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Teaching Environmental Law to the Law Students

  • Jul 01, 2021

Teaching Environmental Law to the Law Students
By: Prof. Shobhalata. V. Udapudi, Professor, GNLU Gandhinagar

The present situation in the world, the increase in pollution and the health hazards faced by humanity, loss of biodiversity and the adverse impact of the same, the mis-placed understanding of intergenerational equity and intragenerational equity, imbalance in nature, Biotechnological products and their effects, has brought to the fore front the importance of the study of the subject Environmental Law at the law schools.

In the law schools, the students take the learning of Environmental Law at the later years of study, normally either in the third or fourth year in the Indian Law Schools. Environmental law is multidimensional, multicentric and pluralistic. Multidimensional as it is relevant for science, health, nature, food, technology, Industry, practically all facets of human life.  It is multicentric because no single institution generates all of the rules of decision for environmental law; it is pluralistic because the creation and implementation of environmental law standards involves multiple stakeholders from different sectors of society. It is a complex situation.

The traditional curriculum in the Indian law institutions does little to prepare students for the complex statutory and regulatory models for most environmental regulation. Law students at the end of their first year often have had little exposure to Constitutional aspects, statutory interpretation, procedural laws. Further, they often have no exposure to administrative law and regulatory implementation. Environmental regulatory programs constantly evolve through a complex interaction of legislative amendment, administrative rulemaking, and judicial interpretation. The Role of the Judiciary in the evolution of Environmental Jurisprudence is remarkable especially in India. Be it the concept of Absolute Liability in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India- 1984 referred to as Oleum Gas Leak Case, or the Vellore Tanneries Case, or the T N Godavarman Case, are not only land mark judgements but have directed the course of the study. Influencing these programs are the multipolar interaction of regulated industries, environmental groups, state agencies,

Environmental law emerged as a university subject area in the year 1998 but has evolved far beyond its origin. The diversity and complexity of environmental law is clear. At its broadest it covers topics such as planning and land use management, biodiversity and wildlife protection, natural and cultural heritage conservation, natural resource management, water and marine regulation, pollution and climate change. In addition, it involves a consideration of legal rights and remedies in areas such as administrative and constitutional law, tort, contract and crime. 

While environmental law is a field which is expanding rapidly in terms of its content, it is also gaining in popularity as the extent of environmental degradation becomes more widely known and there is better awareness among the public at large. Also, with   broad - governmental and non-governmental, corporate and public - participation in solutions is encouraged it becomes voluminous.

Good environmental governance is essential if current issues such as biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are to be addressed. Legal regulation plays a significant part in any environmental governance regime and therefore environmental law is an important component for achieving good environmental governance. The importance of law as a tool to regulate to protect the environment, but also change human behaviour in relation to nature, is clear. Therefore, in teaching students both aspects of the role of law must therefore be explained. 

Environmental law is a rapidly evolving field. For example, in the international context, there has been a well-documented exponential growth in multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) over the last few decades. Numerous Conventions, agreements and protocols are accepted and implemented in the international field. In addition to this there is a growing body of regional, and bilateral agreements as well as domestic law. These laws do not exist in isolation and are vertically (such as international law which must be implemented nationally and also locally) and horizontally (in terms of intersecting areas such as biodiversity conservation, land use planning and pollution control, for example) connected, affecting both their implementation and enforcement. 

 Today the body of environmental law includes pollution, biodiversity, and crosses to other areas such as water law, marine protection, biodiversity conservation, climate change law and heritage conservation and policy. In addition, there are a number of cross-cutting areas such as corporate social responsibility, trade and environment, human rights and the right to a healthy environment, and Indigenous peoples and the management of their natural resources. These add to the range and complexity of environmental laws which in turn increases the difficulty of teaching this subject. The subject matter now comprised within the field of environmental law is voluminous. But it is not enough simply to expand the range of topic areas covered. Changes are needed in the way environmental law is taught to incorporate much broader substantive material drawn from multi- and inter-disciplinary fields. For example, it is critical that students studying environmental law also develop an understanding of environmental ethics, environmental governance. It is essential that students understand the philosophies that underpin environmental thinking also appreciate the environmental ethics.

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Therefore, environmental law subject must not only include broader substantive aspects, but they must also facilitate the development of graduate skills - both generic and specific skills that they will need in their workplace. Studying environmental law is not just about learning international conventions, treaties, protocols, statutes and analysing the cases. The identification of innovative approaches and design of new environmental legislations, proper implementation of the laws by the enforcing machinery, is clearly important in addressing future challenges. In order to identify new legal tools and draft effective environmental laws graduates must, for example, develop problem solving and critical thinking skills. The foundation for these skills must be taught at university alongside substantive legal material.

Merely teaching the subject through the lecture method, it may be difficult to anchor the students’ attention for a long time. Engaging students in interactive exercises of real-world environmental law professionals gives students a greater understanding of the disparate roles lawyers play in the administration of environmental regulation. These exercises also give students a chance to develop and hone practical skills, such as strategic thinking; advocacy and responsibility to clients; practical application of procedural devices and rules; and the drafting and preparation of the lawyer’s work product.

The present-day students- the millennials have a completely different approach towards life and career. Their focal target are the law firms and the plethora of lucrative areas that they hold. In such a situation, to draw them towards environment and environmental law is a task in itself. Corporate law, investment law etc are more attractive. Extra efforts are hence required. Having said that, my experience of teaching environmental law for more than two decades, students do now tend to appreciate the subject better. The pandemic has helped heed more for a sustainable approach. Due to the pandemic and the online mode of teaching, has further increased the challenges.

Teaching and learning Environmental Law, need not be taken only as a professional requirement, but more so be placed as an integral part of life and living. 

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