Exterior view of the Union Carbide pesticide factory - Bhopal


The health of an individual and his well-being is highly contingent on the environment he survives in. It has a huge bearing on the life of all the species who breathe. But are we all taking our environment seriously? The answer is a NO! The need for the protection of the environment and natural resources is echoed in the constitution as well as international treaties of India but they seem just on confines to paper. According to the constitution of India, Part IVA deals with the Fundamental Duties of an individual which casts a duty on every citizen to preserve and ameliorate the natural environment which is inclusive of forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife. Article 48A of the constitution of India is a DPSP (Directive Principle of State Policy) that vouches for the protection and revamping of the environment and prevents wildlife and forests. Despite all these provisions nationally itself, the environment is not respected by people and is disposed of in such a way that will eventually be harmful to future generations. India was ranked 168th out of 180 countries in the Environment Performance Index, 2021 . India has a record of several Environmental tragedies that have taken place majorly due to human fault but due to the paucity of stringent Environment policies, these hooligans are set free and the environment, as well as people, have to suffer on the account of the mismanagement by few. This article would be incomplete without the mention and discussion on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Vizag gas leak case which is the epitome of why there is a dire necessity of stringent environmental laws.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy

The world’s worst industrial disaster, i.e. Bhopal Gas Tragedy was a gas leak incident which, even after almost 38 years of its occurrence, still numbs our minds and body out of trauma. I still feel the pain, even today, I still see those images, I feel it would have been better for me to die that night. It’s not worth living,” said a survivor. It took place on the midnight of 2-3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Methyl Isocyanate (CH3NCO) gas and some other chemicals account for affecting 50000 people and the death of approximately 3928 people . The city ran out of cremation grounds. This incident was the result of sheer neglect and the unscrupulous attitude of the authorities which had caused such a detrimental accident. This is evident from the fact that there have been many incidents of minor leaks in 1982 and 1983-84 but they weren’t given much importance. A US Expert team was also deployed by parent company Union Carbide Corporation for the safety audit. It discovered 61 hazards out of which 30 were major hazards but all this report and data was conveniently ignored. Another report was issued months before the incident warning about the possibility of happening an incident identical to that occurred in Bhopal but these never reached the senior authorities. Some other ingredients which contributed to this issue were the vast residential area around the plant, Unqualified labor working there, leaks at late night when people were sleeping and last but not least is the inefficient warning system. This tragedy was nothing but the result of the carelessness projected while handling a toxic gas kept in the Union Carbide factory. It’s been about 38 years but the city still cries foul.

Vizag Gas Leak Case

It is one of the recent cases of a gas leak in the country which took the life of numerous innocent individuals. Styrene gas leaked from the LG Polymer plant which took into its’s shackles, three km of the area near Vishakhapatnam. According to Andhra Pradesh pollution Control Board (APPCB), the plant was temporarily shut down owing to the COVID-19 induced lockdown and as the gas in question (styrene) was not stored at an appropriate temperature, pressure started building inside the storage chamber causing the valve to break. According to the rules, the level of styrene should be less than 5 parts per billion (ppb) in the environment but on the day of the incident, it was more than 2.5 parts per million(ppm) which is 2500 times higher than the limits prescribed by the regulators. “Styrene in the air yesterday, when the leak was occurring, could have been over 20 ppm up to 2 km of the plant, assuming an hour’s leak. These significantly high levels of pollutant dispersion could have led people to fall unconscious,” said Awkash Kumar from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, and an air pollution dispersion modeler. Some experts are of the view that the gas leak is an apparent case of sheer disregard. It was also discovered through the document submitted by the company to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change (MoEFCC) that the company has been operating without any valid Environment clarence which is a bare necessity under the provisions of Environment Impact Assessment notification 2006 and was scheduled in May 2020. At least 800 people were reportedly admitted to the hospital and thousands were evacuated from their nearby villages.

Environment Laws in India

The avenues for the majority of environmental laws in India were unbolted only after the Stockholm conference of 1972 where a declaration was signed, commonly known as the “Stockholm Declaration” that directed the attention of the Indian Government toward the arena of environmental protection. Following this, many legislations were introduced namely the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and a very important Environment protection Act, 1986, etc. After the heartbreaking and horrible incident of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984, the principle of Absolute Liability emerged which does not allow any scope of defense against any wrongful act if the essentials are met with. A tribunal named “National Green Tribunal” was established for the expeditious and efficient disposal of cases related to the environment and conservation of forests and other natural resources. It works on the principle of “Polluter Pays”. Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel is currently heading the office as a chairman. Besides legislation, The constitutional framework of the country also provides for various provisions relating to the protection of the environment like Article 51A, Article 48A, and Article 21 which consider the Right to a clean and healthy environment as part of the Right to life.

Is it enough? Why still there is a requirement of stringent laws?

All the laws and regulations which are in place seem all good on paper but there are lacunas in the implementation of the same. After reading the case study of both the incidents (Bhopal Gas leak and Vizag Gas leak), there must be a question in everyone’s mind that why even after so many laws in place after the Bhopal Gas Incident, such a massive and disastrous incident happened again? One of the primary reasons for this is that even though the provisions are comprehensive, they are biased more towards civil suits rather than criminal litigation and are very rarely used. This results in the development of a carefree attitude among the members of the corporations due to which they don’t work diligently and which eventually results in hazards and accidents. Another reason is that the company involved in the incident may be still made accountable but the unscrupulous workers, whose action has caused such tragedy, are set free. Although he may be laid off from the company, that’s the maximum where it goes to and is not usually tried under criminal law. The NGT has limited scope in granting punishments to the public which is another essential reason for the casual approach of people. The lack of a strong and efficient regulatory body is the reason for poor law enforcement related to industrial accidents.

How to improve?

Despite such comprehensive laws, there are still some voids that need to be addressed. Some of the suggestions include the strengthening of powers with the National Green Tribunal and granting them autonomy to frame decisions related to criminal law too which would ensure the solidification of the Deterrence system. Setting up a regulatory body that could ensure the sovereignty of the State Pollution Control board and also a rise in its funding can eventually help in carrying out timely inspections of all industries as per the guidelines. Incidents are majorly caused due to incompetence and naiveness of the workers, so the strict pre-placement physical test is very essential to ensure future safety. In this regard, the countries around the world have progressive laws for environmental protection which can act as an inspiration for India.

Kenya in South Africa is considered to have the strongest bans on the use of plastic which can cause one to land in jail for 4 years or can cost up to $40000. Bolivia’s Law of Rights of Mother Earth is an astounding one that grants the planet legal right just like any individual. Denmark tops the countries doing most to guard the environment. Tunisia came up with a “green police force” in 2017 which levied fines for littering or burning waste and possible imprisonment for offenses impacting public health.


The right to a healthy environment is recently acknowledged as a human right by United Nations Human Rights Council which points toward the fact that Environment is a bare necessity for any individual to live. But due to the gaps in the legislation and its implementation, it isn’t taken seriously by the corporations and the public which leads to certain terrible health hazards on a huge scale. There are comprehensive laws but their execution falls short of expectation. In this regard, stringent punishments are required to reflect the seriousness of the issue because it has been observed that stricter penalties do create an incentive for polluters to come forward and report accidental harms caused by their neglect. This results in entering into a so-called “enforcement undertaking” which encourages the censure of unlawful activities towards the environment because

“The object of punishment is prevention from evil; it never can be made impulsive to good.” - Horace Mann 

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