Criminalization of Ecocide in India: A critical Analysis

Criminalization of Ecocide in India: A critical Analysis

Ecocide is one of the most pressing concerns of modern-day environmentalists. It refers to the destruction of the natural environment by human activities to such an extent that it makes it uninhabitable. Today, all over the globe, talks are underway to start recognizing Ecocide as a crime. The International Criminal Court (hereinafter referred to as ICC) can prosecute people who have committed crimes against the environment. However, this is limited to offenses that fall within the ambit of four crimes, namely genocide, crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Given that the ICJ can only prosecute these four crimes, there are technically no legal restrictions on environmental harm during times of peace. So, the responsibility to protect the environment ultimately falls on lawmakers of individual countries. Sadly, only a handful of countries, like Ecuador, Russia, Vietnam, Georgia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, have classified ecocide as a crime. India isn’t one among them. Here, we have no specific legislation addressing the issue of ecocide. 

The need for strong Ecocide laws have been highlighted in various case laws over the years. In a Netherland Case by the name Milieudefensie et al v. Royal Dutch Shell, the District Court of the Hague ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut their emissions by about 50% within the next decade. This is an example wherein the Court has acknowledged the need for human actions to alleviate the impact of climate change. So, it is evident that while Ecocide has not officially been made a crime yet, the judiciary is moving towards that. Many verdicts globally are holding humans accountable for their roles in the deteriorating environment. 

As mentioned before, in India, the only laws that may be used against the problem of Ecocide are those implied under come of the Fundamental Rights mentioned in Part III of the Constitution. For instance, the ‘Right to Life’ guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is construed to include the Right to have access to pollution-free water and air to maintain a certain quality of life. In such scenarios, the reason for preserving the environment is supported by the claim that it otherwise hinders an individual’s constitutionally guaranteed right. Nowhere is it acknowledged that the environment should be preserved for its own sake except in Article 48A of the Constitution, which states that the Government is responsible for protecting the environment. There are no explicit laws that address this issue directly.

Talks for an Ecocide law in India has been underway for the past decade. Many nations have vocalised their support for a legislation in this regard. In the case of Ratheesh v. State of Kerala, the Kerala High Court defined the term Ecocide to mean the destruction of those enviornmental aspects that support life. The various judiciary wings of our country have been hinting at laws for Ecocide for a while, however the crumbling environmental governance and lack of support from authority has hampered this. In the case of Chandra v. Commissioner of Customs, the Madras High Court categorically stated that ecocide is one of the foremost contributors to the poor state of our environment today, and taking steps towards this is imperative to maintain ecological balance and make way of future economic growth.

The motivation behind formulating an Ecocide law is to help instill a sense of accountability in the people. As mentioned before, as of today, the only crimes against the environment that are considered criminal acts are those that take place during armed conflict. This situation is far from ideal as it leads to large-scale sidelining of environmental issues and propagates environmental exploitation by the masses. If Ecocide is criminalised and lawmakers formulate provisions for the same, there will be a boost in the regeneration of the environment. One of the biggest advantages will be the impact on industries. Industries, as we all know, are the highest contributors to climate change and hence ecocide. If there are provisions that will hold them accountable for their actions, they will be quick to change. This is the sad reality of the capitalistic society we live in today, where a bigger motivator than saving our planet is consequences and legal sanctions that may lead to a loss in profits. 

Criminalization of Ecocide in India: A critical Analysis

There is a dire need to bring about ecocide laws to hold people accountable for their actions that cause environmental damage. In the context of India, such a law would be very fruitful given the positive way in which corporations react to legal sanctions mandating them to make greener decisions as opposed to their own sense of responsibility to society and the environment. The theme for World Environment Day last year was advocating for an Ecocide law in India. This is a testament to the concern and immediate need to have provisions in place to combat Ecocide. Through this paper, the researcher analysed the potential impact of Ecocide laws in India and whether they would succeed given the incumbent economic, political and social climate. It was determined that the current laws and constitutional provisions are not adequate to combat the rampant Ecocide and one of the most viable solutions would be to criminalise the same as done in some foreign countries. 

Author: Athira R Nair, a student at School of Law, Christ (Deemed-to-be) University, Bangalore. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *