High Court Acting as Saviour of Himachal’s Environment
Prof N.K. Singh
There is serious threat to the environment in this hill state due to unchecked and rampant pollution in the air. World over 6.5 million people die annually due to poor air quality and the right to clean air is the basic human right. One of the major contributors to pollution and destruction of wildlife as well as fauna and flora is forest fire. This year the fire incidences were four times more than previous years and highest in the history of the state. Under the Article 21 of the constitution, courts can intervene to preserve environment and to free the air from pollution. I wrote a letter to the Honourable Chief Justice of the Himachal High Court forwarding my column published in Divya Himchal with the caption of “Himachal is burning but politicians are playing on flute”. I forwarded the article with my letter to the Honourable court stating that while Supreme Court is directing even pollution of cars and taxis in Delhi, the biggest assault on clean environment is taking place in Himahchal where unprecedented rise in the fire is polluting the entire state. I appealed to the court to take cognizance of this to save the state from deteriorating air quality and destruction; It is unfortunate that government was not responding to this challenge.
Prior to 1960, only aggrieved party could seek justice in court but in 1980 environment law brought a sea change. Courts have acquired a crucial role between development and saving environment. Public interest litigation means action initiated in a court of law for protection of environment or other issues affecting public. In case of Indian Council of Environment legal action vs Union of India, Supreme court felt that “High courts are more appropriate forum for effective implementation of anti-pollution law”.
I only wish Himachal government had taken a serious note of thisproblem. It is necessary to augment the manpower and acquire latest technology for preventing and extinguishing fires. There are some ill- equipped fire stations and many a times their old vehicles break down on the way. When fire broke out in the forest surrounding my village, I rang up the fire brigade but they did not know the way and location. Their greatest worry was if the fire tender could go inside the area as most of the jungle routes are in accessible to large vehicles. In new technology one could acquire fire bikes that carry a quantity of foam as is used by aviation for extinguishing fire of the inflammable elements. Foam and other chemicals can fight fire more rapidly. Many countries are using helicopters for spraying fire extinguishing liquid. In Uttarakhand, this was used although not very effectively.
World over the concern for environment and saving the quality of airwe breath have come to acquire preeminent position in the consideration of governments but the pollution is increasing in the world. In New York it is reported that 90% people find difficult to see the milky way. It reminds me when I was appointed in UNDP my workplace was supposed to be NY but I suggested to them that I I don’t want to live there and I may be permitted to work in Montreal and report every month to NY. I was asked why? And my answer was ‘’Because I cannot see the stars due to skyscrapers.
They laughed and I worked in benign Montreal. It was very surprising for me to learn that research survey show that Africa contributes a negligent amount of pollution as all the fumes are from the advanced countries. Nevertheless I wish to remind people living in Himachal that they should recollect if 10 years back, we had clear view of Dhauladhar from a distance. When I was in college and I used to come sometimes to my village in vacations I could see the range of Dhauldhar clearly from the roof top of my village in Ambota. I started living in Suhin that is at altitude of 2600 ft and 10 years back I saw the whole range clearly. Now I rarely see it as the fog of pollution has covered it.
I shifted from Delhi ten years back and I thought I am now breathing in clear air and there is plenty of oxygen but my state too is getting day by day polluted and needs to be rescued. I think thisis the last opportunity to get the High Court to awaken the state machinery and help citizens to live with peace in clean air. I am glad to report that in a bold initiative court has taken cognizance of this letter and issued notice to the government as it involves high priority interest of the public. It is expected that the Court intervention will pave the way for greater vigilance in prevention of fires and protection of the forests.
First Passenger: It is good that Himachal government will seize the property of drug peddlers.
Second Passenger: But they are happy that their property is not intheir name whereas cash is not seized.