Environmental Law Principles adopted by India


The Indian courts have successfully adopted specific environmental law principles from international environmental law jurisprudence and have combined a liberal view towards ensuring social justice and the protection of human rights. These principles have been incorporated in the Indian environmental jurisprudence and play a key role in decisions of judges even when not explicitly mentioned in the concerned statute. The principles of Indian environmental law are resident in the judicial interpretation of laws and the Constitution, and encompass several internationally recognized principles, thereby providing some semblance of consistency between domestic and global environmental standards.


1. Precautionary Principle:


A new principle for guiding human activities, to prevent harm to the environment and to human health, has been emerging during the past 10 years. It is called the "principle of  precautionary action" or the "precautionary principle" in short. This principle is controversial and its definition varies in terms of viewpoint. Environmentalists and consumer advocacy organizations that demand bans and restrictions on industrial practices or products would want policy-makers to take no action unless they would do no harm. States and advocates of economic development argue that the lack of full certainty is not a justification for preventing an action that might be harmful.


In India, for the first time in Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India , the Supreme Court explicitly recognized the precautionary principle. as a principle of Indian environmental law. In S. Jagannath v Union of India (Shrimp Culture Case), the Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Kuldip Singh required the authority to deal with the situation created by the shrimp industry and issued remedial directions consistent with the precautionary and polluter pays principles. In A.P. Pollution Control Board v Prof M.V. Nayudu, the Court drew out the development of the precautionary principle in clear terms.


In the Narmada Bachao Andolan v Union of India, the Court explained that:

When there is a state of uncertainty due to the lack of data or material about the extent of damage or pollution likely to be caused, then, in order to maintain the ecology balance, the burden of proof that the said balance will be maintained must necessarily be on the industry or the unit which is likely to cause pollution.. Refusing to apply the "precautionary principle" used in cases dealing with inherently polluting activities such as heavy industries, the Court accepted the contention of the respondents that the project would have a positive impact by arresting the ecological degradation presently taking place in the drought-prone areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan, leading to sustainable agriculture and spread of green cover. The generation of hydropower would avoid the air pollution that would otherwise take place by thermal generation.


The movement towards adopting the precautionary principle has definitely widened the scope of corporate accountability, but the interpretation taken by the court mitigates the relevance and incorporation of this principle in Indian Jurisprudence.


2. The .Polluter Pays. Principle:


The Supreme Court with the introduction of the principle of absolute liability in M.C Mehta v Union of India calculates environmental damages not on the basis of a claim put forward by either party, but through an examination of the situation by the Court, keeping in mind factors such as the deterrent nature of the award. . This rule has been endorsed in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal action v Union of India and Vellore Citizens welfare Forum v Union of India. However, the Supreme Court held recently that the power under Article 32 to award damages, or even exemplary damages to compensate environmental harm, would not extend to the levy of a pollution fine.


3. Sustainable Development and Inter-generational Equity:


In Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India43 it was observed that: Sustainable

development means what type or extent of development can take place, which can be sustained by nature/ecology with or without mitigation.. Earlier in the Vellore Citizens Welfare forum v Union of India , the traditional concept that development and ecology were opposed to each other was rejected and sustainable development was adopted. In the Taj Trapezium case this principle was accepted and again it was said that development of industry is essential for the economy of the country but at the same time the environment and ecosystem has to be protected.


In State of Himachal Pradesh v. Ganesh Wood Products, the Supreme Court invalidated forest-based industry, recognizing the principle of inter-generational equity as being central to the conservation of forest resources and sustainable development. In the CRZNotification case 46 the courts carried forward the concern for sustainable development by expressing its concern at the adverse ecological effects, which will have to be borne by future generations.

4. Public Trust Doctrine:


The  Public  Trust  Doctrine,  evolved in M.C. Mehta  v.  Kamal Nath,  states  that  certain common  properties  such  as  rivers,  forests,  seashores  and  the  air  were  held  by  Government  in  Trusteeship  for  the  free  and  unimpeded  use  of  the  general public. Granting lease to a motel located at the bank of the River Beas  would interfere with the natural flow of the water and that the State Government had  breached  the  public  trust  doctrine. The Supreme Court enunciated Professor

Joseph Saxs doctrine of public trust in this case to further justify and perhaps extract state initiative to conserve natural resources, held that the state, as a trustee of all natural resources, was under a legal duty to protect them; and that the resources were meant for public use and could not be transferred to private ownership. This doctrine was further reiterated in M.I Builders Pvt Ltd v Radhey Shyam Sahu.

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