Criminal Law Remedies for the Protection of Environment


Environmental Crimes are a simultaneous murder of not just one but many people as well as the environment. The term ‘environmental crimes’ does not have any universally accepted definition. We can classify a crime as an environmental crime if the particular act or omission has caused direct or indirect damage to the environment and such act is prohibited by the law. Environmental crime covers a wide range of violations that result in harm to the environment. This includes, poaching, illegal wildlife trade, Littering, Oil Spills, Improper waste disposal, Destruction of wet lands, Smuggling prohibited chemicals, Release of toxic chemicals, Dumping in ocean beds and many more.  


The Constitution of India is a dynamic document. The various provisions on the environment protection in the constitution are also ramifications of this evolving nature and growth potential of the fundamental law of the land. Before the 42nd amendment, the term ‘environment’ was not mentioned in the Constitution. Consequently, two major amendments were made, Article 48 A and Article 51 A.  

Part III of the Constitution of India guarantees fundamental rights that are essential for the development of every citizen. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that no person shall deprived of his or her personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. Article 21 guarantees fundamental right to life. The right to healthy environment is an important attribute of right to live with human dignity.  

The right to live in a healthy environment as a part of Article 21 of the Constitution was first recognized in the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs. State also known as the Dehradun Valley Litigation case. In this landmark judgement the Supreme Court had to balance environmental and ecological integrity against industrial demands on forest resources.  


The Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 deal with the remedies and concept of various nuisance with regards to environmental pollution and crimes.  

  • Indian Penal Code 

Background: Chapter XIV of the Indian Penal Code deals with offences affecting the public safety, health, convenience, decency and morals.  


Section 268– This section classifies environment crimes as a public nuisance. If any act or omission causing injury to any person by polluting the environment takes place, the person can be subjected to prosecution under this section. Even noise pollution is punishable under section. According to this section a person can be held liable for the offence of public nuisance under the following circumstances; 

(I) If he engages or conducts any act which causes common injury. 

(ii) If he engages or conducts any activity that poses danger or annoyance to any property for the public. 

(iii) If he engages or conducts any activity that poses danger or annoyance to the public. 

Section 269- This section deals with negligent acts that are likely to spread infection of disease that are dangerous to life. A person liable under this section shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of up to six months or with a fine or both.  

Section 277– This section deals with provisions for preventing water pollution. According to this section, any person who voluntarily corrupts or fouls water of any public reservoir and makes it less fit for consumption shall be held liable. The person may be punished with imprisonment for a term of up to three months or with a fine extending to Rupees 500 or both.    

Section 278– This section deals with remedies for acts that make atmosphere noxious to health, air pollution. Whoever voluntarily vitiates the atmosphere in any way that makes it noxious to health of persons shall be punished with a fine of maximum Rupees 500.  

Section 290– This section provides for the punishment of public nuisance. The maximum penalty under this section is Rupees 200. This section also makes clear that smoking in public place causes public nuisance and therefore is punishable under this Act.  

Relevant Judgement:  

  1. Ramakrishnan V. State of Kerala (1999)- The Court held that smoking in public cases causes public nuisance and is therefore punishable under the Indian Penal Code.
  • Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 

Background: Chapter 10 of Criminal Procedure Code, Maintenance of Public Order and Tranquility. It provides legal provisions for the maintenance of public order and tranquility. It is the duty of every citizen to maintain public order. Maintenance of public order and tranquility in the society is one of the primary objectives of any government. It contains remedies for public nuisances cases.  


Section 133– This section provides for the remedy to environmental pollution in general. It empowers the District Magistrate and Sub- Divisional Magistrate to stop the nuisance. Any order made under this provision cannot be questioned in any civil court. Under this section six category of public nuisances can be resolved.  

  1. Unlawful obstruction or nuisance to any public place, river or channel lawfully used by the public. 
  2. Conduct of any trade or occupation or storing goods that are injurious to health or causes discomfort to the community. 
  3. Construction of any project or disposal of any substance that is likely to cause an explosion. 
  4. Any building, tent, or structure that is likely to cause damage or injury to a person.   
  • Environment Protection Act, 1986 

Background: Due to the growing risks of pollution, the government has passed several legislations related to specific types of pollution. One of the most vital statues is the Environment Protection Act, 1986. This act is the general legislation for the protection of the environment.  


Section 15- This section states that any person who does not comply with the rules of this act will be liable for imprisonment for a term of up to five years or fine which may extend to a sum of Rupees 1 Lakh or both.  

  • Other Acts  

A few other legislations are currently enforceable in India. All these acts have different aims and objectives but their ultimate goal is to preserve the planet and help the world progress in a sustainable manner.  

1. National Green Tribunal Act, 2010: 

Objective– The National Green Tribunal Act aims to provide efficient disposal of matters relating to environment protection. It has the power to hear all civil cases relating to environmental issues.  

Penalty– As per Section 26 of this act, any person who fails to comply with the decision of the tribunal will be held liable for imprisonment up to a term of three years or fine which may extend up to ten crores.  

2. The Air Act, 1981: 

Objective– The Air Act aims to prevent and control air pollution.  


  • Section 37: – As per Section 37 of this Act, any person who fails to comply with the provisions of this act will be liable for an imprisonment for a term of one year and six months. 
  • Section 38: – This section mentions penalties for certain acts that are laid down. The acts are; 
  1. Destroying or removing any pillar, post or notice fixed in the ground under the authority of the board 
  2. Obstruction of any individual who has been authorized by the board from exercising the respective powers 
  3. Causing damage to any property belonging to the board 
  4. Failure to inform about the excess release of emissions than the standard level set by the board 

3. The Water Act, 1974: 

Objective– The Water Act, 1974 aims to regulate agencies responsible for checking water pollution and control and prevent the spread of water pollution.  

Penalty– Any person held liable under this section would be punished with an imprisonment for a maximum term of three months or fine of up to Rupees 10000 or both. Section 42 mentions penalties for different kinds of Acts: – 

  1. Any person who pulls down notice put by the board 
  2. Obstructing any individual appointed by the board from conducting duties and exercising power 
  3. Any person who gives false information to the board  

 4. Noise Pollution (regulation and control) Act, 2000:  

Objective– The Noise Pollution Act, 2000 aims to curb the menace of excessive noise pollution from various noise pollutants in order to create an ambient atmosphere for healthy lifestyle.  

Penalty– Section 6 of this Act states that any person can be made liable for penalty under this act if, person is playing music or using sound amplifiers or attracting crowds through exhibits in any silence zone. 


Environment Protection is part of our cultural values and heritage. The knowledge of constitution provisions regarding environment protection is the need of the day to bring greater public participation, environmental awareness and make people conscious about preserving the ecology. Even though we have well drafted legislations there still remains a huge gap in implementation. It is high time to being an amendment within the environmental provisions, inclusion of environmental crimes and separate and specific offences as well as raise the current penalties for various environmental crimes.  

Author: Arisia K,

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