Waste dumping & land degradation: Legal issues and Challenges

Written by Prachi Patel & Pratibha Sharma


With the increase in the population, the generation of waste increases proportionately. The solid waste is in the form of Hospital waste, industrial waste, household waste and construction and building wastes. They are a source of pollution (air and water) besides nuisance to public. So as to minimize the harmful effects, there is need for solid waste management (management of safe and useful disposal). Storing the waste in the source, collection, transportation and disposal does it. Much of the activities under solid waste management are a subset of the activities under the broader topic of human settlements management.[1]

Waste management

Although India’s economic growth aided by higher levels of industrialization is a matter of great pride, there is also huge concern for the environmental degradation that has followed. The problems associated with the quality of environment need to be addressed to with utmost seriousness because if nature revolts, economic growth would be that much more difficult to achieve. 1.1.2 The Government of India has been increasingly concerned, and rightly so, on the issue of environmental pollution as evidenced by the increasing number of environment laws, policies and programs. However, these laws, once passed, also need to be executed effectively. With this in mind, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was established to set environmental standards for all parts of the country. To bring the mandate of the CPCB to fruition, regulatory agencies like Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) and Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) at state level have been set up for the implementation of the norms to bring pollution under control[2].


In early human history, waste was mainly composed of ash from fires, wood, bones, and vegetable waste. The edible matter was used to feed animals and what remained was disposed of in the ground where it would decompose. The excavation of ancient rubbish dumps by archaeologist reveals only tiny amounts of ash, broken tools and pottery, telling us that these early civilizations reused and repaired what they could.

Archaeological excavations of the dirt or clay floors of these earliest living quarters have found that bits of waste matter that fell on the floor was simply packed into the floor over time or brushed aside. Archaeologist have referred to this as the “fringe effect.” Households would bring in a supply of clean, fresh clay to spread over littered floors, resulting in the rise of elevation across early population centers. However, this solution became less viable as both population density and waste generation increased. As city populations grew, waste management systems became necessary to handle the waste stream. Crete, Athens and Rome are examples of ancient civilizations that began to establish rudimentary waste management systems.  Rome established an organized waste collection teams to collect waste piled up in the streets. These workers transported the material in wagons to pits outside the city[3].

Before the 20th century, most of the materials people used were completely natural (produced from either plants, animals, or minerals found in the Earth) so, when they were disposed of, the waste products they generated were natural and harmless too: mostly organic (carbon-based) materials that would simply biodegrade (break down eventually into soil-like compost). There was really nothing we could put into the Earth that was more harmful than anything we’d taken from it in the first place. But during the 20th century, the development of plastics (polymers generally made in chemical plants from petroleum and other chemicals), composites (made by combining two or more other materials), and other synthetic (human-created) materials has produced a new generation of unnatural materials that the natural environment has no idea how to break down. It can take 500 years for a plastic bottle to biodegrade, for example. And while it’s easy enough to recycle simple things such as cardboard boxes or steel cans, it’s much harder to do the same thing with computer circuit boards made from dozens of different electronic components, themselves made from countless metals and other chemicals, all tightly bonded together and almost impossible to dismantle[4].


India is the first country that has made constitutional provisions for protection and improvement of the environment. The Indian constitution provides a broad framework of powers and functions in relation with maintenance of safe and healthy environment for people and other living ones.

Article 243 (W) of the constitution specifies the powers, authority and responsibility of the municipalities to carry out functions that are relevant to solid waste management, public health, sanitation conservancy and protection of environment , safeguarding interests of weaker sections and urban poverty alleviation. Article 38 urges the state to secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of people.

Article 47 imposes a duty on the state to improve the standard of living and public health. The constitution also imposes certain duties on citizens of the country and courts have expanded the understanding of certain provisions in keeping with changing times. In this connection, Article 21of constitution says ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law’ while Article 48-A is ‘The state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country’. In addition, Article 51-A (g) is also an important provision related with protection of the environment as ‘It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures’.These provisions have formed the basis for the outcome of current environmental governance for the protection of environment in India[5].

India’s garbage generation stands at 0.2 to 0.6 kilograms of garbage per head per day. Also, it is a well-known fact that land in India is scarce. The garbage collector who comes to your house every morning to empty your dustbins inside his truck, takes all the garbage from your neighborhood and dumps it on an abandoned piece of land. Garbage collectors from all parts of the city meet there to do the same. Such a land is called a landfill.

India’s per capita waste generation is so high, that it creates a crisis if the garbage collector doesn’t visit a neighborhood for a couple of days. Typically, each household waits for the garbage boy with two or three bags of trash. If he doesn’t turn up, the garbage becomes too much to store in the house. The household help or maid of the house will then be instructed to take the bags, walk a few yards away – probably towards the end of the lane – and dump the bags there. Seeing one household, all the others in the neighborhood immediately follow suit. This land, at the end of the lane, soon becomes the neighbourhood’s very own garbage dump – a convenient place to dump anything if the garbage boy doesn’t show up. Of course, when the quantity of the waste becomes too much to bear then diseases are feared, the residents would march up to their colony’s welfare association and demand for the waste to be cleaned up at once. The waste will then be picked up from there and dumped in another piece of land – this time further away from the colony – probably in a landfill[6]


Controlled waste

The definition of controlled waste in s 75(4) of the EPA 1990 refers to household, industrial or commercial waste or any such waste. This definition has been amended by the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994 which amend the provisions of the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992  anything which is not ‘directive waste’ shall not be treated as not treated as controlled waste.

  • Household waste includes waste from domestic properties, caravans, residential homes, educational establishments, hospitals and nursing homes
  • Industrial waste from any of the following premises factories, public transport premises used to supply gas, water, electricity, sewerage, postal or telecom services. Waste from construction or demolition operations is also termed industrial waste, as is waste from contaminated land.
  • Commercial waste includes waste from premises used wholly or mainly for the purposes of sport, recreation or entertainment except household, industrial, mining, quarrying and agricultural waste, or any other waste specified in regulations.

The system of waste regulation

By virtue of the EA 1995, the Environment Agency was tasked with the responsibility for the waste management licensing system under Pt II of the EPA 1990. The Environment Agency not only has responsibility for waste management licensing, but is also responsible for waste carrier licensing, special waste licensing and ‘policing’ the duty of care. Prior to the establishment of the Environment Agency, the system of waste regulation was administered by WRAs. The WRAs ceased to exist on 1 April 1996 when the Environment Agency took over their functions. Since the system of waste regulation has undergone significant change in recent years, it is useful at this point to consider briefly some of the changes and to comment on the role fulfilled by the WRAs during their period of operation 1990 and 1996[7].

Land degradation

The causes of land degradation can be divided into natural hazards, direct causes, and underlying causes. Natural hazards are the conditions of the physical environment which lead to the existence of a high degradation hazard, for example steep slopes as a hazard for water erosion. Direct causes are unsuitable land use and inappropriate land management practices, for example the cultivation of steep slopes without measures for soil conservation. Underlying causes are the reasons why these inappropriate types of land use and management are practised; for example, the slopes may be cultivated because the landless poor need food, and conservation measures not adopted because these farmers lack security of tenure.

There is a distinction, although with overlap, between unsuitable land use and inappropriate land management practices.

Unsuitable land use is the use of land for purposes for which it is environmentally unsuited for sustainable use. An example is forest clearance and arable use of steeply sloping upper watershed areas which would have more value to the community as water sources, managed under a protective forest cover.

Inappropriate land management practices refer to the use of land in ways which could be sustainable if properly managed, but where the necessary practices are not adopted. An example is the failure to adopt soil conservation measures where these are needed. It can also refer to land use which is ecologically sustainable under low intensity of use but in which the management becomes inappropriate at higher intensifies. Examples are shifting cultivation and the grazing of semi-arid rangelands[8].

What does land degradation mean for health?

These social and environmental processes are stressing the world’s arable lands and pastures essential for the provision of food and water and quality air. Land degradation and desertification can affect human health through complex pathways. As land is degraded and in some places deserts expand, food production is reduced, water sources dry up and populations are pressured to move to more hospitable areas. The potential impacts of desertification on health include:

higher threats of malnutrition from reduced food and water supplies; more water- and food-borne diseases that result from poor hygiene and a lack of clean water; respiratory diseases caused by atmospheric dust from wind erosion and other air pollutants; the spread of infectious diseases as populations migrate.[9]



The Environment minister Prakash Javedkar said India would become “land degradation neutral” by 2030 if all critical stakeholders— ministries of environment, agriculture, water resources and land resources— worked together on a common implementation strategy.

Desertification refers to the process of land degradation by which fertile land, especially dry regions, become increasingly arid, losing water bodies, vegetation and wildlife. Deforestation, drought and improper or inappropriate agriculture are typically considered to be the main causes of such land degradation. India has about 105 million hectares of land classified as dry land.

The objective of achieving land degradation neutrality is to maintain or improve the condition of land resources through the sustainable management of soil, water and biodiversity, the minister told a meeting on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification organised by the environment ministry and the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education. In India, 69% of the land is dry land and 32% of the land is undergoing desertification.

“In India, we are facing the problem of degradation of land, desertification of the land and creation of wasteland. All these are major challenges as it impacts the livelihood. As the (Narendra) Modi government has decided that poverty eradication is the main objective of this government, to that end we must make the country degradation neutral by 2030,” Javadekar said[10].



Aerobic composting is decomposition of organic matter using microorganisms that require oxygen.  The microbes responsible for composting are naturally occurring and live in the moisture surrounding organic matter. Oxygen from the air diffuses in to the moisture and is taken up by the microbes. As aerobic digestion takes place the by-products are heat, water and carbon dioxide (CO2). While CO2 can be classified as a greenhouse gas it’s evolution from the composting process is not counted in emissions. Additionally, CO2 is only 1/20th as harmful to the environment as methane (the main by-product of anaerobic degradation).

The heat produced in aerobic composting is sufficient to kill harmful bacteria and pathogens as these organisms are not adapted to these environmental conditions. It also helps support the growth of beneficial bacteria species including psychrophilic, mesophilic, and thermophilic bacteria which thrive at the higher temperature levels.

From start to finish, the HotRot in-vessel aerobic composting process takes only 8-10 days. No leachate is produced as any surplus moisture is extracted as water vapour which can be condensed and used for watering nearby vegetation[11].

Another possible tool we have to combat the issue of desertification is shrub encroachment, which is the increase in the density and cover of shrubs in former grasslands. Shrub encroachment is brought about by many different anthropogenic factors such as: climate change, grazing, and fire suppression. These factors contribute because they generate heterogeneity in soil resources, which “creates opportunities for shrub colonization.” Although shrub encroachment can increase runoff and erosion, Maestre et al found that shrubs increased diversity and evenness of vascular plants, and facilitated the growth of other perennial plants in their study location, which were Mediterranean grasslands. They also found a greater nutrient content under a canopy of shrubs (Maestre et al, 2009). If shrubs are allowed to grow over grasslands for some time,we may renew the possibility for these lands to be cultivated. If nothing is done about the situation, desertification will increase. Grasses will be overgrazed, water infiltration will decrease, and the grass will be unable to survive. This will create much drier soil, which in turn is more vulnerable to erosion and runoff. All of these factors will combine to create a very stable but very unproductive desert environment. However, if acted upon quickly, there is a possibility for land reclamation and reversal of desertification.

Various method of waste dumping

In Bangalore  Anaerobic Method

This is an anaerobic method conventionally carried out in pits. Formerly the waste was anaerobically stabilised in pits where alternate layers of MSW and night soil were laid. The pit is completely filled and a final soil layer is laid to prevent fly breeding, entry of rain water into the pit and for conservation of the released energy. The material is allowed to decompose for 4 to 6 months after which the stabilised material is taken out and used as compost[12].

KVIC (Khadi and Village Industries Commission) biogas plant

The KVIC has been a pioneering agency in the field of biogas in India. The first plant model, Gramalakshmi, was developed in 1950. This served as a prototype for the KVIC floating dome model that is being disseminated in the country since 1962. The KVIC biogas plant is a composite unit of a masonry digester and a metallic dome that acts as a gas holder wherein gas is collected and delivered at a constant pressure through a pipeline. A constant pressure is maintained due to the upward and downward movement of the lid of the digester along the central guide pipe fitted in a frame in the masonry[13]


In the case of  Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendera v. State of Utter Pradesh[14] the case arose when the Supreme Court directed a letter received from the petitioner alleging unauthorized and illegal mining in the Dehra Dun area which adversely affected the ecology of the region and caused environmental damage, to be registered as a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, and issued notice on the Respondents. And it held that the environmental implications of limestone mining in the Dehra Dun Valley, mining in the area should be stopped, except for three mines in respect of which the leases had not expired. In Research Foundation for science Technology and Natural resources Policy v. Union of India[15] Dumping of hazardous waste, whether directions shall be issued for destruction of consignments with a view to protect environment and, if not, in what other manner consignments may be dealt with it was held, precautionary principles are fully applicable to facts and circumstances of the case and only appropriate course to protect environments is to direct destruction of consignments by incineration as recommended by Monitoring Committee. in the case of SuoMotu v vatva[16]Industries Association certain industries dealing in hazardous waste was dumping waste near in village. Noticing this environment engineer of Gujarat Pollution Board sought direction Board direction from the court for abatement of such activities. The court said that board and officer are independent people and need not need court orders to act for protection of the environment. Pravinbhai Jashbhai and ors v. State of Gujarat and Anr[17], Silver Chemicals is stated to have produced 375 MT of ‘H’ acid. Whatever quantity these two units may have produced, it has given birth to about 2400-2500 MT of highly toxic sludge besides other pollutants. Since the toxic untreated waste waters were allowed to flow out freely and because the untreated toxic sludge was thrown in the open in and around the complex, the toxic substances have percolated deep into the bowels of the earth polluting the aquifers and thesub-terrain supply of water. It has become unfit for cattle to drink and for irrigating the land. The soil has become polluted rendering it unfit for cultivation, the main stay of the villagers.

These rules deal with any hazardous substance whether in solid, liquid or gaseous state. It does not specifically deals with land pollution but if any hazardous substance leads to activities like dumping, land filling etc which leads to land pollution then it is applicable.


Nearly 20% of methane gas emissions in India is caused by landfills. Travel past one of these landfills and you are bound to see great spirals of smoke climbing the horizon, as the trash catches fire due to the heat generated by the decomposition of waste.

Most of these landfills have not been built according to accepted specifications. “Due to the decomposition of inorganic waste, the ground water is contaminated,” Agarwal said. “There is also the problem of leachate [when rainfall percolates through the waste in a landfill] because most of these dumping grounds are not scientific landfills.”

A study by scientists at the School of Environmental Sciences in Jawaharlal Nehru University found high levels of nickel, zinc, arsenic, lead, chromium and other metals in the solid waste at landfills in metro cities, especially in Delhi.

“Before cleaning up the city, the government needs to sort out a concrete waste management system that ensures segregation and recycling,” Narain


These rules shall apply to every manufacture, importer, re-conditioner, assembler, dealer, recycler, auctioneer, involved in manufacture, processing, sale, purchase and use of batteries or components thereof. Batteries is defined as lead acid battery which is a source of electrical energy and contains lead metal.


There is no specific legislation which deals in regulation of land pollution or which gives it a definite scope and meaning. Unlike water pollution, air pollution, deforestation etc having a specific statute to govern, land pollution is in general being touched upon by the Environmental Protection Act. EPA comprehensively deals with all aspects of environmental problems. The act defines in section 2(e) “hazardous substance” as any substance or preparation which, by reason of its chemical or physico-chemical properties or handling, is liable to cause harm to human beings, other living creatures, plant, micro-organism, property or the environment. The act requires the person handling the substance according to the procedure laid down. The act provides Central Government the power to form rules and procedures to deal with such hazardous substances. Acting on such powers there are rules enacted by the Government relating to hazardous waste, chemical accidents, bio medical waste, municipal solid waste, batteries, ozone depletion etc.

Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Trans boundary Movement) Rules, 2008: It provides that the occupier shall be responsible for the safe and environmentally sound handling of such substances generated in his establishment. The hazardous waste generated shall be sent to a recycler or re user or re processor registered or authorized or should be disposed off in an authorized disposal facility. An authorization from the state pollution control board has to be obtained for everybody who is dealing with such substances in any manner. On satisfaction of having the equipment’s and facility of treating such substances and verification of various certificates and documents required, the pollution control board can reject or accept it.

Rule 13 prohibits import of hazardous substances for disposal purpose. Import of any such substance is allowed only for recycling or recovery or reuse. Export of such things has to be done with prior informed consent of the importing state to ensure environmentally sound management of the same along with the examination of the state pollution control board. No import or export is allowed for substance listed in schedule IV but wastes mentioned under schedule III shall be regulated as provided in the rules. If the procedure above is not followed or consent is obtained by fraud or shipping details are not confirmed with or if any international or national law in violated. In case of such a situation the waste has to be re-exported within 90 days at the own cost of the doer and implementation is ensured by the pollution board[18].


In an effort to reduce the waste volume, many states have adopted various source reduction programs. For example, Minnesota has a material exchange service that connects organizations with reusable but unwanted goods to others who may need them (iWasteNot Systems Inc.). Many States have Pay-as-You-Throw (PAYT) programs, with Minnesota, California, Washington, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New York having most of these programs (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2012). For example, under the PAYT programs, people are asked to pay a flat fee for bins or trash bags and they are encouraged to generate less waste and thereby save money on the bins or trash bags. Some of these are also called Volume-Based-Waste-Fee (VBWF) programs. A well-documented successful PAYT-VBWF program is the one implemented in the town of Sandwich, Massachusetts. In 2011, Sandwich changed its solid waste program to a program named WasteZero Trash MeteringTM. Residents of Sandwich have to purchase customized trash bags at local stores at prices of $1.20, $.60, and $.24 for 30-gal, 15-gal, and 8-gal bags, respectively. A study following the changes in waste disposal after the PAYT program took effect reports that the residents achieved 42% reduction of solid waste and increased their recycling rate of plastic, metals, and glass by 74%. The reduction also resulted in a decrease in solid waste disposal costs for the town of $10,000 (WasteZero, 2013)[19].


Works for deforestation and corporate social responsibility should not be concluded within the treacherous limits and bounds as the area of the concerned topic is one of a prime focus of the world and has to be looked more intensively and effectively. But in the conclusion, I would like to state only that now the time ahs come in India that corporations should take the problem of deforestation as one of prime issue of their concern. All the corporations should take it as the duty as to not to harm the forests.

As in American and other European countries, submission of “Environmental Governance Report” is a mandatory requirement along with the annual report and balance sheet of the company; it has to be made same in India. Whenever a company comes out with such report, it shall state all the possible issues which the company has dealt with the environment. It has to further highlight the violations it has done with the environment and if not, then it has to categories and classify all the relevant provisions which come in its operations. In that way it would be more transparent towards the stake holders and public about it environmental concern. The idealistic concept of corporate social responsibility has to be incorporated as an important and vital part of the corporate governance in India. Lastly, corporation has to act, not to just be acted upon. Most of them show that they are socially responsible for the company image, but in actual they are not concerned about the environment. This kind of behavior has to be taken away and companies will have to think about the problem with environment as a serious issue and has to deal with it seriously[20]




[4]  http://www.seas.columbia.edu/earth/wtert/sofos/Dolly_Shin_Thesis.pdf



[7]Susan wolf and Neil Stanley, 4th edition, Environment Law







[14][1988] INSC 254 (30 August 1988)

[15]SC 2005

[16]AIR 2000 Guj 33