The entire world is facing a serious problem of environmental degradation due to indiscriminate development. Industrialization, burning of fossil fuels and massive deforestation leading to degradation of environment. Today the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide, the principal source of global warming, is 26% higher than pre-industrial concentration.

The global warming has led to unprecedented rise in the sea level. Apart from melting of the polar ice it has led to Inundation of low-lying coastal regions. Global warming is expected to profoundly affect species and ecosystem. Melting of polar ice and glaciers, thermal expansion of seas would cause worldwide flooding and unprecedented rise in the sea level if gas emissions continue at the present rate. Enormous amount of gases and chemicals emitted by the industrial plants and automobiles have led to depletion of ozone layers which serve as a shield to protect life on the earth from the ultra-violet rays of the sun.

The dumping of hazardous and toxic wastes, both solid and liquid, released by the industrial plants is also the result of environment degradation in our country. The problem of “acid rain” which is caused mainly by the emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power stations and industrial installations is a graphic example of it. The ill-effects of acid rain can be found on vegetation, soil, marine resources, monuments as well as on humans. Air pollutants and acids generated by the industrial activities are now entering forests at an unprecedented scale.

The 1972 Stockholm Conference on “Human Environment” secured its place in the history of our times with the adoption of the first global action plan for the environment. Yet, as increasingly grim statistics indicate, over the past decades our global environment and the living conditions for most of the inhabitants of the planet continue to deteriorate. This process has meant significant setback for both rich and poor. The Declaration of the 1972 Stockholm Conference referred obliquely to man's environment, adding that “both aspects of man's environment, the natural and the man-made are essential for his well-being and enjoyment of basic human rights.”


While economic development should not be allowed to take place at the cost of ecology or by causing widespread environment destruction and violation; at the same time the necessity to preserve ecology and environment should not hamper economic and other developments. Both development and environment must go hand in hand, in other words, there should not be development at the cost of environment and vice versa, but there should be development while taking, due care and ensuring the protection of environment.

Poverty is a major cause and effect of global environmental problems and, therefore, it is futile to attempt to deal with environmental problems without a broader perspective that encompasses the factors underlying world poverty and international inequality.

The 1992 Rio Declaration on “Environment and Development” recognises the element of integration of environmental and developmental aspects.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development was held in Johannesburg in 2002. The purpose of the same was to evaluate the obstacles to progress and the results achieved since the 1992 World Summit at Rio de Janeiro. The same was expected to present “an opportunity to build on the knowledge gained over the past decade, and provides a new impetus for commitments of resources and specific action towards global sustainability.”

The World Conservation Union and the World Wide Fund for Nature prepared jointly by UNEP described that “sustainable development, therefore, depends upon accepting a duty to seek harmony with other people and with nature” according to “Caring for the Earth”.

In Subhas Kumar v . State of Bihar, MANU/SC/0106/1991, the Supreme Court has given directions that under Article 21 of the Constitution, pollution free water and air are the fundamental rights of the people.

In A.P.Pollution Control Board II v. M.V.Nayudu, (2001) 2 SCC 62, this Court observed that the right to have access to drinking water is fundamental to life and it is the duty of the State under Article 21 to provide clean drinking water to its citizens.

Similarly, the Supreme Court in Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, MANU/SC/0640/2000 observed as under:

Water is the basic need for the survival of human beings and is part of the right to life and human rights as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India........”

The Supreme Court in Vellore Citizens' Welfare Forum (supra) has recognized the Precautionary Principle. Again, this principle has been reiterated in the case of M.C.Mehta v. Union of India (1997) 2 SCC 353. In the said case, the Precautionary Principle has been explained in the context of municipal law as under:

  1. Environmental measures- by the State Government and the statutory authorities- must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation.

  2. Where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environment degradation.

  3. The “onus of proof” is on the actor or the developer/industrialist to show that his action is environmentally benign.

    Polluter Pays:

    The Supreme Court had an occasion to deal with this main principle of sustainable development in the case of Indian Council for Environ-Legal Action v. Union of India, MANU/SC/1112/1996. Carolyn Shelbourn in his article “Historic Pollution- Does the Polluter Pay?” (published in the Journal of Planning and Environmental Law, Aug.1974 issue), mentioned that the question of liability of the respondents to defray the costs of remedial measures can be looked into from another angle, which has come to be accepted universally as a sound principle, viz., the “Polluter Pays” principle.

    The Supreme Court in the said judgment observed as under:

    The Polluter Pays principle demands that the financial costs of preventing or remedying damage caused by pollution should lie with the undertakings which cause the pollution, or produce the goods which cause the pollution. Under the principle it is not the role of Government to meet the costs involved in either prevention of such damage, or in carrying out remedial action, because the effect of this would be to shift the financial burden of the pollution incident to the taxpayer. The “Polluter Pays” principle was promoted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) during the 1970s when there was great public interest in environmental issue's,. During this time there were demands on Government and other institutions to introduce policies and mechanisms for the protection of the environment and the public from the threats posed by pollution in a modern industrialised society. Since then there has been considerable discussion of the nature of the Polluter Pays principle, but the precise scope of the principle and its implications for those involved in past, or potentially polluting activities have never been satisfactorily agreed.

        This principle has also been held to be a sound principle in the case of Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum (supra). The Court observed that the Precautionary Principle and the Polluter Pays Principle have been accepted as part of the law of the land. The Court in the said judgment, on the basis of the provisions of Articles 47, 48A and 51A(g) of the Constitution, observed that we have no hesitation in holding that the Precautionary Principle and the Polluter Pays Principle are part of the environmental laws of the country.

        The Public Trust Doctrine:

        The concept of public trusteeship may be accepted as a basic principle for the protection of natural resources of the land and sea. The Public Trust Doctrine (which found its way in the ancient Roman Empire) primarily rests on the principle that certain resources like air, sea, water and the forests have such a great importance to the people as a whole that it would be wholly unjustified to make them a subject of private ownership. The said resources being a gift of nature should be made freely available to everyone irrespective of their status in life. The doctrine enjoins upon the Government and its instrumentalities to protect the resources for the enjoyment of the general public.

        The Public Trust Doctrine primarily rests on the principle that certain resources like air, sea, waters and the forests have such a great importance to the people as a whole that it would be wholly unjustified to make them a subject of private ownership. The said resources being a gift of nature, they should be made freely available to everyone irrespective of the status in life. The doctrine enjoins upon the Government to protect the resources for the enjoyment of the general public rather than to permit their use for private ownership or commercial purposes. According to Professor Sax the Public Trust Doctrine imposes the following restrictions on governmental authority.

          The European Court of Justice, emphasised in Portugal v. F.C.Council the need to promote sustainable development while taking into account the environment. (report in 3 C.M.L.R. 331)(1997) (ibid Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, p.283).

          The impact of globalization on environment and sustainable development needs to be continuously addressed in Indian context which profoundly remains in the transition. In spite of the potential of globalization to economic convergence it paved for an increase in equality resulting in increased environmental impacts such as climate change, protection of the ozone layer, biodiversity and desertification. These international trade arrangements and environmental agreements contain very few provision for harmonizing trade and environment trade and development. The increasing tendency of trans national corporations to establish global standards for environmental performance enhances the contribution of FDI to sustainable development.

Indian companies are also squeezing natural resources at a faster pace for shrimp farming in most valuable brackish wetlands and lakes. Agri-business consortium has been proposed by the government, ostensibly to help small and marginal farmers, which is to give a boost to commercializing Indian agriculture to cater to expanding consumerist markets. In the new liberalized atmosphere, the environment departments in all states and at the centre are going to become everyone's punching bag and will find it harder and harder to enforce their regulations. Industries have been cleared adjacent to a Marine National Park and protected areas of wildlife officials. The destructive potential of the liberalized economy justifiably identified tropical islands, rainforests, coral reefs and marine waters and genetic store houses.

The tragic result of this is avoidable increase in human misery and ecological degradation, as seen in the growth of the gap between North and South. The international community needs to fight the global apartheid the elimination the global apartheid between rich and poor.

These are some of the issues which I would like the academicians and students to ponder over.