Section 2(a) of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 defines the term ‘environment’ as follows:
“Environment” includes water, air and land and the relationship which exists amongst and between water, air and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism and property.
The term environment is connoted to mean the surroundings of a person and the things that combine together to create such surroundings. The surroundings include living and non-living things. Plants, animals, land, water and air are all part of the environment which forms part of the natural environment. Besides the natural environment, a man-made environment also exists which deals with technology, work, aesthetics, transportation, housing, urbanization, etc which together with the natural environment are essential for the growth of an individual, mentally, physically and spiritually.
An individual’s interactions with his environment help in their growth and development but this environment like the individual, is susceptible to danger and damage. Human activities over the ages have created a situation where people are using resources at a rate faster than they can be replenished and such activities have created an imbalance in the natural cycle. Human activities have polluted our air, water and land to a large extent. Such misuse causes harm not only to the environment but also to the individuals who form part of the society. Every human being should have access to clean air, safe drinking water and a healthy environment. The need to protect, conserve and improve our air, water and land is seen in the rising sea levels, the cycles of droughts and floods within the same season.
The concept of sustainable development which is a road-map, an action plan so that the resources that are available can be used in a judicious manner is a widely accepted method for protecting every person’s ‘right to development’ and balancing our society’s ‘right to development’ with their ‘right to good environment’.
The Brundtland Report of 1987 was the first document to comprehensively define the term ‘sustainable development’. It is defined as follows:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. There are three chief pillars of sustainable development which are economic growth, environmental protection, and social equality respectively. While each of these three ideas contribute equally to the overall idea of sustainability, it is difficult to find proof of equivalent levels of measures for each of the three pillars in policies of the world’s States. With the majority of countries putting economic growth on the forefront of sustainable development, it can be seen that the other two pillars have suffered, especially with the overall well-being of the planet’s environment in a dangerously poor state. The Brundtland Commission had put forth a conceptual framework that many nations agreed with and wanted to try and implement to create a difference within their boundaries, but it has been tricky to change these concepts about sustainability into concrete and decisive steps.