Environmental History of India and Canada: Pre-Colonial, Colonial and Post-Colonial period- Trends, Sources and Historiography
Environmental history is about human interaction with the natural world or the interaction between culture and nature. The principal goal of environmental history is to study the interaction between humans and the environment in the past and the relationships between humans and the surrounding world; we must try to understand how the interaction between the two works. Donald Worster's definition states: "Environmental history is the interaction between human cultures and the environment in the past." It is the history of the mutual relations between humankind and the rest of nature"
Environmental history investigates the interactions between society and its physical environment, on symbolic, material and organizational levels. It opens new perspectives for deciphering contemporary issues related to modifications of landscape, for understanding reoccurring conflicts over the allocation and protection of natural resources, as well as for grasping the complexity and historicity of the social representations and uses of the environment. Man exploits nature for the sake of economic development. There is a growing conflict between economic and technological development on one side and the quality of the environment on the other.
Environmental History of India
The historical background to environmental protection in India would indicate that forests & wildlife were considered as vital ingredients of the global system. Here, the entire scheme of environmental preservation was essentially duty-based. In this sense, the ancient Indian society accepted the protection of the environment as its duty to do so.
Opening up the Hindu mythology, the Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads and other ancient scriptures of the Hindu religion have given a detailed description of trees, plants, wildlife and their importance to people. Yajnavalkya Smriti prohibited the cutting of trees by prescribing punishment for such acts. Kautalya's Arthashastra, written in the Mauryan period, realised the necessity of forest administration and Ashoka's 5th Pillar Edict expressed his view about the welfare of creatures in the State. Kautilya classified the forests in four categories, viz. 1. Forest for Timber, 2. Reserve forest, 3. Elephant forest, 4. Forest for Uhnting. The civilizations of Mohenjadaro and Harappa have further proved that the small population lived in consonance with the ecosystem and their needs maintained harmony with the environment. Thus, the Hindu society was conscious of the adverse environmental effects caused by deforestation and extinction of animal species.
In Islam, there is close harmony between man and nature. However, during the Medieval period, the only contribution of Mughal emperors has been the establishment of magnificent gardens, fruit orchards and green parks, which were used as holiday resorts, palaces of retreat or temporary headquarters during the summer season. The common opinion of environmentalists has been that the Mughal emperors, though were great lovers of nature and took delight in spending their spare time in the lap of natural environment, made no attempts on forest conservation.
The British conquest in India brought about a plunder of natural resources coupled with a complete indifference towards environmental protection. A general survey of early environmental legislation reveals that apart from the forest laws, nineteenth century legislation also partially regulated two other aspects of Indian environment water pollution and wildlife. These laws, however, had a narrow purpose and limited territorial reach.
Some of the early efforts include the enactment of the Shore Nuisance (Bombay and Kolaba) Act of 1853 and the Oriental Gas Company Act of 1857. The Indian Penal Code, enacted in 1860, imposed a fine on a person who voluntarily fouls the water of any public spring or reservoir. In addition, the Code penalised negligent acts with poisonous substances that endangered life or caused injury and proscribed public nuisances. Laws aimed at controlling air pollution were the Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act of 1905 and the Bombay Smoke Nuisance Act of 1912. In the field of wildlife protection, early legislation was limited to specific areas and particular species, thereby aiming at the conservation of biodiversity.Despite the fact that these measures were made with ulterior motives, British-enacted legislations have contributed significantly to the growth of environmental jurisprudence in India.
United Nations Conference on Human Environment
In the backdrop of some sincere efforts of tackling pollution control, for the first time, the attention of the world was drawn towards environment in the United Nations Conference on Human Environment was held at Stockholm in June 1972. The Declaration on Human Environment was passed containing twenty-six principles, with the main object of overcoming environmental problems related to the development of States and to provide clean & healthy living conditions. As a result, National Committee on Environmental Planning and Coordination (NCEPC) was established in the Department of Science and Technology. It is an apex advisory body in all matters relating to environmental protection and improvement.
Constitution & Environmental Legislations
The Constitution of India originally adopted, did not contain any direct and specific provision regarding the protection of natural environment. The directive principles like, Art 39(b), Art 47, Art 48 and Art 49 impose a duty on the State to create conditions to improve the general health level in the country and to protect and improve the natural environment. The Indian Constitution was amended in the year 1976. Art 48A, a directive principle, was inserted into Part IV of the Constitution, reading as follows: The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. Correspondingly, an obligation was imposed on the State through Art 51 A(g).
Furthermore, in 1974, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was passed for the purpose of prevention and control of water pollution and for maintaining and restoring the wholesomeness of water. The Water Act represented India's first attempt to deal with an environmental issue from a legal perspective.
In the year 1980, the Forest (Conservation) Act was passed for the conservation of forests and to check on further deforestation. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981 was enacted to implement the decisions made at the Stockholm Conference. Also, a notification relating to Noise Pollution (Regulation & Control) Rules was made in the year 2000 with the objective of maintaining Ambient Air Quality Standards in respect of noise. In the wake of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Government of India enacted the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. It is in the form of an umbrella legislation designed to provide a framework for Central Government to coordinate the activities of various central and state authorities established under previous laws.
The judiciary, to fulfill its constitutional obligations was and is always prepared to issue appropriate orders, directions and writs against those persons who cause environmental pollution and ecological imbalance.
Environmental History of Canada
Canada's first conservationists were its indigenous peoples, who for centuries lived off the land with little apparent destruction. Such practices as clearing areas or driving game by lighting fires would have affected forests, but there is little evidence that these activities caused any long-term damage. Furthermore, Indian bands and Inuit family groups often moved their settlements to new areas for better hunting, allowing the regions left to grow back and repopulate with wildlife. Hence there was no need for concern about conservation before the first permanent European settlement in the 17th century. In Canada since that time, attitudes towards the conservation of nature and natural resources have developed in five overlapping but distinct periods.
Period Between 1670 to 1860
The first period, from about the 1670s to 1860, has been called the "Tree Reserves Period." In this period the French and English tried to ensure a steady supply of ship timber. During the second, the "Land Reserves Period" (1860-1885), land was reserved by church and state for schools, universities and railways. Sales of land and land taxes were the only sources of wealth for governments. The first Canadian naturalist club was established in Ontario in this period (1863). A wide variety of parks, forest reserves, bird sanctuaries and wildlife preserves were created during the third period, the "Resource Reserve Period" (1880-present). Emphasis was placed on using wildlife wisely, rather than merely preserving-or-protecting-it.
Recreation Reserve Period
uring the fourth period, called the "Recreation Reserves Period" (1885-present), recreation facilities such as parks, historic sites and fish and game reserves were established, especially near urban areas. The "Nature and Wilderness Reserves Period" dates from about 1960, when Canadians began to see value in setting aside areas of wild country. Emphasis is less on resource use or recreation than on retaining areas where only the forces of nature are allowed to shape the environment. The first Canadians to study the natural environment were probably the amateurs (doctors, diviners, etc.) who began to catalogue the natural history of the country (e.g., flora, fauna, rocks, fossils) and laid the bases of the sciences of biology, botany, geology, paleontology, entomology and zoology in Canada. The view they took of nature and the environment was shaped initially by European art and scientific traditions. European experiences of forestry and game preserves also had an effect. Writers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, William Wordsworth and Lord Byron influenced Canadians, as did the writings of Grey Owl (A.S. BELANEY), an Englishman who settled in Canada.
In 1916 the US passed the National Park Service Act, which stated that parks were to be "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." This wording was not used in the Canadian National Parks Act until 1930. In this respect, 1930 is a kind of turning point in Canadian_conservation_thought.
In the area of wildlife conservation, however, Canada did react to some emergency situations quite early. The first bird sanctuary was created in Saskatchewan in 1887. By 1889 the plains BISON had been reduced from about 60 million to less than 2000 animals. In 1907 and 1909 the government purchased about 700 bison and placed them in national parks. In 1911 Canada formally established a parks branch; James Harkin was appointed Dominion parks commissioner. Harkin, probably the first leading Canadian to argue for protection of wilderness for its own sake, was deeply influenced by the American conservation movement. Canada's first significant international conservation effort was a treaty with the US-(1916)-for-the-protection_of_migratory_birds.
Until 1945 conservation in Canada focused on establishing national and provincial parks in remote areas. After WWII emphasis was on park expansion for recreational purposes. National and provincial park systems grew slowly during this period. The 1960s marked a different era for conservation and the environmental movement in Canada. Conservationist attitudes were no longer restricted primarily to naturalist groups. A growing number of Canadians became concerned not only about using resources wisely-but-also-about-the-effects-of-human-activity-on-the-environment.
Concern for Environmental Pollution
During the 1960s, concern about pollution became a major public issue. Specialized groups such as the Society for the Promotion of Environmental Conservation (in the West), Pollution Probe (in the East) and the Ecology Action Centre (in the Maritimes) were born. The nature conservation movement received a boost from the environmental interest of the 1960s. The National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada was established in 1963, the Sierra Club in Canada in 1970 and, in 1971, the Canadian Audubon Society and several of its affiliates established the Canadian Nature Federation, a national assembly of naturalist groups from across the country. Scientific biological associations and groups traditionally less active in conservation issues, such as game and fish associations, also increased their emphasis on environmental-issues.
During this period, the concern for nature conservation centred on preserving wilderness and protecting unique areas or ecosystems as ecological reserves. Each province experienced a burst in the growth of local groups focusing on local conservation and environmental issues, and provincial naturalist and conservation federations became increasingly active and vocal. In a single decade, federal and provincial governments established ministries or departments of the environment, environmental protection acts and environmental-assessment-legislation.
Acts to protect endangered species, such as that passed in Ontario in 1971, were unique in the world because they sought to protect rare or endangered species of all plants and animals (including insects). In 1978 the intergovernmental Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife_in_Canada_began_to_definev_a_national_list_of_species_at_risk. Canadian conservation concern became increasingly international through the United Nations convened in Stockholm an international Conference on the Human Environment in 1972.
There has been a paradigm shift over the concept of right to environment since the last few decades, primarily after a series of global cooperative initiatives. Among these, the Stockholm Conference played a significant role in throwing light on environmental degradation that has been caused worldwide. As a result, the international stature of environmental & ecological balance has been enhanced to such a level which the countries of the world had never imagined in history. It would be apt to conclude with the words of Atharva Veda which says that:
Man's paradise is on earth;
This living world is the beloved place of all;
It has the blessings of Nature's bounties: Live in a lovely spirit.
About the Author
VI SEMESTER, B.A. LL.B. (HONS.),
INSTITUTE OF LAW, NIRMA UNIVERSITY, A’BAD
VI SEMESTER, B.A. LL.B. (HONS.),
INSTITUTE OF LAW, NIRMA UNIVERSITY, A’BAD
VI SEMESTER, B.A. LL.B. (HONS.),
INSTITUTE OF LAW, NIRMA UNIVERSITY, A’BAD