have been accepted by Indian judiciary time and again.
Some of the judicial pronouncements upholding old Indian traditions concerning environment are quoted below:
“Water and rivers have dominated the destiny and fortune of man. Plentiful rivers have brought prosperity to those who lived on their banks. If Bhagirath brought salvation, Ganga sustains life … ages have rolled up by it and it has remained eternal”, (F.K. Husian vs. Union of India, AIR 1990 Ker 321)
“In order to arouse amongst the people the consciousness of cleanliness of environment, the Government of India and the governments of the states and union territories may consider the desirability of organizing ‘keep the city clean week’, ‘keep the town clean week’ and ‘keep the village clean week’ … at least once a year.
During that week, the entire city, town and village should be kept as far as possible clean, tidy and free from pollution of land, water and air”. (M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, AIR 1988 SC 1115)
“Environmental law is based on the realisation of mankind of the dire physical necessity to preserve these invaluable and none too easily replenish able gift of Mother Nature to man and his progeny from the reckless wastage and raparious appropriation that common law permits”. (T. Damondhar Rao vs. Municipal Corporation, Hyderabad, AIR 1987 SC 171)
The essence of their teachings in the form of Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis and Dharmashastras was to protect nature and its elements, i.e., air, water, soil, land, vegetation and animals. In Indian culture, a worshipful attitude has been developed towards trees, earth (prithvi), sky (aakash), air (vayu), water (jat), rivers, sun, mountains, etc.
It was regarded a sacred duty of every person to protect them. The Hindu religion enshrined a respect for nature, environmental harmony and conservation. Many verses in the Rigveda and Atharaveda have been devoted to the praise of Surya Devta (Sun), Vayu Devta (Lord Air), Agni Devta (God of Fire), Varuna Devta (God of Water), Prithvi Mata (Mother Earth), Vanya Devi (Goddess of Forests), etc.
Therefore, cutting of trees and polluting air, water and land were regarded as sins. Protection of their purity was considered to be the duty of everyone. Rigveda, Manusmriti and Charak Sanhita have emphasised on purity of water and its healing and medicinal value.
The society, as a whole, has developed a code of conduct (maryada) to protect nature and live in co-existence with local and regional environment.