Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President at the Chandigarh University in Mohali on May 7, 2022.

Mohali | May 7, 2022

"I am delighted to be here with you at the International Conference on Environmental Diversity and Environmental Jurisprudence: National and International Perspectives.

I compliment the Chandigarh University for hosting this event and the honourable judges for participating in these discussions. I am sure this will go a long way in motivating each one of us to act and make a positive difference to the planet which is our common home.

Sisters and brothers,

Scientists have overwhelming evidence now that it is most certainly man-made causes which have led to climate change as well as driving a million species to extinction. In the quest for development, we have harmed nature beyond repair, destroyed forests, disrupted the ecological balance, polluted the environment, encroached upon water bodies and are now reaping the adverse consequences.

Certainly, we need to do a serious introspection and take bold actions to mitigate the reality of rising temperatures, increasing extreme events and diminishing biodiversity.

It is not only the duty of the government to deliberate on this, but it is the duty of every citizen and human being on earth to save this planet.

Sisters and brothers,

Our civilisational values have always taught us to live in harmony with nature. In fact, the concept of ecological protection is embedded in our DNA from time immemorial. As you know, we have traditionally revered and celebrated natural resources, including fauna, flora, rivers and mountains.

A shloka from Atharva Veda’s Prithvi Sukta goes thus:

‘Whatever I dig from thee, O Earth, may that have quick recovery again. O purifier, may we not injure thy vitals or thy heart’

The shloka calls for conserving natural resources, warns against excessive exploitation and seeks forgiveness from Mother Earth. In the same spirit, our constitution also enshrines the principles of environmental protection—both in the Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles.

The recent IPCC AR6 report gives a dire warning about worsening climate change in the coming decades if we don't take collective prompt action immediately. In particular, the report suggests that exceeding the 1.5°C warming level would have a severe impact, and that even if the countries were to adhere to their promises towards reducing emissions, warming will still exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century.

This clearly shows that we have to do more and do something without any delay.

To be able to achieve the 1.5°C limit, we must aim at both macro-level systemic changes as well as micro-level lifestyle choices. Even from a young age, students must be made aware of the carbon and ecological footprint of their lifestyle choices. Parents and teachers must teach children to care for their natural environment—flora and fauna around them—as much as they care for their physical environment.

Sisters and brothers,

On India’s part, we have always been willing to commit and stand by those ambitious targets, leading the way for the world. This is despite the fact that, as a developing country, India was not historically responsible for today’s situation. Even today, while we have 17 percent of the world population, we contribute only 5 percent of the world emissions.

Quite true to its leadership, India took the initiative in forging a collective action by various countries under the International Solar Alliance. In the recent COP26 Summit in Glasgow, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi declared our national targets of raising our non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030 and achieving the target of Net Zero by 2070.

With enabling policies, institutional push and collective action, these targets are certainly achievable. The last aspect – that of ‘collective action’—is the most crucial. In the words of the Prime Minister, what we need is a mass movement of eco-conscious lifestyles.

Sisters and brothers,

Today, we have amongst us many distinguished judges. We had the opportunity to hear their enlightened views on the status of environmental jurisprudence in India. To be sure, environmental jurisprudence in India started long ago, and is seen even in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. In his treatise, Kautilya makes it clear that one of the most important responsibilities of a king is to preserve forests and protect wildlife.

India today has more than 200 laws made for environmental protection. Along with these, India is party to a number of international treaties and agreements related to environmental concern.

I wish to briefly recall that India has enacted progressive legislations such as the Wildlife Protection Act, Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, Forest Conservation Act, Environmental Protection Act, among other laws with right earnestness even before environmental discourse gained pace in the developed world. This spirit draws heavily from our ancient values that look at human existence as part of the natural environment and not as one that exploits it.

These legislations have been able to have a reasonable impact so far because of the positive interventions and interpretations by the judiciary, including the tribunals.

There are many landmark judgments of the Supreme Court and the High Courts that have played a crucial role in not only delivering environmental justice but also in generating a public discourse about environmental conservation.

Going forward, the lower courts too must uphold this eco-centric view and keep the best interests of the local populations and biodiversity in their judgments. They must act stringently against violators of pollution laws and consider strict enforcement of the ‘Polluter Must Pay’ principle wherever needed.

Sisters and brothers,

I wish to briefly mention the National Green Tribunal, India’s specialised court for environmental matters. When it was set up, India was one of the few counties in the world to have such a specialised environmental tribunal. Over the years, NGT has proven itself in effectively and expeditiously disposing of cases relating to this particular discipline.

Given the importance of preserving biodiversity, ongoing climate change and the growing demand for environmental litigation, I believe there is an urgent need for training more legal practitioners in environmental law. The poorer sections should be made aware of their rights and the legal recourse at their disposal. If need be, more specialised benches must be created in various parts of the country and environmental justice be brought closer to people.

Lawmakers too must take cognizance of the importance of protecting biodiversity, mitigating climate change and make legislations that maintain a fine balance between ‘ecology and economy’.

We must also enable and empower Pollution Control Boards and local civic bodies with the wherewithal of resources, technical expertise and punitive powers to implement environmental laws effectively. Gram Panchayats, which are empowered by the constitution for taking measures like water management, soil conservation, forestry, need to be further bolstered with funds for this purpose. Effective functioning of these grassroot level bodies is critical in handling the climatic challenges of today and the future.

Sisters and brothers,

Man has tinkered too long with nature. Today, there is an urgent need to reverse this hazardous trend. It is a question of a mindset, an attitude, an ability to control human greed. As Mahatma Gandhi had said, “Nature has enough for man’s need but not for his greed”.

Much before the climate change debate began, Gandhiji had said that we should act as ‘trustees’ to our natural environment and it is our responsibility to ensure that we bequeath to the future generations a healthy planet. We must remember and live by these words. We must lead better lives today and ensure that our grandchildren have better quality of life in the years to come.

Sisters and brothers,

Once again, I am very happy to have inaugurated this Conference. I heartily compliment Justice Swatanter Kumar, retired justice of the Supreme Court of India and former Chairperson of the National Green Tribunal and his organising team from Chandigarh University for bringing together an international event of this scale, successfully. I am confident the technical sessions that will follow will present you with an opportunity to reflect upon the need and our role in environmental protection.

My best wishes to all of you.

Thank you.

Namaskar. Jai Hind!"