By Ritu Rathi, Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University.

“Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then you will find that money cannot be eaten.”


Anthropocentrism is a human-focused approach where non-humans have just instrumental worth to people. Under anthropocentrism, people come first and human obligations to non-human based on profits to people. Eco-centrism is nature focused where people are a piece of nature and non-humans have natural worth. Human investment does not take automatic priority and people have commitments to non-humans barring any personal interest. Eco-centrism is in this manner life- focused, nature-focused where nature incorporates both, humans and non-humans, while not making the human race a higher priority.


The principles of environmental law

The Indian Judiciary has been seen to shift from an anthropocentric approach to an eco-centric approach. The Supreme Court is of the view that environmental justice could be attained only when we float away from the rule of human-centric to Eco-centric.[1] The main principles of environmental law that guide the decisions of the Courts like Sustainable development, Polluter Pays Principle, Intergenerational Equity are inclined towards anthropocentrism. Sustainable Development and Intergenerational equity presume the superior needs of individuals and distribute the use of natural resources in such a way that it must be fairly conveyed between the present and future generations. The Polluter Pays Principle requires a certain extent of harm to humans as a precondition for it to be invoked. This principle was first invoked by the case Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India.[2]The following cases Vellore Citizens Forum[3] case and Kanpur Tanneries case[4] reaffirmed the Polluter Pays Principle wherein the court says that the principle has become a part of the domestic law seeking justification from the constitutional directive, statutory provisions and customary international law. Article 48A of the Constitution of India, being a directive principle, does not create enforceable rights but when read with Article 21, it has been used by the Indian Courts to give further human rights, a very dynamic environmental reading.The outcome of this has been that human rights in Courts are read along with an environmental perspective in mind. But again, this is one of the many instances where safeguarding the nature is driven by human interest. However, with the recent case Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja[5], there seems to be a drift from anthropocentricism to eco-centrism. The Judgment talks about a 3-stage development in the Judiciary’s approach to environmental issues, from the driving force to protect the environment coming from pure human self interest to later on concern for future generations taking the lead and then finally to nature’s own rights.

The Jallikattu judgment


The Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009 permitted Jallikattu to be practiced and set elaborate rules for conduct of the event. This included mandatory presence of veterinarians, video graphing, requirements for barricades, involvement of NGOs, permission from the Collector, registration of the bulls.[6] This was challenged to be inconsistent and in direct collision to Section 11 (1) (a) and Section 11 (1)  (m) of Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act), 1982 and Articles 51A (g) and (h) of the Constitution of India which prohibited any kind of ill-treatment to animals. The Courts had the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009 was repugnant to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1982 and was declared unconstitutional and void under Article 254(1) of the Constitution. The PCA Act is absolutely eco-centric. It being a welfare legislation by the Parliament and has zero tolerance for any harm inflicted onto animals. Regulations or guidelines, whether statutory or otherwise, if they purport to dilute or defeat the welfare legislation and the constitutional principles, Court should not hesitate to strike them down so as to achieve the ultimate object and purpose of the welfare legislation.[7] The Court in this Judgment by giving priority to animal rights over human customs, practice and traditions can be seen to have successfully taken a step forward towards being eco-centric. Eco-centric triumphed over anthropocentric.

Taking a step even further on the request by the Humane Society International to replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act with the Draft Animal Welfare Bill 2014, the Indian legislators are considering making the necessary amendments. Such a move will act as a better deterrence to the society from inflicting harm onto animals and it will exemplar shift from merely just prevention of cruelty to promotion of well being of animals.

Other acts and judgments

The National Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2012 is an attempt to go further into being eco-centric. This Action Plan was envisioned to offer safeguard measures to the wildlife dwelling in multiple use areas like forests that were not covered under the protected areas giving priority to nature rights over human rights. In 2013, the Supreme Court in the Asiatic Lions case[8] has stressed on the need to apply an eco-centric approach and consider what is best for the species rather than what is best for the humans with regard to the species and also emphasizes on the intrinsic right of non-human species to exist and flourish. Also, the Judgments made under the Bio Diversity Act, 2002 are a leap forward towards being nature-centric. This act recognizes that the Constitutional mandate requires the citizens to show consideration towards humans as well as non-humans with a special inclination towards eco-centrism.


To conclude, as seen in the above case, there has been a considerable shift in the approach of the Indian Courts in matters of environmental issues. The Judiciary has realized the requisite to make such a change. It is the need of the hour, and in my view, it is no longer a need but a necessity. The shift has been gradual but steady, but there is still a long way to achieve absolute eco-centrism, if they intend to do so.

[1]T. N. GodavarmanThirumulpad v. Union of India[2012] 3 SCC 277

[2]Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India [1996] 3 SCC 212, [215]

[3]Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India[1996] 5 SCC 647

[4]M. C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath[1997]1SCC 388

[5]Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja [2014] 7 SCC 547


[7]Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja [2014] 7 SCC 54, [26]

[8]Centre for Environmental Law, WWF-India v. Union of India, (2013) 8 SCC 234