Environmental protection is not only a constitutional goal but also a cultural heritage of Nepal

Our legal as well as cultural practices endeavor to regulate the conduct of mankind to preserve nature. We need to realize that all our sacred texts, laws, judgments, conventions and cultural practices show the proximity of mankind with nature.

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Jivesh Jha

  • Read Time 5 min.

Einstein has rightly said, “The environment is everything that isn’t me.” Environment is a polycentric and multifaceted problem affecting human life. We, the human beings, are nature’s best promise. But, we have turned into nature’s worst enemy by adopting all unsustainable development practices.

Undoubtedly, progress and pollution go together. There can be no end to progress in terms of industrialization, commercialization and globalization, and consequently, no escape from pollution. Still, we cannot turn a deaf ear to the environmental protection measures, as it’s our responsibility to ensure that our development practices meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The problem of environmental pollution is not a noble concept. It is as old as the emergence of people on the planet. Atharva Veda says that a pollution-free clean environment keeps all people, birds and animals living happily. In Veda, air, water, earth, sky, sun and trees are considered as deities.

In Rigveda, it’s been said that fresh air works as the panacea of all diseases. It directs one not to do any act that lessens or degrades the quality of oxygen. These concepts are recognized by laws, conventions and science of today. Take an example of the Rio Declaration of 1992. Principles 4 and 25 of Rio Declaration say that peace, development and environment are interdependent and indivisible.

Environment protection: A religious affair 

Environmental pollution was controlled rigidly in ancient times. It was not only an affair limited to an individual but the society as a whole accepted its duty to protect the environment, held by the Supreme Court of India in the case of TN Godaverman Thrimulpad v Union of India (2002).

In Amarnath Jha v Government of Nepal and Others, the Supreme Court of Nepal held that every person shall have an inherent right to live in a pollution-free environment to lead a dignified life [2073BS, Decision Number 10743].

Kautilya’s Arthashastra said it was the Dharma of each individual in society to protect nature. Similarly, the Yajna or sacrificial fire is apparently done to worship one or other deity and it ultimately purifies the air. The Samaveda highlights the importance of the Yajna as it helps in keeping away the mosquitoes and other insects. In Padma Purana and Karma Purana, it is mentioned that the trees, like Peepal, Bel, Neem etc are the abode of the God and they are not to be cut.

In Buddhism, the principle of Simplicity preaches for sustainability and the Principle of Ahimsa (Non-violence) preaches for the love for flora and fauna. King Ashoka wanted the non-violence to be the cultural heritage of the people. The Holy Koran declares that everything is created from water. Allah is considered to be the owner of the land and mankind is the trustee, whereas other living creatures are considered to be the beneficiaries.   

Nepal is the land of rites and rituals. The belief and cultural practices followed here show a deep concern for the protection and preservation of the environment.   

Socio-cultural legacy

Nepal is a multi-religious country where people belonging to every sect and faith live with co-existence. Our cultural legacy shows that we have never been cruel towards the environment. In fact, environmental protection is the cultural heritage of Nepal.

Every religious, cultural work we make, symbolizes environmental protection. See, Chhath festival. It’s the festival demanding cleanliness of waters. The devotees offer prayers to the Sun god by standing in the waters.

In Baisakh, the first month of the year in Nepal’s Bikram Sambat calendar, people in Terai-Madhesh celebrate Jur Shital festival which also promotes protection of trees and soil. The festival begins with elders sprinkling cool water on the heads of their relatives. The family members spread water on the plants and trees. In addition to this, there is a culture of playing the traditional game Kado-Mati (mud-soil) which is similar to mud bath. These cultural practices symbolize conservation of soil, trees, and water.

Our holy texts, laws and court judgments too show that the country has been serious towards environmentalism. We should develop a conscious approach and strike a balance between environmental protection and development, held by the Supreme Court of Nepal in the landmark case of Advocate Narayan Prasad Devkota v Government of Nepal and Others (2066 BS, Decision Number 8521). The apex court in this case held that bad socio-economic policy of the country is to be blamed for environmental degradation.

Constitutional goals

The Constitution of Nepal guarantees the right to clean environment as a fundamental right [Article 30].  The constitution declares various rights associated with the protection of the environment. Specific provisions associated with the environment are; the right to live in a clean environment, right to clean water and hygiene; right to food sovereignty; the right of state to carry out land reforms on agriculture and environment; and right of consumers to have quality foodstuffs and services.

The Constitution obliges the state to control and prevent any act or omission polluting or likely to pollute the environment. The Supreme Court and High Courts (under Article 133 and 144, respectively) can issue required direction, order or writs for this purpose.

The Constitution confers power to the Centre, provinces as well as local governments to adopt and enact policies for protecting the natural environment. The Directive Principles provided in part-IV of the constitution, calls upon the local/ provincial governments to adopt policies for the protection and promotion of the environment [Article 51].

The Environment Protection Act, 2019 has been enacted by the government to implement Article 30 of the Constitution. The Act aims to protect and improve the environment and to mitigate the pollution; to enforce the right to clean environment; to grant compensation to victims of environmental pollution; and to implement EIA, Environmental Study and Environment Examination reports.   The Act has set heavy fines for non-compliance of law and government policies. Section 35 of the Act envisages that there could be a fine of up to five million at the instance of non-compliance of EIA by a proponent. Similarly, defiance of Initial Environmental Examination would lead to a fine of up to one million.

Way forward

On June 5, World Environment Day (WED), with the theme of “Beat Plastic Pollution,” we should evaluate if we have succeeded—or even tried—to acknowledge our cultural heritages, messages of the holy texts and green laws that were passed to preserve and advance the environment.

As a rule of state, environmental pollution is a business of shame in the environment. Environmental pollution also symbolizes that our mechanisms are not operating as per the mandate of law. Eventually, pollution rapes rule of law. Kathmandu’s deteriorating air quality and Nepal’s failure to upkeep sustainable development practices would certainly question our capability to deal with environmental menaces.   

This year’s event, which is being hosted by Cote d’lvoire in collaboration with the Netherlands, comes with the added duty of leading a worldwide movement against plastic waste.

Our legal as well as cultural practices endeavor to regulate the conduct of mankind in such a manner which is conducive to nature and not adverse to nature.  It’s high time for us to realize that all our sacred texts, laws, judgments, conventions and cultural practices show the proximity of mankind with nature. It’s time to implement our green laws, to acknowledge the messages of our cultural practices and to revive our heritage of environmental protection.